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Title: Looking for social justice through agency — applying Giddens’s structuration theory to career guidance research and analysis
Other Titles: Career guidance for social justice : contesting neoliberalism
Authors: Bilon, Anna
Keywords: Neoliberalism
Vocational guidance -- Philosophy
Social justice -- Vocational guidance
Social sciences -- Philosophy
Issue Date: 2018
Publisher: Routledge
Citation: Bilon, A. (2018). Looking for social justice through agency — applying Giddens’s structuration theory to career guidance research and analysis. In T. Hooley, R. G. Sultana & R. Thomsen (Eds.), Career guidance for social justice : contesting neoliberalism (pp. 177-192). London: Routledge.
Abstract: In this chapter, I present the theory of structuration (ST) by Giddens as a useful tool and methodology that allows researchers to examine career guidance (CG) in depth, while considering macro, meso and micro levels of analyses. ST can serve as a source of inspiration for sociological research on career guidance. I discuss how ST can contribute to a more profound understanding of the role of CG in the struggle for social justice. The latter is in this chapter largely understood in terms of left-oriented, Marxist conceptions of the term, with special attention being paid to the distributive aspects of social life (Rosenthal & Yudin, 1967). ST, on its part, is used here as a ‘system of sensitising concepts’ (Turner, 1986). Therefore, while stressing the methodological use of ST, this chapter does not aim to analyse particular social justice concepts in detail. Rather than offering direct answers, I present a set of questions for further refl ection and discussion. The reason for this is that ST is introduced here as quite a universal theory applicable to various contexts of social justice. There are many reasons why attempts should be made to apply ST in career guidance research and analyses. First, as several contributors to this volume note, there are reasons related to social life and a widespread disappointment with the effects of the neoliberal hegemony (Saad-Filho & Johnston, 2005; Clarke, 2005; Harvey, 2005; Barry & Eckersley, 2005 ; Human Rights Watch, 2015 ; Standing, 2011). CG can be understood as one of the social processes and spheres (Kargulowa, 2012 as well as an instrument of social policy (European Lifelong Guidance Policy Network, 2010). Anchored in an economy based on neoliberal concepts and solutions, CG and social policy have suffered from funding cuts and have been seriously affected by market-orientated reforms (Meijers, 2001; Bilon, 2016; Marquand, 2004). As a result, there is an urgent need to explore and understand the complexity of current social life and the conditions in which it is embedded. Sociological theories, such as ST, can serve as a useful tool in developing a deeper understanding of social practices involved in CG. Since sociology itself is not a unified discipline (Szacki, 2012), some of the existing theories can prove more useful than others. As a post-classical theory introducing/ recalling the problem of the constitution of society, ST is still considered an effective point of departure for much sociological research (Lizardo, 2010) and is also applied in other disciplines, including psychology (Phipps, 2001; Pozzebon & Pinsonneault, 2005; Desanctis & Poole, 1994; Crowston, Sawyer, & Wigand, 2001; Duberley, Mallon, & Cohen, 2006; Barley, 1989; Kristiansen, 2014; Wheeler-Brooks, 2009). In CG research, ST can be illuminating since it focuses on understanding how and why practices acquire a particular shape and/or an institutional order. Bearing in mind that there are many versions of neoliberal social life, one can adopt van Apeldoorn’s (2009) concept of embedded neoliberalism , which, as noted in chapter 1 in this volume, stresses that neoliberal rules are always applied in very particular (local) social circumstances, and neoliberalism itself can be considered an international hegemonic project that incorporates and neutralises rival projects of social reality and politics. Therefore, sociological theories such as ST can help understand how and to what extent CG practices are shaped by the local and international (neoliberal) rules. A second set of reasons justifying the use of ST as a lens to consider CG is related to neoliberal discourses and ethic(s), with their upholding of individualisation, marketisation, the state’s withdrawal from welfare policy and the like (Harvey, 2005 ). The neoliberal notion of social justice is strongly based on Nozick’s concept of society and his accentuation of free choices (Nozick, 1974, 1989). In this context, the role of CG is at least two- dimensional. On the one hand, CG buttresses neoliberal discourse by insisting that people should adjust to the neoliberal labour market, with CG discourse supporting the idea of individualisation (Savickas et al., 2009). On the other hand, as Watts (1991 ) notes, neoliberalism needs CG for many reasons, with public CG services being a peculiar ‘relic’ of the welfare state and the concomitant notion of the distribution of social goods (Saad-Filho & Johnston, 2005). This specific position of being ‘in-between’ is where the question of the role of CG is abandoned in the analyses of current discourses, and consideration of ethic(s) and of social justice. ST can support further analyses of these issues in a at least three dimensions: (1) it focuses on social change, which can help us understand how change is possible; (2) it goes beyond individualisation and individualistic approaches; and (3) it offers some useful tools/ concepts for research—aspects of which are considered in subsequent sections of this chapter. A third set of reasons that justify the application of ST to career guidance research and analyses is associated with the development of the social sciences and the role ST itself plays in this process (Lizardo, 2010; Turner, 1986, 2006). Suffice it to mention the fact that critical theories have becoming increasingly popular in the field of education (e.g. McLaren & Farahmandpur, 2005), adult education (e.g. Brookfi eld, 2005), and other related fields in the social sciences. In an age that has earned the labels ‘post-political’ and ‘post-ideological’ (Marquand, 2004), academics urgently need sound theoretical underpinnings to inform their work. In the CG field, structuration theory can serve as system of sensitising concepts that facilitate a deliberate oscillation between ‘theory swinging in the clouds’ and empirical material ‘on the earth’ (Fine & Weis, 2009, p. 107). Such oscillation seems to be necessary in social justice analyses, where we deal with highly theorised concepts as well as with ‘reality’. In the next section of this chapter, I provide a short introduction to ST in order to demonstrate its potential for multi-layered analyses of social practices, including CG. I then discuss the potential mobilisation of ST in the field of CG.
ISBN: 9781138087385
Appears in Collections:Career guidance for social justice : contesting neoliberalism

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