According to Savickas and Baker (2005), career psychology is in
need of reinvigoration to respond to the challenges of rapid
transformation in a postmodern world. They argued that career psychology
needs to revisit the contextual and social concerns that characterized
the field in the early 20th century. One approach seldom used in career
counseling or research is discourse analysis, which may be capable of
innovatively addressing global psychology issues such as career
development (Stead & Young, 2007), examining the social and
contextual concerns alluded to by Savickas and Baker, and offering new
insights to career counseling practice. Discourse analysis may enable
career psychologists to expose the system of values and power relations
implied in professional and client discourses. It may allow career
psychologists to challenge the essentialism (i.e., the view that people
have a core nature waiting to be discovered) and individualism central
to U.S. psychology. Discourse analysis may relieve the individual of
carrying the responsibility for social ills and injustices, which
discourse analysis reveals as embedded in social and power relations.
Discourse analysis is similar to social constructionism in that it
is radically antiessentialist and focuses on how personal identities and
social interactions are constituted through language, hence its
potential use to counselors. It facilitates the application of
psychological knowledge and tools across cultures and recognizes the
embeddedness of human interaction in context. Discourse analysis differs
from most formulations of social constructionism (see Young &
Collin, 2004) and from career development theories, such as career
construction theory (Savickas, 2002), the developmental-contextual
approach (Vondracek, Lerner, & Schulenberg, 1986), and contexualist
career theory (Young, Valach, & Collin, 2002), in that it is
particularly useful in assisting counselors in understanding power,
politics, and ideology in human interactions. Discourse analysis thereby
makes explicit whose interests are being served by counseling practices.
It deconstructs how discourses may be taken for granted in one context
but have oppressive effects in other contexts. These features of
discourse analysis may facilitate a process of critical self-reflection
in career development so as to enhance ethical, fair, and inclusive
practices in the field. In a similar vein, discourse analysis may also
enrich the application of career development in, for example, social
justice perspectives (e.g., Blustein, Perry, Kenna, & DeWine, 2007),
feminist perspectives (e.g., Hopfl & Atkinson, 2000), and
multicultural competency frameworks (e.g., Worthington, Soth-McNett,
& Moreno, 2007).
Discourse analysis is a broad and varied field encompassing a
variety of understandings of social realities, methods, and
applications, such as Laclau and Mouffe's (1985) discourse theory,
Fairclough's (1995) critical discourse theory, Potter and
Wetherell's (1987) interpretative approach, and Foucault's
(1972, 1977) poststructuralist approach. The purpose of this article is
to reflect briefly on the recent origins of discourse analysis through
structuralism and poststructuralism and show how important aspects of
discourse analysis may possibly be applied to enhance understanding of
career counseling and research. We also delineate some of the
limitations and strengths of discourse analysis within the context of
career counseling and development.
The purpose of this article, however, is not to situate discourse
analysis as a competing framework against existing theoretical and
meta-theoretical approaches in the field, because this would contradict
the very principles of discourse analysis. The purpose is rather to open
new areas of exploration in career counseling and development and to
provide pointers to directions that may enrich and complement existing
Structuralism and Poststructuralism
Discourse analysis has its recent origins in structuralism and the
work of Saussure (1974), a linguist who emphasized that language
constitutes the world as people know it and thus also creates social
identities and social relationships. Discourse thus informs one's
perception of one's social world. Saussure's structuralism
views signs and symbols (e.g., words and images) as being interconnected
but fixed so that a word always has the same meaning (Phillips &
Jorgensen, 2002). Poststructuralism includes the writings of Derrida
(1981) and Foucault (1972, 1977) and partially accepts but also advances
structuralism. Poststructuralists also emphasize the interconnectedness
of signs but see a constantly changing and temporary structure depending
on time and context. Poststructuralists view words as having many
meanings that can vary culturally, temporally, and contextually. Thus,
the meaning of words moves to the social realm. Texts are open to
multiple interpretations as are the interactions between counselor and
client. Such meanings may also be negotiated between client and
counselor. Poststructuralists would assume (as do social
constructionists) that language constructs the phenomena it describes,
as if they were real (e.g., selves, personality, interests, aptitudes).
Nevertheless, poststructuralists would move beyond social
constructionism in further emphasizing that language is governed by
orders of discourse, such as structures of power, knowledge, and
ideology. For example, career maturity is constructed as an object in
specific technical jargon spoken by career experts. The individual thus
is spoken for or by particular discourses, which makes particular kinds
of selves appear (Wilbraham, 2004). Similarly, a word such as career may
have a very different meaning in professional discourse that is situated
in a dominant culture from the meaning a person from a nondominant
culture may attach to this same word.
Both structuralists and poststructuralists take an antihumanist
position in that humanism reflects a unique and coherent self In so
doing, structuralists and poststructuralists shift the psychological
center of a person from an individual with coherent core personality
traits to a social realm comprising multiple discourses. In career
development, there is a shift from the autonomous individual worker to
the process whereby workers constitute themselves and their work from
available discourses (Walkerdine, 2002), for example, how employees
create multiple subjectivities from managerial and other discourses
available to them (Walsh & Bahnisch, 2002).
As an example of temporary linguistic structures in career
counseling, there have been changing but also contested meanings
associated with terms such as vocation; occupation; career, and, more
recently, work (Richardson, 1993). So although aspects of language may
be agreed upon, other aspects are not, and, thus, language can be viewed
as a site of contestation where power relations play out and conflict
occurs (Burr, 2003). Words are not seen as reflecting reality but are
part of multiple discourses that can provide different perspectives on
phenomena, including human problems, that are viewed as being rooted in
language. Some of these perspectives carry more weight at certain times
and in certain cultural contexts than others; thus, power (Foucault,
1980) becomes a central concern in relation to language.
In the discussion that follows, we explore a number of concepts
that are central to discourse analysis to demonstrate their usefulness
in career counseling and research, namely, discourse, deconstruction,
power/knowledge, psy-complex, ideology, and identity.
Salient Concepts in Discourse Analysis
The term discourse varies in meanings. From a Foucauldian
perspective, it can refer to institutionalized ways of communicating,
which construct certain objects or subjects (Burr, 2003). From this
perspective, the language of career counseling does not reflect reality
but is interpretative, is constructed to conform to mainstream
psychological terminology, and supports its philosophical and
positivistic underpinnings. For example, discourse analysts would be
interested in how an oft-used term such as personality evolved and why
it is so prominent in psychological discourse. The term personality, as
referring to an individual's character, first appeared in 1795
(Barnhart Steinmetz, 1988). Discourse analysts would query why it was
necessary to evoke this meaning of personality and to ascribe
personality traits to people. A sociopolitical and historical analysis
would be sought to uncover the necessity for its use and particularly
whose interests this term served and serves.
Discourse may also be viewed as social interaction in context.
Drewery and Winslade (1997) argued that discourse is useful in
counseling because discourses are social practices in that they organize
ways of behaving and provide the frameworks individuals use to make
sense of the world. Similarly, Weingarten's (1995) therapeutic work
applies the perspective of social historian Joan Scott of discourse as a
"historically, socially, and institutionally specific structure of
statements, terms, categories, and beliefs" (p. 10) that are
imbedded in institutions, social relationships, and texts. Such a
meaning of discourse holds that people's thoughts and emotions,
their sense of themselves, and their ways of understanding are
constituted through discourse and, by implication, through culture and
language. Some discourses are dominant and others become marginalized
through social processes. People are all subject to a multitude of
discourses, and some discourses may be so familiar that individuals are
unaware of them (Weingarten, 1995). For example, when clients describe
their career exploration, there can be a familial discourse in which
family members urge an individual to follow a desired occupation, a
counseling discourse reflecting the individual's emotions and
motivations to pursue a certain occupation, and a peer discourse in
which friends suggest appropriate occupational choices. All these more
local discourses are again situated in larger social, cultural, and
historical discourses. These constrain what may be known or described
and carry particular cultural agendas, for example, the promotion of the
dominant view of the self as autonomous agent in capitalist societies.
Discourses offer certain "linguistic repertoires" (Moir, 1993,
p. 32) for understanding occupational choices and construing identity.
Cultural discourses play into discourses of work. A family in the
United States may use career counseling language to discuss occupational
choice because this language has largely entered the popular discourses
there. They may then speak of an appropriate or "right"
occupation as one that fits with an individual's inherent traits
and aptitudes and that leads to self-actualization. Such a
"psychologically sophisticated." cultural discourse coheres
well with the dominant cultural discourse of traditional career
counseling approaches (Stead, 2004). Nevertheless, a traditional African
family may not view an occupation as an instrument in self-actualization
but draw from other cultural discourses, such as viewing occupational
choices as those of a community sending an emissary to the world of
work. In this case, the choice of occupation is not centered in the
individual or even the family, but in the community, which may believe
that it needs more teachers or doctors. Such a view does nor cohere well
with traditional psychological theories, which privilege the individual,
autonomous subject, as is manifest in both personality-matching
(Holland, 1997) and developmental approaches, such as that of Super
(1980), to occupational choice. Discourse analysis offers a tool for
becoming aware of and conceptualizing and working with these competing
discourses in counseling in a respectful way, so as to assist clients to
position themselves in preferred ways vis-a-vis competing discourses in
The concept of deconstruction is closely aligned to that of
discourse. People construct realities by building descriptions and
accounts of events through language, interaction, and negotiation. On
the other hand, deconstruction (Derrida, 1981) is concerned with taking
apart clients' constructed discourses and showing how they are put
together to provide clients with perspectives of the world. When a text
is read or listened to from a discourse analysis point of view, internal
contradictions and omissions are displayed. Discourse analysis reveals
which ideas are privileged or dominant and what the ensuing costs are.
Following Derrida, Parker (2002) asserted that "a critical
discursive reading is always, in some sense, a deconstruction of
dominant forms of knowledge, and the reader constructs a different
account as they deconstruct a text" (p. 129). According to Drewery
and McKenzie (1999), therapeutic deconstruction includes the process of
understanding and uncovering discontinuities in the client's
discourse(s), which are considered to contribute to the client's
problem. For example, a client may state how important it is to make
one's own decisions regarding careers, but always rely on parental
advice. No client's personal story is so self-consistent as to defy
being challenged on its own terms (Drewery & McKenzie, 1999). The
counselor is particularly interested in the assumptions, often unstated,
and the contradictions in the client's story. After the
client's story has been deconstructed, the counselor and client
reconstruct the story as an alternative version. Deconstruction becomes
especially important in career counseling, where clients may need to
find alternatives to dominant narratives in their lives to promote
change. The counselor explicitly confronts the way power relations shape
and constitute personal narratives and the way that institutions, such
as career counseling, play a role in this (Besley, 2002b). A variety of
therapy practices are used to deconstruct, expose, and subvert dominant
problematic discourses, opening space for change (White, 1993).
Similar deconstructive work can enable social change through
discourse analytic research, as illustrated in the work of Willig
(1999). She offered a nonrelativist constructionist approach in which
social structures and their discourses do not only determine behavior
but also offer the potential for change and action. Willig proposed a
critical-realist approach to discourse analysis that involves a
nonrelativist social constructionist stance and accords well with
Parker's (2005) four key ideas mentioned further on. She argued
that this approach moves beyond a social constructionist position in
that it not only deconstructs existing discourses but also opens the
possibility of putting more liberating alternatives in place. This kind
of collective research practice, which uses similar processes to
narrative counseling and explicitly deals with the power dimension of
discourse, would entail the following (see Willig, 1999):
Documentation of subjective experience. Clients are given an
opportunity to voice their experience.
Discourse analysis of the documented experiences. Clients engage in
critical reflection on the texts they have produced, such as their
career development. The counselor facilitates this process. Limitations
and constraints in action and experience are identified.
Identification of alternatives. Alternatives are identified or
different experiences are listened to.
Exploration of the relationship between discourses and
institutions. Clients establish which institutions are reinforced by the
discourses they use and which may be challenged by them. The counselor
may ask who benefits from certain cultural discourses. For example, the
belief that women should stay at home to raise children would benefit
men and contribute to patriarchy.
Emergence of historical discourses. For example, the emergence of a
discourse of commerce within career counseling services may position
students and clients as customers who expect a product and value for
money rather than, for example, holistic care or an interpersonal
process of counseling.
Analysis of the material basis of the discourse. A link is
established between what can be said and thought and the structures that
can accommodate such a discourse. For example, a print culture
encourages introspection, individualism, and social atomism, whereas an
oral culture may encourage sharing, communalism, and social cohesion. A
career counselor's written report may carry weight in a print
culture but an extended conversation may carry more weight for a client
who feels at home in an oral culture.
Bringing about change. Ideally and finally, the counselor should
have something to say about how psychological, social, and/or political
practice can be improved.
Such an approach to career counseling is not about the clients but
for them as they become coresearchers. The insights gained, however, can
be used outside of the group that produced them. It is similar to action
research in that it aims to empower participants and challenge injustice
in social and academic, including career counseling, practices. There is
also a similarity to narrative counseling practices, which position the
counselor or researcher in a transparent, decentered position (White,
1997). Nevertheless, there are as many methods of discourse analysis as
there are discourse analysts. Parker (2002) warned that discourse
analysis should not be reduced to a number of fixed and specified steps,
because each discourse analysis will differ according to the counselor
or researcher and the respective problems and contexts. Discourse
analysis may be more a way of approaching problems than a single
Discourse analysis can be used to deconstruct the prevailing
academic discourses of career counseling, and provide different and
innovative ways of understanding, through identifying discursive
constructions and determining the positions made available by
discourses. Through discourse analysis, texts can be subverted by being
revealed as promoting certain discourses and containing internal
contradictions (Michael, 1990). Revealing these effects of texts offers
choice in terms of where professionals and clients want to position
(Drewery & Winslade, 1997) themselves in terms of those texts and
discourses. For example, professionals and clients may choose to
distance themselves from dominant discourses of work as formal, male,
and professional, so as to include the often invisible informal work of
women in texts and conversations pertaining to work (Richardson, 1993).
Power/Knowledge and Discourse
Foucault (1980) viewed power in a way that was different from the
commonsense notion that more knowledge increases power. According to
Foucault (1980), power and knowledge are inseparable (they have been
likened to the two sides of one coin), so much so that he spoke of
power/knowledge. Foucault (1980) saw knowledge as having the potential
for actions to occur. For Foucault (1980), power is not something a
person has, but the effect discourses have on people. Power is
constructive in that discourses invite individuals to construe
themselves and the world in certain ways. Power is therefore subtle and
is present in the form of disciplinary power, much of which is hidden to
most people; otherwise, they would probably resist it. Discourses are
tied to institutional practices and therefore are allocated the stamp of
truth, not by powerful people but by the prevailing discourses in
society. One such prevalent discourse concerns the family in which the
father provides and the mother cares for the children. Competing
discourses try and replace such discourses where, for example, advocates
for women argue for institutional-provided day care when these women are
working, more powerful positions at work, more time to be with their
families while also working, and so on (Schultheiss, 2004). One's
culture provides the foundations for certain discourses to be accepted
or tolerated, whereas other discourses may be unacceptable and therefore
marginalized in a particular culture. So discourse analysis can be used
to unravel how such discourses came into being and how to deconstruct
them. People who find themselves at the margins of dominant cultural,
gender, economic, or political discourses often develop painful life
situations or problems. Seeking help for these problems may
paradoxically confront these people with the same dominant discourses
within the helping discourse. Career counseling, being situated within
dominant discourses and contributing to those discourses, lends itself
to inadvertently promoting the dominant discourses (Rose, 1985).
Dominant discourses include and favor some people and exclude
others. In the world of work, some of these "others" have
recently become very-visible through their protest: Women, people of
color, and people with disabilities have protested the exclusion of some
of their experiences in the dominant discourses of the workplace (e.g.,
Carter & Cook, 1992; Elliott & Leung, 2005; Hopfl &
Atkinson, 2000). Their protest has highlighted the real effects of
discourses on the actual lives of people, in this case, on finding
employment, level of appointment, and salaries. The psychological
effects of dominant psychological discourses have often been overlooked
because they are more subtle. Nevertheless, they become magnified when
applied in colonial societies and non-U.S. and non-European cultures
It is easy to forget that the work and person of the counselor is
also situated within various discourses. Career counselors and
researchers should be concerned not only with locating the participants
of their studies (or the clients in their consulting rooms) in terms of
fields of power/knowledge (discourses) but also with locating themselves
in discourses. Counselors also function within the limitations of
certain discourses but are often dangerously unaware of this. For
example, counselors may be blind to how their gender (namely, their
construal of gender and career) interfaces with the gender of the client
(his or her construal around gender and career). Both client and
counselor may be constrained by dominant cultural beliefs around gender
because both are situated within the same or different constraining
discourses. Thus, discourse analysis also offers counselors the
opportunity to take a reflexive critical stance toward their own
knowledge production and thereby effectively removes the traditional
distance between counselor and client (or researcher and participant).
Foucault (1972, 1977) stressed that individuals construe themselves
in terms of dominant discourses as they affect directly on personal
identity. This process has been referred to as the psy-complex, which is
an intricate network of terms in which psychological discourse regulates
and categorizes people (Rose, 1985). Career counseling has created a
network of theories and practices that covers the ways in which people
in modern U.S. cultures are categorized, observed, and regulated by
career counseling and the ways in which they live out psychological
models in their own talk and experience. It instructs people on how to
view themselves and others by using career counseling concepts, some of
which are now part of popular culture, such as developmental stages,
work adjustment, and self-efficacy, Foucault (1980) believed that when
people accept such words, which they change into self-evident truths,
they may participate in their own subjugation (Parker, 2002), as is
apparent from, the term work, adjustment. One may query whose interests
work adjustment serves. Such categorizations are not reality, but
perspectival, and comprise multiple possible discourses. Foucault (1972)
argued that if counselors can understand the origins of certain
discourses in a subject field and, one might add, discourses a client
presents in career counseling, then counselors may begin to make them
explicit, expose their effects on counselors' practices, and be in
a better position to choose ones that fit with counselors'
preferred values. For example, Moir (1993) applied discourse analysis to
interviews with students regarding their choice of occupations and
described how the students used common psychological discursive
practices in their descriptions of occupational choice.
There is always the possibility of studying the ways that
counseling practice regulates behavior. By studying how discourses
reproduce power relations, one can develop counterdiscourses (Foucault,
1977). Some "truths" or self-descriptions can thus be
subjugating or liberating. The issue is to expose the effects of those
self-evident truths so that clients can choose which constructions fit
better with their lives and values. Part of career counseling becomes
the deconstruction of dominant discourses so that clients have more
autonomy in relation to the effects of those discourses on their lives
(White, 1993). In turn, this increased autonomy can inform and enrich
their construal of their own identities.
Narrative counselors such as Michael White (1997), who has
consistently applied Foucault's analyses to therapeutic work, use a
distinction that was first introduced by Geertz (1983), namely, thin
descriptions that limit alternatives versus thick descriptions that open
up alternatives. Modernist psychological terms such as career maturity,
career personality types, and self-concept (or, worse, pathological
labels) reinforce thin self-descriptions and are thus subjugating. They
are subjugating because one lives in cultures where there are expert,
evaluative, and normalizing judgments that urge individuals to conform
to cultural and community expectations. Insofar as people believe in
these expectations as necessary to their well-being and thereby accede
to these truths, they also limit their options. For example, following
Holland's (1997) personality types, a client may be told by a
career psychologist (an expert in contemporary culture), that he or she
scores high on the Realistic personality type and that he or she should
primarily consider Realistic type occupations. White conceived of
counseling as a process in which one would develop thicker descriptions.
For example, a client could be invited to explore self-descriptions
beyond Realistic type, and thereby open or refine possible career
choices. The idea of developing thicker descriptions could also extend
to theorizing and research. Deconstructing dominant career theories may
expose the power relations implied in those theories. Research could be
aimed at developing thicker descriptions, for example, around the
complex ways that workers construe their identities as workers.
Another term frequently referred to in discourse analysis is
ideology, which can mean various things. One meaning is that it is
knowledge used in the service of power (Burr, 2003), and another is that
it is an articulated worldview that can be contested and is associated
with social groups. Ideology is arbitrary in that its internal
contradictions can be uncovered or revealed (Kincheloe & McLaren,
2005). At the microlevel, ideologically charged communication is
witnessed in who starts and ends conversation, who interrupts whom, and
who starts new topics, as occurs in therapy among other domains. The
role of parenting, or any interested party, in career exploration and
career choice and how it varies within cultures would be an interesting
topic to explore in this regard. Video productions and magazine articles
of types of work can also be ideologically saturated and reflective of
status differentials between occupations. The interactional
relationships between boss and employee or between job seeker and
interview committee also lend themselves to analysis in the ideological
Identity is of interest to discourse analysis and is viewed as
culturally derived and a construction of language. It is not seen as
being integrated, but as contradictory and decentered. Identity also
shifts and adapts to various relationships in time and context (Sampson,
1993). This view is in marked contrast to identity being widely viewed
as the clarity and stability of a person's goals (e.g., Holland,
Gottfredson, & Power, 1980) or the consolidation of a self-identity
(Erikson, 1963). Discourse analysis moves away from the essentialist,
structuralist conceptions of self and identity especially characteristic
of the humanist tradition, but also the psychoanalytic, behaviorist, and
cognitive traditions (Sampson, 1993). It is argued that career identity
is multiple, not unitary, and constantly being fashioned by various
discourses, such as race, gender, age, the work people do, and the work
statuses they have. Critical discourse analysis (Parker, 2002) and
narrative therapy (Besley, 2002b) both follow Foucault in trying to move
away from a deficit and improvement discourse so prevalent in career
counseling. These discourses encourage people to think that they have to
change, grow, develop, and improve, or grow into an essential self or
"real" unitary identity. Such discourses reinforce the power
of experts and institutions that aim to help them achieve this. Concepts
such as the consolidation of an individual identity do not confront the
sociocultural political powers (discourses) in which the problem is
embedded in the first place. Discourses are enacted in social
interactions, and career counselors would be particularly interested in
how this happens, as also portrayed in the narrative or storied approach
Identities are interwoven with power relations and existing
ideologies as one considers the discourses on formal work and informal
work. Also, one may consider how those involved in formal work
marginalize those who wish to benefit from balancing work and family.
Identities can be societally compatible (e.g., a man studying
engineering) or incompatible, but identities are socially constructed
through discourse and are continually changing. Marshall and Wetherell
(1989) showed how the gender identities of potential lawyers in Great
Britain can be interpreted, namely, as static and fixed individualistic
repertoires and, second, as identities that are negotiated and
transformed through discourse. They stated that a positivistic viewpoint
is to establish the group identity and coherent belief structure of
potential female lawyers. Alternatively, the discourse analytic approach
they used showed the contradictory statements of the participants; their
fragmented stereotypes of lawyers; and the considerable variation in
strategies to negotiate professional, gender, and family identities. The
counselor would thus not foster a process of getting the client to
develop one stable and right identity, but to develop identities that
are coconstructed with other people and that may vary in time and space.
For a more comprehensive discussion of self and identity in career
counseling and development from a Foucauldian perspective, see Stead and
Key Aspects of Discourse Analysis
Discourse analysis does not follow established or agreed-upon
methods (Macleod, 2002). Here, one is reminded of Feyerabend (1975), who
argued that scientists are methodological opportunists and that science
is an anarchistic enterprise. The interested reader may wish to consult
various discourse analytic approaches, such as the narrative approach to
counseling and its relationship to discourse analysis (White, 1993,
1997), Potter and Wetherell's (1987) interpretative approach, and
Willig's (1999) critical-realist approach to discourse.
Parker (2005) identified four key ideas that differentiate
discourse analysis from other qualitative research traditions:
multivoicedness, semiotics, resistance, and social bond. The first key
aspect of discourse analysis is the multivoicedness of language that,
for example, includes the contradictoriness of what is said of the
categories individuals assign to others. For example, how do career
identity and occupational self-concept differ (Super, Savickas, &
Super, 1996), and how do they position the self in relation to others?
In therapy, it is important to pay close attention to the contradictions
that may be present in the client--counselor interactions and, in this
way, obtain more clarity on the meanings of the speaker (e.g., the
client who believes in hard work but who wants a job that allows for
much free time). Second, semiotics is the way people put language
together in counseling, and how individuals are put together in a
certain shape by the language already organized into discourse. In
counseling, the therapist may show the client how views are shaped by
language. For example, how am I put together in terms of
"personality constructs"? How is this different from viewing
myself in terms of chapters in my career life story? Another example is
when clients may refer to themselves as career-undecided people as
opposed to exhibiting career-undecided behaviors. The third key aspect
is resistance. Language not only describes but also does things.
Language keeps power relations in place or challenges them. For example,
talking as a survivor rather than as a victim of sexual harassment at
work would show more resistance to the social practices embedded in
male-dominated workplaces. Terms such as white-collar and blue-collar
workers, career and job, are examples of terminology that maintains
power relations. Discourse analysts are especially careful to note how
oppression is legitimized and how therapeutic interactions and, indeed,
the power relations in the client-counselor relationship can be part of
maintaining the status quo. Finally, discourse arranges language into
types of social bond, and each bond includes certain people and excludes
others. Here, counseling discourse can be shown to work ideologically in
that it may enhance some people and belittle others. For example, using
psychological classifications define who or what is included (e.g.,
career maturity) and excluded (e.g., career immaturity), and a career
counselor should be attentive to this. It also implies that the person
doing the describing knows better than the person being described. More
obviously, inclusion and exclusion happens when people talk of
"Western" and "non-Western" or, worse,
"Western" and "other" cultures.
Some Concerns Regarding Discourse Analysis
There are pitfalls inherent in discourse analyses. One of these is
the issue of how to maintain personal agency in the face of relativism
implied by multiple discourses coexisting. Burr (1999) also argued for
retaining a sense of choice and agency, in particular to challenge and
resist positions within discourse. The therapeutic work of narrative
therapists and empowering approaches to discourse analytic research
offer possible ways of maintaining this sense very deliberately.
Another more hidden pitfall inherent in discourse analysis is the
tendency for discourse analysts to focus on language in a very narrow
sense and banish material and bodily experiences from accounts of the
person. Recent work by Sawicki (1991) emphasized that bodily experiences
are read through discourses. Sawicki used Foucauldian concepts to
include the body as part of discourse. Nevertheless, there are also
arguments to the effect that the body itself creates meaning and
knowledge outside of language and discourse (Burr, 1999); discourse
analysis would have to guard against marginalizing bodily and artistic
expressions of experience.
Discourse analysis is an interpretative, critical process in which
historical, contextual, and cultural aspects of socially shared
constructions are studied. It examines how discourses are historically,
socially, and culturally defined and not merely as internally
constructed cognitive events. This process of examination opens doors to
social change and to a more inclusive career counseling discipline. It
invites career psychologists to become vigilant and to practice a
"pessimistic activism that expects to find domination and control
in the most innocent places, especially in the innocent places"
(Richer, 1992, p. 110). Some important aspects of discourse analysis
applicable to career counseling and research were explored in this
article, namely, discourse, deconstruction, power/knowledge,
psy-complex, ideology, and identity. These are useful in urging career
counselors and researchers to reexamine the taken for granted so as to
expose the limitations of oppressive practices hidden in current
understandings of the psychology of work.
Discourse analysis enables counselors to challenge
taken-for-granted practices in career counseling and to revisit how they
are constituted as professionals. It can inform therapies, such as
narrative therapy, by addressing issues such as identity and cultural
contexts and how power legitimizes, shapes, and constitutes the
clients' narratives (Besley, 2002a). It enables counselors to
examine how clients" narratives are constructed and how they may be
deconstructed to suggest possible alternatives in the stories of
clients' career development. Discourse analysis seeks to uncover
dissimilarities and contradictions in the clients' narratives and
so enable the client to reconstruct other stories that may be more
helpful than those the client initially brought to therapy in so doing,
it has the potential to effectively address Savickas and Baker's
(2005) call for reinvigorating career counseling and development.
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Graham B. Stead, Department of Curriculum & Foundations,
Cleveland State University; Terri M. Bakker, Department of Psychology,
University of Pretoria, Mamelodi Campus, Pretoria, South Africa. The
authors thank David Blustein for his helpful comments on an earlier
version of this article. Correspondence concerning this article should
be addressed to Graham B. Stead, Department of Curriculum &
Foundations, Cleveland State University, Education Building 212, 2485
Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44115 (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org).
Discourse analysis can be used to understand and interpret culturally
and socially produced meanings regarding work and to outline how
specific rules and conventions can configure meaning production of
work in context. The implications of some core concepts in discourse
analysis pertinent to career counseling are explored, including
discourse, deconstruction, power/knowledge, psy-complex, ideology,
and identity. Such an exploration has the potential to initiate a
process of critical self-reflection in career counseling and
development so as to enhance ethical, fair, and inclusive practices
in the field.