How useful is Constructivism in practice? This is a follow up to my recent blog reviewing Career Counselling: Constructivist Approaches. In that piece I partly looked at how Constructivism potentially interacts with the context I work, the UK HE careers sector. In this piece I am going to run through some more standard criticisms of constructivism. This is just my perception of constructivism, I;m not an expert in the literature so I may be going to miss things.
Putting it into practice- I know everyone always mentions this in the literature but it is not obvious how to put constructivist theories into practice always. Constructivist ideas (like narratives or system approaches) often are more complicated that matching metaphors. I feel matching dominates practice partly because it has an elegant application. Challenging to move from a matching metaphor to a system approach I imagine may seem daunting to a practitioner (I find it daunting).
Dealing with uncertainty- This is critique taken from Pryor and Bright and their book The Chaos Theory of Careers. Constructivism positions itself as a theory that responds to the changing world or work and how different the workplace has become in “late modernity”. One of the big changes that constructivism fails to take into account is the decrease in certainty that people face. Narrative approaches for example seem to emphasise how our career move in straight lines mostly dominated by our will and choices. Pryor and Bright challenge this by saying that constructivism puts too much focus on the value of planning and predicting the future.
What is the theory about? What I mean by this is that if you take a traditional DOTS model of career (decision making, opportunity awareness, transition skills and self-awareness) constructivism seems to almost entirely focus on self-awareness. The paradigm shift away from logical positivism that constructivism suggests should impact all of these areas. What I find though is the in the literature the focus is almost entirely on how people understand themselves. Even if you don’t buy in to the DOTS model I feel the question still remain is is constructivism just about the self or does it cover a wider range of concepts.
Understanding the world of work- for example, following on from the above, constructivism seems not to spend a lot of time thinking about the external world of work. It is good at incorporating networks into someone’s self concept but bad at thinking about LMI. Most career practitioners recognise that some learning about LMI needs to happen. I wonder if constructivisms counselling routes and its focus on the internal world and doubts about the ability to understand the external means it hasn’t grasped the thistle of LMI.
Challenging clients- continuing on the theme of of DOTS I feel constructivism is good at helping people narrate alternative futures but bad at thinking about how to enable them to get there. I think this is particularly the case where a client is stuck in a way of thinking. Constructivism is good at affirming people in the world views at creating positive spaces of “unconditional positive regard” (to quote Rogers). I feel that there lack of confidence in the external and a fear around power dynamics shifting from the client to the practitioner or the organization both are part of moves away from challenging. Questions based around how realistic a course of action is or why a course of action may not be working out do not seem to be easily grasped by constructivist theory.
Employability – In my work I hear the word employability almost as much as career. Being work ready and able to effectively find and apply for work is a big concern of my job. Again constructivist theory does not seem to particularly focus on how to apply for work. I feel that constructivism could a powerful metaphor for CV writing, social media profiles, networking and so on. I think this is a challenge facing careers practitioners looking to implement constructivist theory in HE careers settings. I feel constructivists counselling background needs to be expanded upon to see if there are more innovative and client centered ways of supporting and developing employability.