Emancipate Yourself from Mental Slavery – Professor Tristram Hooley’s Inaugural Lecture


Last week I attended Professor Tristram Hooley’s inaugural lecture on Career Education entitled “Emancipate Yourself from mental Slavery…” It was a very interesting evening. Picking up on Bob Marley’s lyric from Redemption songs as his starting point Hooley explored the interaction between careers work and social justice. Here are the slides below with my summary and a few thoughts of mine off the back of it.


Intro – Redemption songs

Hooley opened up by making a contrast between the activism that Marley exposes in “Redemption Songs” and the movement towards the nihilism of Cobain and others that society has moved towards. Hooley linked this to Thatcher’s “there is no alternative” describing an economic settlement that may not be entirely what people want but is the only option. So we live in an age where political change and radical alternatives are often not viewed as credible.

Part 1 – “Old pirates, yes,they rob I”

Hooley then moved on to review some fundamental principles. Firstly picking up the ideas of Watts and Karl Rogers that career can be for all and should be a place where we actualise our core identities and find fulfillment. Hooley then moved on to discuss how society enables this unequally. Referencing popular works such as the Spirit Level and Dorling’s “The 1%” Hooley described how society is unfair and unequal be in contrast to the nihilism discussed in his intro we can change it.

Part 2 – “From the bottomless pit”

Hooley then moved on to discuss how career education can interact with this problem and provide solution. He produced a five point schema of questions that could be put to the individual and (I take it) could be used to underpin career education and guidance from a social justice perspective.

  • Who am I?
  • How does the world work?
  • Where do I fit into the world?
  • How can I live with others in the world?
  • How do I go about changing the world

Hooley then moved on to describe how the previous government led by Osborne and Gove have undercut the possibility of this provision through insufficient, a limited conception of social mobility and harming the equality in the economic and our public lives.

Part 3 – Won’t you help to sing 

Finally Hooley looked at the current state of career education and guidance and what may need to be changed. He discussed how career works can be overly positive about the individual’s ability and overly individualistic in terms of what is discussed. Hooley made use of Watts’ very helpful four point typology for the rational for career education looking to the radical quadrant as one in need of developing further. Hooley pointed out the radical vision Watts raises as an option is not often taking forward. To close Hooley noted the problems practitioners face in seeing radical visions of career as impractical, as against their own view of the place of the practitioner and as coming into opposition with the power structures practitioners often encounter.

Hooley left us with this question about what we would do create more radical career education practice which will counter the injustice and individualism he described. I really liked Hooley’s lecture. It was refreshing to hear something genuinely new. I do have a few extra thoughts to move things forward as well.

  1. Build a new theoretical base – Careers work is often routed in a (neo?) liberal individualism, to put it another way we are more american dream than Nelson Mandela. Careers theory needs to be developed that engages with communities and justice more and that engages and contributes to the wider debates about the nature of justice. Partly this would help the profession critically engage with the terms Hooley used. Ideas like community, collaboration, justice and so on often have considerable slippage of use and can become empty signifiers to what we want the profession to sound like.  
  2. Recognise the challenge to practice – It follows if we are to be radical about our ideas we should similarly be radical about our practice. One key area is how we use groups in our work. We often view groups as a temporary delivery mechanism rather than a reality we are guests do. Individuals are part of communities, I feel Hooley’s work calls to engage with communities as communities. This should challenge existing techniques and structures to enable this. For example we often start with the 1-2-1 as the key intervention and then scale up to the group (because the individual is central). Instead one challenge may be to start with the group as central and scale down on occasion to a 1-2-1 to support the group.
  3. Take aim at capitalism – Hooley helpfully points out that overall economic structures are to blame for the situation we are in. We should develop thinking and practice that engages in this reality. I think this video below is a helpful start. The profession should not necessarily be about the overthrow of capitalism but we should argue for and be part of creating a better capitalism.
  4. Develop strategies in the face of power structures – One of the key realities to be engaged with, and for willing practitioners the one that holds them back, is the existence of uncooperative power structures. Most careers work is measured by individual destinations and not by the change in position and capital that is brought about in communities. This can hold back social justice as it becomes zero-sum gain, it is dog eat dog, some will get it, some won’t and nothing is done for the overall capacity of communities to develop themselves and more just social arrangements. As a profession we need to get better at negotiating this settlement, challenging the existence of unhelpful targets or at least imagining better ways of pursuing them.
  5. It’s not about refinancing the old but developing the new – Much of the conversation around careers work in the last five years or so in the UK has been focused on who pays for what. The danger here is that we view the ONLY thing that can be said about careers work, in schools in particular, is that there is not enough of it and it is not treated properly by politicians. I feel this gets too much space in the dialogue. It is undoubtedly true that finances make a big difference but if we just tie social justice to public sector finances we miss our responsibility as practitioners. We need better practice and new practice that engages with communities and social justice differently, we don’t need narrative about the good old days of Connexions. Connexions may have been great but we need to be forward thinking, engaging critically and creatively with the identity and practice of our profession.

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