Integrating theory and practice

This module is designed to help you integrate career development theories within your practice and thereby enhance it. To assist with this task, we will make links between theory and practice throughout the module. We will invite you to experiment with these and to construct your own approach to thinking about career. The terms theory and practice are often contrasted in everyday speech; however, it is important to acknowledge that there is always a theory, or theories, present in our practice. We apply and enact theories in our professional practices, and indeed in our day-to-day lives, as a matter of course. Moreover, the creation of academic journal articles, books and conference speeches are also practices. The publication of an article and the delivery of a talk are all forms of action. What is being highlighted here is a more nuanced treatment of theory and practice. Theories are present in common sense explanations of the world and may be unconscious or tacit ideas and beliefs that inform our actions. Practices encompass a wide range of actions including thinking, writing and speaking. It is for this reason that the focus of this course is on the integration of theory and practice. So, when discussing theory and practice, it can be useful to bring our theories to the surface - to make them manifest and explicit so that we can examine them and understand their implications. The activity at the foot of this page is designed to help with this.
Identifying gaps in what we know
One of the most important uses of career development theories lies in identifying gaps in what we know about ourselves and others. For example, they can help us understand the roles that an individual occupies and the reasons for this. This use of theory - the identification of gaps - will be used throughout the module.

The module will introduce you to a range of career development theories. It is important to note that here, and throughout the course, we encourage theoretical triangulation i.e. engaging with a person's career from different theoretical perspectives and academic disciplines. Used carefully in combination, these interpretations can take us closer to a person by helping us explore his or her career more fully and the various directions it might take. This is, in turn, a step towards integrating theory and practice and synthesising one's own distinctive approach.

Similarities and differences
You will find that, in addition to the obvious differences, there are many similarities to be found amongst career development theories. These differences and similarities are important aids to practice and you are encouraged to make notes on these as you move through the materials.

Career literacy
Career development facilitators need to be skilled at reading and interpreting their own career development and the career development of their clients. This demands a very specific way of using career development theories to engage in multiple readings of career. This career literacy can be enabled by developing familiarity with key concepts derived from career development theories to enhance the vocabulary one uses to understand and discuss career development. Thus equipped, one can understand both surface and below-the-surface narratives of career. This entails using career development theories, not as a distancing mechanism, but to understand people more deeply, more fully and more wholly. Through this, we get a better feel for our own career beliefs and context. This is sometimes known as reflexivity. This can also be extended to the clients we work with and considered in relation to each of the authors we will be discussing; and this will be highlighted as we work through the materials. A high level of career literacy, therefore, drawing from a range of career development theories, represents part of the distinctive and specialist knowledge base of the career development professional.

Different types of career development theories
There are two main types of career development theories discussed in this module. Firstly, there are theories that seek to explain or describe our career development. Secondly, there are theories concerned with aspirational claims about what people should do to improve their own career development and help others do so. We will initially focus on the first type because the second type is usually informed by the first. More detail is provided on the second type in the section entitled Additional definitions, disciplines and perspectives. Both types can be used to enhance our career literacy i.e. our ability to read the career development of self and others.

Key concepts
As indicated above, a particular feature of the teaching is the identification and use of key concepts. The key concepts detailed within the core materials form the main focus and contents of this module. The priority is to develop a secure understanding of the key concepts, use these to undertake multiple readings of career and translate these readings into action. Key concepts will be clearly shown in each presentation and their creative use modelled and encouraged. Extension activities are signposted and encouraged in each section however the main focus is on a secure understanding of the key concepts. This will be explained further in the first presentation entitled An introductory framework. Towards the start of this module, you are also advised to check the Assignment section to see how the key concepts are used in the assignment brief. Here, the focus of the analysis and evaluation is less on whether a specific theory is true or false and more on undertaking close readings of career development in relation to specific case studies.

Activity: Your Career
1. You are now invited to think back over your own career to date. How would you describe what has happened over the years? Once you have recollected, find some way of presenting your career on one side of an A4 page - use any combination of words, diagrams, drawings, pictures, images, etc.
2. Once you have done this, look carefully at what you have produced. What have you focused on? Have you emphasised any of the following factors: decision-making, the influence of particular people, your values and beliefs, your skills and abilities, your experience of change and development over time? Of course, all of these factors are significant in career development - indeed, there are career theories associated to each and every one of them.

Activity: Two Introductory Readings
1/ Following this, you are asked to read the journal article by Inkson (2004) and the book chapter by Gothard (2001) from the core reading. Do this before attempting any of the further work. Both readings provide a useful and accessible starting point for the approach taken in this module.
2/ You are asked to continue making links between the module, the readings, your own career development and your clients' career development as you move through the succeeding sections.
3/ As optional extension reading, there is another chapter by Inkson available in the further reading that serves as an introduction to career studies. See the chapter entitled 'Career and metaphor' by Inkson (2007).