Metaphor Identification Research Opens a New Vista on Career and Work

Did you know that metaphor is more than a literary adornment? Metaphor is key to understanding the world, the meaning of life, and communicating with other people.  Metaphorical language often goes unnoticed, yet we humans use metaphor in every day talk with one another, in what we read and write, and even in the way we gesture to say something.

For example, take the abstract concept time: “Time is money”, “Times are a changin”, “Times are tough”. Consider how often people use time in relation to a more concrete or physical experience, such as time in terms of space, distance, and movement: TIME AS AN OBJECT MOVING TOWARDS YOU.  “The meeting was brought forward to Monday.”

Career as Metaphor

Indeed, the word ‘‘career’’ itself is a metaphor drawn from its origins of a course, a track, or a chariot.  For example, people often use expressions that career is the lifelong path: CAREER IS A JOURNEY.  It is difficult to talk about and think about career without using metaphors (e.g., career described as a ladder, an opening, a story).

ACCELL researchers, Allison Creed and Peter McIlveen, use a sample of personal stories told by university students to demonstrate a method for the identification and analysis of metaphoric language in everyday talk. In their paper, “Metaphor identification as a research method for the study of career”, published in the International Journal for Educational and Vocational Guidance, they identified three metaphors used by the students to make sense of their careers and reasons for being at university: ACTIONS AND CONSTRUCTION, ENCOUNTERS AND RELATIONSHIPS, and AN OBJECT.

Creed and McIlveen believe the new research method demonstrated in their paper will prove itself as very useful. With respect to their study of students, the method has great potential for university educators, health practitioners, career counsellors, and marketers, who can use metaphors to better understand and communicate with students using metaphoric words, expressions, and images that are typically used by the students as a community.  For example, university career counsellors may very well be able to use metaphoric language to better engage the students in their studies and plans for the future.  Consider how much more impact university’s expensive campaigns and promotions would have if presented in the language of the students.

Narrative and Career Identity

This research into metaphor is part of ACCELL’s stream of research (and there’s a metaphor) focused on how narrative is used to create meaningful careers and work. The research team are currently exploring the use of metaphor in the language of “employability”, with promising results already on the way.


Creed, A., & McIlveen, P. (2017). Metaphor identification as a research method for the study of career. International Journal for Educational and Vocational Guidance. doi: 10.1007/s10775-017-9345-2

An author copy of the paper may be obtained from ResearchGate.

Writing and Telling a Career Story

Stories are universal. Cultures include stories; cultures are stories-incomplete stories, always evolving. Every person has a story; a person is a story-an incomplete story, always evolving. At their confluence, the stories of cultures manifest through individuals, and individuals express themselves through the stories of their cultures.  As such, one is a story of the other, with each reflecting one another.  Indeed, on this planet, there are seven billion stories and counting, incomplete and always evolving, as diverse as all the peoples on earth, yet, somehow humanely very similar to one another.  How these many stories are told, heard, and created is very much the domain of counselling. Continue reading

4E-cognition: Exploring thought, feeling, & action in career behaviour

What is 4E-cognition?

In recent years a new way of looking at the notion of cognition has gained ground, often labelled as 4E-cognition (embodied, enacted, embedded, and extended cognition). The basic claim is that cognition cannot be reserved to individual processes inside the head (and body) only; rather cognition is seen as “a doing”; it is something people do in their active and explorative sense-making with the bio-social environment. Thus, an ecological turn is on its way within cognitive science that seeks to explore thought, feeling, and action as inter-related dimensions of an agent-environment system.  ACCELL is now applying this new research paradigm to career development.Career images Continue reading

Narrative Career Counselling

Career counselling is a term that subsumes a variety of diverse activities.  Here, the qualities and activities of narrative career counselling are highlighted.

Core Features of Narrative Career Counselling:

  • emphasises subjectivity and meaning;
  • faciliates self-reflection and elaboration of self-concepts toward an enhanced self-understanding that is subjectively and contextually truthful;
  • is a collaborative process in which the client is supported while creating an open-ended personal story that holistically describes his or her life and career; and,
  • produces a story which enables the client to make meaningfully informed career decisions and actions.

Continue reading

Transformative Career Development Learning

Profound change in personal perspective, inclusive of the cognitive (thinking), affective (feeling) and behavioural (doing) dimensions of experience, are central to the adult learning theory of transformative learning (Mezirow, 2000). Transformative learning may occur in response to a disorienting dilemma, a crisis, or a series of critical moments that press an individual to change and adapt.  Studying for a degree, for example, quite frequently visits dilemmas, crises, and critical moments on students.  Such challenges are addressed by career development practitioners who are working in educational contexts.  Career Development Learning (CDL), whether it occurs within career counselling or career education, can be a vehicle for reflective learning that is transformative: that is, transformative career development learning (TCDL) (McIlveen, 2012).

CDL Answers Questions

CDL aims to facilitate students answering ostensibly straight-forward questions, such as:

“Why am I studying? Why am I studying for this major and degree? How can I make the most of my studies for personal achievement and work? What do I have to learn in order to achieve my goals? How can I determine the best study pathway for my career goals? How can I use what I have learned for success in the workforce?”

These questions are routine for career development practitioners who support students in universities and colleges. Academic practitioners, however, may not necessarily find the questions routine or even relevant to the day-to-day teaching of their specialist disciplines. An academic may well ask: “Don’t these students know why they are here?” Unfortunately, students’ decisions about their careers and choice of qualifications are not always perfectly resolved.  Thus, these questions  posed by students go to the heart of the matter when it comes to being a student: Authentic engagement in learning. And, this when CDL is really valuable.

CDL as a Reflexive Mirror

CDL may be metaphorically conceived of as a two-way mirror (McIlveen et al., 2011), as shown in the figure below. On the left-hand side of the figure is the student who is embedded in layers of career influences that range from the intrapersonal to the broader social and economic. On the right-hand side is the world-of-work, which is equivalently layered and complex. In the middle, is a two-way mirror that represents CDL.

 

CDL enables the student to reflect on his/her self with respect to career competencies and learning objectives. From another perspective, the student may look through the looking-glass—a lens of career competencies and learning objectives—to see the world-of-work. Both perspectives create meaning oriented toward self and the world-of-work, and it is through this meaning making process that disciplinary studies are made meaningful to the student, perhaps by answering the questions given above (e.g., “Why am I studying?”). Continue reading

A Philosophy of Career Counselling

As an intimate act of personal archaeology, career counselling excavates the psychological, social, and cultural past of an individual so as to inductively understand the present. Then, on the basis of this knowledge, the counsellor and client cast their psychological eyes into the future so as to imaginatively co-construct a story that may, or may not, generate active engagement in the world of work.  This creative process of being and becoming can be traced to the philosophical treatises of Kierkegaard, Hume, James, and Nietzsche.

Soren Kierkegaard

Can career counselling be a solution to Kierkegaard’s (1843/1967) problem of living life forward by knowing it backward? It can be; but, only if, paradoxically, one bravely accepts that this putative knowledge of the future that is inductively created on the basis of the past is little more than emotive guesswork, if not a folly that should be tentatively grasped with fingers crossed behind one’s back, hoping that one’s predictions may come true.

David Hume

It was David Hume (1748/2007) who challenged induction as a way of knowing the future. Hume suggested that humans believe in their predictions as result of intrinsic psychological architecture. Humans are inherently disposed toward committing the logical fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc or cum hoc ergo propter hoc (i.e., after this therefore because of this; with this therefore because of this). In other words, that B followed A, is no reason to believe A caused B; and, that A and B occur simultaneously is no reason to draw a causal relationship between the two.

William James

William James (1890/1952) deepened this idea in his argument that humans experience time because they experience thinking, metaphorically, like the flowing of a stream. Furthermore, James argued that consciousness of series (e.g., one event following another after another, and so on) is the source of rational thinking. Humans are not only psychologically capable of discerning series; they aim to do so in order to make sense of events they observe. Storying relies on this sense of time and inductive thinking so as to create connections between one moment in life and the next, ad infinitum.

Notwithstanding the flaw of inductive thinking, it is in existential torment that one must carry on with life, believing, and hoping, that the future can be known, albeit a fiction that is composed as an open-ended story that seems to contiguously follow on from the previous chapter of a life (i.e., post hoc ergo propter hoc). This fiction is exactly what people construct in order to make sense of their past and current phenomenal world, and it is this fictional existence that permits the activity of narrative career counselling as a way of knowing. In this way, counselling produces therapeutic truth—a benign white lie with generative intent. Accordingly, career counselling, especially narrative career counselling because it is the most doubtable form of personal knowing toward the creation of personal truths, has no more compelling a purchase on creating personal truths than psychoanalysis, which is a most exquisite form of personal archaeology.

I use pragmatism (James, 1907/2000) as an epistemology of personal truth, that which I call “pragmatic ideographic truth”. Continue reading