Developing a social justice agenda for counsellor education in New Zealand: a social constructionist perspective
Permanent link to Research Commons versionhttps://hdl.handle.net/10289/15367
Counselling and Counsellor education in the West have traditionally been dominated by a liberal-humanist premise which emphasises the universality of human experience and the independence of individuals. The effect of this orientation on counselling practice has been a focus on the capacity of individuals to make independent changes in their lives through the exercise of rational choice. In Aotearoa/New Zealand, feminists and some Maori have challenged this perspective. Indeed a growing literature in the helping professions acknowledges that Eurocentric and patriarchal interpretations have been imposed through psychological practices, most particularly on women and those of non-European origin. Such critiques must have significant implications for counsellor education. In 1991 as a counsellor educator with a concern for social justice, it seemed to me that critical theory discourse and some forms of feminism had developed the necessary conceptual underpinnings which would enable counselling practice to address these injustices. From a critical theory perspective, hegemonic practices of power maintained hierarchical social structures which systematically marginalise people. I sought to identify how these theories might be useful in reformulating counsellor education in Aotearoa/New Zealand. In the belief that a social justice agenda was also important to the 12 counsellor educators in New Zealand universities, I wanted to further my understanding of the implications of such a commitment by interviewing my colleagues. The main focus of these interviews was to explore counsellor educators’ awareness of Eurocentrism and androcentrism in both the discourses of counselling and their subsequent impact on their professional practice. Data was generated by individual interviews and group discussions, and circulated among participants for comment. A hermeneutic-dialectic method of data collection was used. Many of the responses had a cautionary, vigilant, or even suspicious quality, suggesting some participants’ discomfort with my questioning. A deconstructive analysis of their responses revealed that the framing of my own thesis questions were characteristic of a rigid oppressor-oppressed binary. The underlying presumption of a single preferred path to social justice had, in effect, prejudged the defensibility of any other position. Manifesting a Eurocentric stance which I had set out to challenge, I had taken up a fundamentalist position. This was the antithesis of collaborative and respectful dialogue. The problematic of this thesis thus became how to engage with a transformative social justice agenda in counsellor education that was neither plagued by the presumptions of universality nor constrained by the rigidities of fundamentalist essentialism. I was forced to recognise that any social justice agenda is discursively produced although an account of this production often remains unarticulated. However, recognising the limitations of grand theory did not mean that I could avoid taking a position on how social justice could be addressed in counsellor education. Rather than adopting a fixed non-negotiable position, discursive analysis of a theoretical stance offers the space to claim a temporary, located essentialism from which the generation of new possibilities might be achieved. My task here was to situate my own knowledge, recognise its partiality and develop a social justice agenda from a social constructionist perspective. I began to view persons as being positioned by diverse discourses that are at times oppressive and at other times not. This led to the recognition that persons can be called into multiple subjectivities which affect the extent to which power and agency are available to them within particular interactions in particular settings. The conceptual tools of discourse, deconstruction, multiple subjectivity, agency, and capillary power (as distinct from commodity power) offer an alternative means by which androcentric and Eurocentric practices in counsellor education may be identified without taking up rigid or righteous positions. The thesis is an account of the theoretical moves which might accommodate and engage the contradictions, ambiguities, and paradoxes associated with a search for social justice in counsellor education in the 1990s. It considers a social justice agenda at the sites of gender and ethnicity in counsellor education and remarks on the possibility of attaining discursive empathy in culturally different environments.
The University of Waikato
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