ERIC Identifier: ED404587
Publication Date: 1995-00-00
Author: Banister, Elizabeth
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Counseling and Student Services Greensboro NC., Canadian Guidance and
Counselling Foundation Ottawa (Ontario).
Ethnographic Questioning in the Career Counseling Interview.
Cultural reality guides and interprets social behavior (Geertz, 1973).
Culture provides a direction for discovering a sense of coherence between
stability and change (Bruner, 1990). In this respect, the conditions for
initiating therapeutic change are established when clients become aware of some
of the cultural rules and maps by which they live.
Ethnographic research's rich heritage focused on some of these cultural
phenomena. A set of questioning techniques developed for ethnographic research,
has been applied directly to the career counseling interview, based on the
understanding that research concepts can be integrated with counseling skills
(Gale & Newfield, 1992).
Ethnography assumes that dimensions of meaning
in cultural experience can be uncovered through the study of language
(Goodenough, 1957). Even though some cultural knowledge is expressed explicitly
through language, a large part is tacit or hidden from view (Spradley, 1979). It
is through individuals' behaviors that cultural knowledge finds expression
(Geertz, 1973). For example, prior to the feminist movement, women entering
traditional marriages expected inequality in marital relationships. This tacit
knowledge about gender roles and expectations would be manifested in various
forms of the women's behavior. Incorporating ethnographic questioning within the
context of the career counseling interview aims at revealing aspects of such
Within the context of the
interview, counselors can employ Spradley's (1979) ethnographic questions to
help organize an understanding of clients' views of reality. I have adapted the
following three major categories of ethnographic questions (Goetz & LeCompte, 1984) for use in a career counseling interview:
1. Descriptive questions elicit clients' thoughts on some aspect of their
culture or world. A mini-tour question can generate detailed accounts of the
client's world as it is lived out in specific everyday activities--the context
in practice. "When you talk with your partner about your career plans, what
would each of you typically say?"
2. Structural questions generate the domains clients use to describe their
worlds. In conversation, people link key terms and phrases using words which
indicate semantic relationships. Terms which convey semantic relationships
afford a means for discovering connections among aspects of experience. In the
following example, the counselor poses a structural question using a phrase
"part of" to indicate a semantic relationship between two of the client's
phrases ("feeling guilty" and "striking out on your own"): "Would you say that
the phrase you used, 'feeling guilty' is part of your experience of 'striking
out on my own'?"
3. Contrast questions are used to discover the meanings of, and the
relationships among, the terms that clients have already mentioned. There are
three types of such questions:
--Dyadic questions. Clients are invited to describe the difference between
two terms or phrases. "I'm interested in the differences among the parts of
'being anchored.' What is the difference between 'feeling guilty' and 'feeling
--Triadic contrast questions. Clients are invited to describe distinctions
between three terms or phrases. "Of the three terms, 'there's no growth,'
'feeling guilty,' and 'like a ball and chain,' which two would be similar and
which one is different?"
--Rating questions. Clients values are discovered through the use of rating
criteria. "Of the three terms, 'irresponsible,' 'selfish,' and 'independent,'
which one is the most difficult?"
INTRODUCING THE ETHNOGRAPHIC CONVERSATION
interviewing represents a departure from traditional interviewing techniques.
Therefore it may be important to let clients know at the outset that a different
interview process will be taking place. This will ensure that clients'
expectations for counseling are not violated. In setting the stage for
ethnographic interviewing, the following aspects are important to keep in mind
and to address with clients:
1. Clients are "teachers" and counselors are "learners." Counselors want to
learn about clients' experiences.
2. Client and counselor will collaborate as they search for client patterns
of thought and behavior.
3. Different kinds of questions will be posed throughout the interview. When
appropriate, an explanation will be given each time a question is introduced so
clients can adapt their thinking to the new direction.
GETTING TO CLIENT TRUTHS: ETHNOGRAPHIC STRATEGIES
Aside from the question types described above, specific
principles and procedures inherent in ethnographic research can be applied to a
career counseling interview.
1. Mapping Tasks: Clients are invited to draw a map of a particular
career-related experience (i.e., goals, relationships). Through the diagram,
clients visualize relationships among aspects of the cultural scene. "You've
said how you think family members influence your career choices. I'd like you to
draw a map to show who these people are and how they are interconnected. Draw
lines to show who talks to whom. What would/wouldn't be said about your career
2. Cultural Framework Principle (Spradley, 1979): Questions posed in cultural
terms invite clients to take into account the socio/political/historical
realities of their experiences. Because clients' concerns are often
conceptualized in terms of linear assumptions, new meaning can be strengthened
as they view themselves in context with others. "What might we hear other
midlife women say about their career decisions?"
3. Context Principle (Spradley, 1979): Repetition of contextual information
places clients in the setting and facilitates recall of significant details of
experience. "You said your career choice was the topic of conversation during
Sunday dinner. How did that come up and what was the result?"
4. Self-Philosophy Questions: Often, clients' questions and answers posed
during the interview reveal significant aspects of their experience.
--Self-Philosophy opening question. Clients are invited to focus on what is
foremost on their minds. "What is the main question you keep asking yourself
about choosing a career?"
--Self-philosophy summary question. Clients are asked to reflect on the
possibility of a change in perspective. Further inquiry will depend on whether
the client's question is the same or different from that posed at the beginning
of the session. "Your main question was, 'How will my marriage be affected if I
return to school?' What would be your question now?"
In relation to a career counseling interview, this
present work offers clinicians a description of various ethnographic questions
for pursuing cultural meaning. First, descriptive questioning encourages the
telling of stories and clarification of clients' experiences. Second, because
clients concerns are often conceptualized in terms of linear assumptions,
structural questions that bring forth the connectedness of experience can
strengthen new meaning and create a sense of coherence. Finally, contrast
questioning can reveal deeper meaning and thus allow clients to entertain
alternative viewpoints from within the cultural/historical/gender sensitive
context. The key point is that the focus on language generates a different kind
of career counseling interview, one which uses client language to reveal tacit
Bruner, J. (1990). "Acts of meaning." Cambridge,
MA: Harvard University Press.
Gale, J., & Newfield, N. (1992). "A conversational analysis of a
solution-focused marital therapy session." Journal of Marital and Family
Therapy, 18, 153-165.
Geertz. C. (1973). "The interpretation of cultures." New York: Basic Books.
Goetz, J. P., & LeCompte, M. D. (1984). "Ethnography and qualitative
design in educational research." Orlando, FL: Academic Press.
Goodenough, W.H. (1957). "Componential analysis and the study of meaning."
Language, 38, 195-216.
Spradley, J. P. (1979). "The ethnographic interview." New York: Holt,
Rinehart & Winston.