Differentiation Starts in the Schoolyard

Posted by: Jeffrey Landine on February 1, 2012 5:08 pm

We have been speaking at length about vocational identity and the various processes that contribute to its development.  Last time John pointed out that in the development of concepts related to self and occupations, there are two processes that are essential: integration and differentiation. Through the process of integration a person learns to put concepts about the world of work together, like using tools and building things, to build a more complex unit such as carpenter.  In this example subordinate concepts are integrated into a superordinate concept. With differentiation, the second process, the person separates general (superordinate) concepts into specific meaning (subordinate concepts), such as the difference between a general contractor and a cabinetmaker. Such differentiation allows people to experience one situation or occupation as different from another.

John also made reference to Erikson’s fifth stage of psychosocial development, the stage where identity is formalized.  Erikson came to see this stage as having two distinct steps.  The first step, usually typical of older adolescents and young teens, involves the development of identity by similarities.  The individual’s sense of identity at this step is based on how closely he or she fit or are similar to an identifiable group.  In the schoolyard this is evident when one sees groups of students dressed similarly, listening to the same music and expressing the same interests.  Identity is achieved by integrating one’s self with the group.

In the later teen years and early adulthood, the sense of identity is increasingly based on how one sees him or her self as different from the other people in the group. This becomes evident in the need to have clothes that others aren’t already wearing, to listen to music that is new and fresh and to establish one’s self as having unique interests and experiences.  As one becomes cognizant and accepting of these similarities, and then differences, the sense of identity and related self-concepts becomes increasingly crystallized (meaning the degree of clarity and certainty of the various constructs bearing on the self-concept).

In terms of vocations, differentiation can be defined as the number of different dimensions of judgment one has in relation to any one occupation. Research comparing experts and novices on information processing tasks have found experts to be superior in their ability to develop detailed representations of phenomena.  To some degree this is a result of their ability to recall information from a well-stocked memory quickly, but more importantly they are better able to resolve perceived discrepancies between information that is similar to the phenomena and that which is different.

Direct experience, in the form of practical work experiences, demonstrates the role of differentiation and integration and has been shown to increase vocational self-concept crystallization.  Because experience allows young people to test the “fit” (looking for points of integration and differentiation) between their abilities, interests, values and satisfaction with a chosen work environment, they demonstrate a great opportunity for vocational self-concept crystallization and increased work commitment.

By: Jeff Landine and John Stewart




*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

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