The Methodological Challenges of Studying Representational Constructs

Jenny Symonds


For many pupils, the pressures of sitting the General Certificate in Secondary Education (GCSE) examinations and of making a career choice coalesce during the final year of English compulsory schooling (Year 11). This observation, made whilst teaching, prompted a survey of 200 Year 11 pupils in Derby city to investigate their choice and evaluations of post-16 destinations in comparison to their most hoped and feared for
future selves. The survey was informed by a combination of vocational and self-concept psychological theories. From the latter, of particular importance was the notion of possible selves and a coding scheme developed for these by Oyserman and colleagues, as reported in Unemori et al (2004). In their form as representational constructs, possible selves present various practical and epistemological challenges to researchers. This
paper explores these in relation to the design and administration of the survey and to the analysis and reporting of the survey data. The results are discussed in comparison to prior possible selves research, revealing that when achieving an ‘agreed objective standard’ of definition, the construct of possible selves yields data that aligns to the environmental context of the research, hence improving its status as a valid construct for
future use.


possible selves, Year 11 pupils, methodology, representational constructs

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