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Using Biographical and Life History Approaches in the Study of Adult and Lifelong Learning: European Perspectives

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Edited By Linden West, Peter Alheit, Anders Siig Anderson and Barbara Merrill

This book illuminates the rich and creative uses of biographical and life history approaches in studying adult and lifelong learning, in diverse ways and settings, across many European countries. It draws on the work of internationally known scholars – under the auspices of the European Society for Research on the Education of Adults (ESREA) – and encompasses learning in the workplace, in families, communities, schools, colleges and universities, as well as in the professions, and in managing processes of migration and building new social movements. The reader will discover, in these pages, a compelling chronicle of the interplay of learning across people’s lives – formal, informal and intimate – and how to make sense of this, using interdisciplinary perspectives. The book will speak to researchers – new and experienced – and educators and other professionals wanting to extend their understanding of learners and learning as well as the potential of this ‘family’ of research methods.

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2 Biographical Approaches and their Development in National Contexts

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Linden West and Barbara Merrill (the Uni ted Kingdom) with Peter Alheit (Germany), Agnieszka Bron (Poland and Sweden), Anders Siig Anderson (Denmark) and Edmee Ollagnier (the French speaking world) Introduction In this chapter we provide some background to the emergence and use of biographical and of life history methodologies in specific countries and linguistic communities (in the case of the Francophone world). Reference is made to the values that inforrn the biographical and l ife history turn, and to the philosophical and disciplinary influences at work. There is also a concern, albeit only cursorily addressed, with the ontological and epistemological assumptions underlying research: about how the world, including research, works; about the nature of being; and how we may best come to know about that world and qualities of being through research. Life history and biography are not simply a set of technical procedures to be applied but contain a range of assumptions about human beings, the social world, the nature of knowledge, as weil as values to do with what research is for and how we should engage with the ' other' . It can be observed, in passing, that the various traditions in the ' family' of life history and biographical approaches often tend, rhetorically, to relate their work to a range of historical and philosophical influences, including phenomenology, the Chicago School, Max Weber, the Frankfurt School, psychoanalysis or more recently feminism. We may aiso note how the focus of research can vary: some researchers are more preoccupied with...

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