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


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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4 Recovering Class and the Collective in the Stories of Adult Leamers


Barbara Merrill Placing the learner central to the learning process has always been an important tenet of adult education yet in early studies research relied heavily on quantitative methods (Woodley et al . , 1 989; Bourner et al . , 1 99 1 ) denying the subjectivity of the subjects. With the recent turn to biographical methods in adult education and the social sciences more generally (Chamberlayne et al . , 2000) the voices of adult learners are now positioned centrally in the research process. Issues of class have also been fundamental as historically adult education in the UK was rooted in working class social movements where ideas and practice of collectivity were strong and epitomized through the work and writings of, for example, Raymond Will iams and Tom Lovett. With the emergence of postmodernism and the belief in the end of grand narratives amongst academics debates on social class faded into the background. However, in relation to policy in the UK and Europe the current emphasis is on widening participation to encourage the social inclusion of marginalised groups into adult learning through l ifelong learning policies and strategies. Policy documents do not address class directly but refer instead to social inclusionlexclusion. Over the past few years some studies, for example, West ( 1 996), Skeggs ( 1 997), Merril l ( 1 999), Thompson (2000), have focused on the experiences of working class adult students in further and higher education. Recently there are some indications that a few sociologists are now re-emerging to argue again for the centrality...

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