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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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12 An Auto/biographical Imagination: The Radical Challenge of Families and their Leaming


1 2 An Auto/biographical Imagination: The Radical Challenge of Families and their Leaming Linden West Introduction In this chapter I focus on the place and nature of leaming, in a lifewide as weIl as l ifelong sense, in the context of groups of parents (as weIl as staft) involved in parenting and family support programmes in marginalized communities in the United Kingdom. I draw on in-depth, ' auto/biographical ' research among a diverse group of parents (as weIl as educators and other professionals) in a range of projects. The research sought to chronicle, i lluminate and theorise the impact and meaning of programmes, and struggles for agency, through parents ' eyes, in the context of whole lives and life histories; rather than, as is more often the case, primarily from the perspectives of Govemment, policy makers and or the managers of programmes. The programmes sought, at least in their rhetoric, to provide sustained support and a range of new leaming opportunities for vulnerable families. The research, over time, generated rich, complex data on the biographical impact and meaning of particular forms of intervention and leaming - formal, informal and intimate - in specific lives. My basic argument is that parenting and similar programmes, despite conflicting agendas, can provide some sustenance and support for hard-pressed parents, especially mothers (see Schuller et al . , this volume), as weIl as, more surprisingly, perhaps, given certain preconditions, what we might call ' transactional ' space for parents to talk back to power. In fact, programmes...

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