ESREA 2007 - European Research Conference - Seville - 20.- 23. September 2007


ESREA 2007 - European Research Conference - Seville - 20.- 23. September 2007

20.09.2007 - 23.09.2007

ESREA 2007 addresses the complex variety of learning challenges which shape the contemporary agendas of adult education and adult learning in socially and culturally diverse European societies.

Adult Learning and the Challenges of Social and Cultural Diversity in European Societies

European societies have historically been characterised by rich but often problematic sources of social and cultural diversity. In this socially and culturally diverse Europe, the development of adult education and adult learning was characterised by a wide variety of educational practices in different European regions and societies. These practices constituted historically specific responses to the learning challenges arising from the modernization of European societies and the development of industrial societies.

The learning challenges currently confronting institutions, organizations and individuals throughout Europe are intimately related to social and cultural diversity. Manifestations of social and cultural diversity in different European societies arise from economic, political, social, and cultural changes in the transformation of industrial into post-industrial European (knowledge) societies. Policy discourses about lifelong learning and the learning society regard adult education and adult learning as keys to the generation of informed collective and individual responses to social and cultural diversity. This involves challenges to governments, organizations, social movements, voluntary associations and individual learners in the development of knowledge, skills, attitudes and understandings which enable individuals to "live a life" in the social and cultural diversity of the "learning society".

Complex interactions between these old and these new forms of social and cultural diversity now characterize the transformation from industrial to post-industrial societies or so-called knowledge societies. This is a question of "learning to live a life" in changing and uncertain circumstances. These circumstances are characterized by fragmentation, differences, risks, misunderstandings and conflicts in the everyday lives individuals. This relates to their experience of everyday life in personal relationships, households, neighbourhoods, communities, workplaces and civil society. The current challenges to adult education and adult learning in European societies raise questions of developing and enhancing collective and individual capacities to read and understand the manifestations of social and cultural diversity in everyday life.

ESREA 2007 is devoted to the challenges confronting the social organization of the practices of adult education and adult learning in the contemporary contexts of:

Diverse Lives, Cultures, Learnings and Literacies

Adult education and adult learning involve the ability of individuals, groups, neighbourhoods, communities, organizations and social movements to express their understandings of their diverse lives. This demands the capacity of "having a word to say" in everyday life and to work on changing and improving their lives through informed actions. Meaningful dialogue and communication with others is regarded as the high road to authentic personal and social development. This is a question of individuals and communities being able to read the world and understand the economic, political, social and cultural transformations which affect the everyday lives of families, neighbourhoods, communities, regions, indeed their nations and the globalising world.

In socially and culturally diverse societies, both the "known" and the "unknown" form major learning challenges for individuals and communities in their personal and collective struggles for senses of personal meaning. This involves the search for shared identities and communities which can make their diverse cultures both more understandable and liveable.

Globalisation is experienced in terms of increasingly contested and fragmented day-to-day lives in communities and conflicts between "old intimacies" and "new estrangements". Lifelong learning has become a question of learning to "live a live" in confusing local, regional and national territories with increasingly unclear horizons in the global world.

There are many historical and contemporary examples in European societies of systematic attempts to control the use of "words". This is the issue of the diverse learnings available in society and struggles to control access to the public sphere of communication and learning.

Adult education has often been put to work in adult learning programmes with the intention of re-socializing individuals to become good parents, reliable workers, loyal subjects, unquestioning members of the church or political party, and speakers of languages not their own. Contemporary struggles for control of the public sphere and the right to use ‘words’ are closely related to social and cultural diversity. These struggles now focus on the rights of ethnic, linguistic, religious and sexual minorities to voice their own diverse learnings in the public sphere in the face of the re-interpretation of the meaning of freedom of speech. When social inclusion and social exclusion in European societies are defined in terms of social and cultural differences, the issue of diverse literacies involves the generation of active capacities to be able to speak, to live and to act in the socially and culturally diverse environments of everyday life. The key challenges for the symbolic worlds of adult education and adult learning are the manner in which they address questions of social class, gender, religions, ethnicity and nationality. "Whose language are we talking?” and "Who is listening?” are not new questions for adult educators. Answers to these questions, however, are increasingly problematic in the multi-cultural and neo-nationalist contexts of many European societies. This highlights the importance of the symbolic worlds of adult education and adult learning which address the contemporary problems of social and cultural capital in the struggle for social inclusions and cohesion.

Thematic Parallel Sessions

ESREA 2007 is organised in a number of parallel sessions which are devoted to the discussion of papers which comprise reports of empirical research. Papers may report new, ongoing and recently completed research. Papers from PhD students will be particularly welcome. Papers presented at ESREA 2007 should address one or more of the following themes which constitute the provisional framework for the organization of parallel workshops:

  • Understandings of diverse literacies in the process of European modernisation
    How do adult education and adult learning support individuals and communities in acquiring the diverse literacies which are required to be able to work on the social class, gender, ethnic and religious issues which divide communities at the local, regional, national and European levels? Do social and cultural diversity challenge traditional understandings of print literacy and the emergence of "new literacies" in contemporary European societies? What are the manifestations of "new literacies" in the everyday lives of both indigenous and immigrant populations in multi-cultural European societies? Do new media enable individuals to successfully navigate and negotiate the challenges, conflicts and crises in everyday life? What is the influence exerted upon everyday life by the new media, the internet, popular and consumer culture, together with the expanding market for self-help learning products? Is learning brought "closer to home", or is everyday learning in the private sphere increasingly invaded by the influence of the market?
  • Active citizenship and social participation.
    Do the global, trans-national European Union and national polities demand more informed, active and politically literate citizens? Is active citizenship under threat in the context of the retreat of the state and the advance of the market in the distribution of public and private goods and services? What is the importance of active citizenship in terms of collective actions which address the impact of globalization upon sustainable development in the everyday lives of people in regional and local communities? Does this involve the capacity to make distinctions between private interests and the public good in order to promote collective needs rather than individual interests? Is active citizenship challenged by individuals acting as calculating consumers, the withdrawal from participation in public life, and the distrust of political life? Does active citizenship demand the ability to be able to read, understand, name and take a position with regard to issues which constitute the public sphere of communication and learning?
  • Narrative, life-history and biographical research
    How is life history and biographical research put to use in the study of social and cultural diversity in the lives of individuals? Does the capacity "to tell the story of a life” constitute the core of "biographical literacy"? What is the significance of biographical learning with regard to personal relationships, family life, caring, friendship, education and training, working careers, health and sickness, religion, ethnicity, sexuality, gender, and generations? Does this involve the ability of individuals to reflect upon and formulate their life-histories in terms of time, social space and the crossing of borders in the contexts of everyday life? Do the life-histories of immigrants in multi-cultural societies demand opportunities to communicate their stories in the process of migration from "the there" to "the here"? Are their stories "of a life of border-crossings" too often ignored in contemporary public and private discourses in multi-cultural societies?
  • Migration, minorities and social exclusion
    Is the impact of migration the most obvious manifestation of the globalizing world in the everyday lives of individuals and communities? Are there differences between the multicultural societies of the "old" and the "new" Europe? What is the significance of the colonial histories of a number of the "older" European member states for the immigrant communities which have now "come home"? What are the consequences of the active recruitment of immigrant workers from the Mediterranean countries in the 1950s and 1960s? How are European societies responding to often significant groups of political refugees and the phenomenon of illegal migration? What is the significance in the "new" European member states of their complex histories of changing national borders in the period between the first and second World Wars and the subsequent creation of "national minorities"? How are the Central European and Baltic countries responding to the significant cross-border mobility to the "older" member states? How are the other states responding to significant immigrant communities of the "new Europeans"? How do the "new Europeans" experience migration and make new lives?
  • Learning and working life
    How does globalization contribute to the reorganization of work, flexibility of employment, worked-based learning, and the flexibility of working life? Does the emphasis upon "individual employability" constitute the "new literacy of work" which voices the responsibility of individuals for their own learning in order to participate in the labour market? Do these understandings of social participation as involvement in paid work tend to ignore those who are excluded from active participation in the labour market? Are labour markets becoming transitional labour markets which combine temporary and uncertain periods of engagement in paid work with unpaid caring tasks in households? Is paid and unpaid work taking on an important place in the search for work-life balance within the changing patterns which now characterize the flexible life courses of individuals? What are the implications for adult learning of the extension of working-life to a later age and the withdrawal of rights to early retirement?
  • Local and regional sustainable development
    Does learning in the context of social and cultural diversity manifest itself in the context of the sustainability of the everyday lives of neighbourhoods, local and regional communities? How much learning takes place in the everyday lives of households, neighbourhoods, regional and local communities? What are the implications of the different structures of families and households for the enhancement of social inclusion and the threat of social exclusion? How do indigenous and immigrant communities organize adult education and adult learning? What does this mean for the organization of learning in local and regional communities which seek to address the question of the sustainable social and cultural development? How can strategic partnerships for the funding of regional and local development impact upon adult learning in inclusive sustainable development strategies?