The role of theory in research on the education and learning of adults
Professor at Linköping University, Sweden
Research in the education and learning of adults is diverse and draws inspiration from quite different disciplines, traditions and conceptual domains such as cultural and gender studies, policy studies, psychology, sociology, history, and working life research. One might say that such research is interdisciplinary, and although perhaps still closely related to that of the wider field of education research it has a specific flavour in its agendas and concerns. Research on the education and learning of adults is thus, as will be argued in this presentation, not a separate discipline, rather it is a practical field of knowledge that has emerged as a response to political initiatives and the emergence of diverse institutions and practices in which adults are invited and engaged in learning activities. Thus, one might think that the theories mobilised within such area of research are diverse. Even though this might be correct to some extent, as will be illustrated in this paper there are certain theories and theorisations that are more popular than others.
The aim of this presentation is to discuss the present day situation regarding the use of theory and theorisations in the study of adult education and learning. What trends can be discerned of what theories and theorisations are mobilised? Do mobilisations of certain theories have specific geographical locations? To what extent are Nordic scholars in the field engaged in such debates? And what might be the role of theory in the study of adult education and learning?
In order to elaborate on these questions, I will firstly discuss what constitutes and characterise the field of adult education and learning research and what the forces are that might strengthen and weaken the field. Secondly, all articles published during 2011 in four academic journals within the field of adult education and learning are analysed with a focus on what theories and theorisations are mobilised. The four journals represent four different geographical locations, Europe, the UK, USA and Australia. A special attention will be directed at how Nordic scholars are represented in these journals. The presentation ends with a discussion about the role of theory in adult education and learning research.
Andreas Fejes | Ingibjörg Elsa Guðmundsdóttir | Bjarne Wahlgren