Imagining diverse futures for adult education: questions of power and resources of creativity

In the era of lifelong learning adult education has acquired a new prominence.  Across the world the amount of time adults spend in education has steadily increased and new policy imperatives – often linked to notions such as the ‘knowledge economy’– has made adult education and adult learning major topics of research.

Within the body of research which has emerged from the dynamic and diverse field of modern adult education – in vocational, further, community and higher education as well as in civil society – power has always been major concern.  In particular there is a longstanding interest in the relationship between education and progressive social change. In a period of crisis characterised by deepening inequalities, a rise in racism and xenophobia, and in which we face grave ecological threats these questions of power and change have acquired a new urgency and relevance.  We invite participants to submit papers on these themes and also to investigate a range of other questions related to power. Including: how does power work in and through adult education? What is shaping and driving policy and what impact can adult education hope to have on socio-cultural, economic and political inequalities? How have shifts in economics, technology, work, migration and culture reconfigured adult education? How is the ‘necessity’ to learn through the lifecourse affecting how students and educators think about education and how has the new language of standards and outcomes, which has become ubiquitous, reshaped conceptions of learning?  And in the light of these changes and the complex, often ambivalent and fraught nature of student and practitioner experiences in contemporary adult education do we need new theories and different approaches to research?

Discussions and analyses of power can lead to a sense of private powerlessness in the face of seemingly intractable public issues. Resources of hope, however, reside in our capacities for reflexivity, imagination and creativity; capacities which allow us to question and trouble the givens of public discourses that limit our thinking, feeling and acting. Therefore we also wish to invite contributions on creativity in adult education and learning. This of course includes types of political agency but we mean more than this. We are interested in the various uses and sources of creativity and how this operates on different scales. How is, and can, creativity be used in classrooms, institutions and research? How can creativity – in language, practices and relationships – in formal and informal settings enhance adult learning? Where are the new paradigms of practice and inquiry in adult education that combines the critical and the creative and challenge to epistemologies and psychologies that erase the endless complexity and intrigue of subjectivities? In particular the conference wishes to foster conversations which explore how arts and narrative-based methodologies and new media are being used in adult education research and practice.

Participants may wish to explore either of these themes separately but the organisers especially welcome contributions that analyse and explore the relationship between power and creativity in adult education together. The overall aim of the 2016 ESREA Triennial conference is to create a rich and layered dialogue about possibility and power, and to identify agentic ways to engage with our field? This dual focus brings us to the third and overarching theme of the conference – the future of adult education. Contributions which explicitly address this topic are also sought.  By exploring questions of power and identifying resources of creativity we hope to create a collaborative, critical and imaginative space in which participants envisage a diverse range of futures for adult education.