The 2021 Conference Theme

The 2021 conference will draw its inspiration from the forthcoming book ‘An Ecology of Life: Discourses, dialogue and diversity in biographical research’ which forms part of the ESREA book series - 'Research on the education and learning of adults'. As we did with the book, we want to weave together a variety of contributions and voices on biographical struggles to define and live sustainable lives, located within families, communities, cultures and our relationships to the natural world. We aim to illuminate what amounts to an ecology of life and human flourishing, no less, in a tortured, fractious, and fragmented world.

The conference seeks to interconnect many themes that have been present in our recent work, at least since 2013, to do with how narratives are deeply embodied, and engage heart, maybe soul, as well as mind, as viewed from varying perspectives. Moreover, biographical research is no isolated individual, solipsistic endeavour but is shaped by larger ecological interactions – in families, schools, universities, communities, societies, and landscapes – that can sustain or destroy hope. Sustainability is often to do with creating sufficient hope in individuals and communities by building meaningful dialogue and experience of togetherness, across difference. We have become more aware, in our research meetings, that telling life stories or listening to them celebrates the complexity, messiness, ecological challenge, but also rich potential of living learning lives. By doing biographical research, we became more concerned about the rapid disruption of sustainable ecologies, not only ‘natural’, physical and biological, but also psychological, economic, relational, political, educational, cultural and ethical. We live in a frightening, liquid world and believe that our kind of research can not only chronicle this but also illuminate how resources of hope are created in deeper, aesthetically satisfying ways. Biographical research offers insights, and even signposts, to understand and transcend the darkness of the human condition.

Moreover, note is made of the fact that the Life History and Biography Network is set within a changing conceptual field of adult/lifelong education and learning. Our work is framed (and constrained) by local, national, European and global influences. Particularly, the changing nature of network membership and preoccupations, in the face of neo-liberalism, including in universities and education; and of declining trust in politics, institutions and even the future in Europe and beyond. Rightist populism and fascism are on the march once again. So, our reflection on and reflexivity towards the evolution of our community, and our dilemmas as researchers and adult learners in present times, points to a considered and positive interplay with these wider forces. Our rational is to generate insight into people’s fears and anxieties but also their capacity to keep on keeping on and to challenge forces that would diminish our humanity. We, as researchers, teachers and citizens, are embedded in a liquid, runaway, fractious, anxiety ridden world but have responsibilities to struggle towards something better, grounded in social justice.

In order to make a proposal, and bring your contribution to the conference, you may wish to consider:
  •     The emergent philosophical and theoretical themes that inform different perspectives on stories, and a panoply of methodological stances.
  •     The interactions between research, practice, and policy, by presenting pieces of research that have been influenced by a need and/or are aimed at shaping policy and practice – or any mix of these.
  •     The multiplicity of philosophical, political, theoretical and methodological stances in biographical research, alongside values, assumptions and practices.
We are particularly interested in the role of research as a response to adult lifelong learning opportunities and experiences, alongside the difference that our work can make.

We also hope the conference will integrate the community of researchers of life history and biography after such difficult experiences of social isolation and provide a space that will allow us to reflect on the consequences for human flourishing.