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The many faces of biographical learning
Linköping University, Department of Behavioural Sciences and Learning, Education and Sociology. Linköping University, Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Linköping University, HELIX Vinn Excellence Centre. Linköping University, Department of Behavioural Sciences and Learning, Work and Working Life.
Linköping University, Department of Behavioural Sciences and Learning, Education and Sociology. Linköping University, Faculty of Arts and Sciences.
Linköping University, Department of Medical and Health Sciences, Health and Society. Linköping University, Faculty of Arts and Sciences.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-3033-9879
2012 (English)In: Studies in the Education of Adults, ISSN 0266-0830, Vol. 44, no 1, 70-84 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Our aim in this article is to look for more diversity within the concept of biographical leaning. As a conceptual tool for investigating learning in life transitions, biographical learning has gained some recognition over recent years. The concept centres on people’s abilities and possibilities to cope with change in a rapidly changing environment. As transitions have become more common, ‘learning processes within transition’ has become an important area for educational research. The development of the concept of biographical learning is related to this trend, since biographical learning processes appear to be more explicitly triggered when a person’s life course is changing and people are faced with transitions in it. In this article, biographical learning will be discussed in relation to research on restructuring, job loss and enforced work transitions. The article will suggest that such transitions may be understood in terms of biographical learning, acknowledging that learning in work transitions is not only about ensuring one’s ‘professional competence’ or ‘employability’ but includes identity issues and decision-making that affect one’s biography.

Alheit and Dausien portray biographical learning as a certain perspective on lifelong learning, suggesting a ‘shift in analytic perspective’ and a departure from the policy-focused view in which lifelong learning is framed by political and economic precepts. Acknowledging the inner tensions between the ‘instrumentalist’ and ‘emancipative’ power of lifelong learning, the authors place some confidence in the latter, calling for an outlook in which the learning individual ‘is taken more seriously’. There are empirical reasons for such a preference. Although traditional lifeworlds are eroding, people’s responses are not inevitably a ‘panic’ reaction. Instead, people cope with changes rather creatively by using different action strategies that affect both their own biography and the social world in which they live.

The concept of biographical learning is regarded as useful in this context, firstly because it takes account both of social structures and of the individual’s subjectivity. Hence, it recognizes people’s sense of being able to control their own lives interacting with biographical and structural conditions. Even though life chances are unequally distributed and agency is always ‘bounded’, when people face transitions decisions must be made and actions taken that are affected by and affect their biography. Secondly, biographical learning could be considered valuable because its scope is wider than predominant lifelong learning policies and because its aim extends beyond instrumental skills and ‘employability’. Thirdly, biographical learning can be regarded as helpful because it includes not only formal and organized aspects of learning, but also ‘cognitive and reflexive dimensions of learning as much as the emotional, embodied, pre-reflexive and non-cognitive aspects of everyday learning processes and practices’.

However, further investigations of the concept are called for, as pointed out by Alheit and Dausien. One possible development concerns challenging its somewhat uniform character. While Alheit has identified three current ‘biographical coping patterns’ (‘patchworking’, ‘networking’ and ‘designing’; Alheit, 1999, p. 75), further analysis will probably reveal new insights and perhaps lead to a more complex description of what biographical learning is. It seems reasonable to assume, for example, that there might be differences between more continuous and more disruptive versions of biographical learning. In order to encompass a wider spectrum of approaches, the aim of this paper is to analyse, explore and expand the notion of biographical learning and to suggest a number of different modes of such learning.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2012. Vol. 44, no 1, 70-84 p.
Keyword [en]
Biographical learning, biographicity, identity work, work transitions, career change
National Category
Social Sciences
URN: urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-76634OAI: diva2:515466
Available from: 2012-04-13 Created: 2012-04-13 Last updated: 2013-09-04
In thesis
1. Work Transitions as Biographical Learning: Exploring the Dynamics of Job Loss
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Work Transitions as Biographical Learning: Exploring the Dynamics of Job Loss
2012 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

In recent years, researchers have pointed out that individuals understand their lives to a great extent through narratives and narration. In the field of adult education this idea has been taken up for instance in the concept of biographical learning. This thesis discusses the concept of biographical learning in relation to a research project on job loss in mid-life, as it is experienced and handled by whitecollar workers in a Swedish context. While much of the previous research on job loss and unemployment has focused on causes and effects, coping strategies and job search behaviour, this study suggests that an enforced work transition can be thought of as a biographical learning process.

It also suggests that a greater diversity in the learning concept can be attained by reconsidering the concept in the framework of a pragmatist’s view of action. Analysing narrative interviews with white-collar workers (n=23), the study finds diversity in biographical learning with respect to the relative weights and characters of creative action and reflexive identity work. Individual’s variety of engagement in a work transition has also been understood by theoretically describing the process as structured by particular choice junctures. The study finds that a job loss during particular circumstances furthers reconsiderations, novel career decisions and ‘horizontal’ career moves.

Being a central part of biographical learning, reflexivity is used in moments of evaluation, when people tell stories about the transition. It should be discussed in the plural, as the variety of evaluations implies a variety of reflexive efforts. Furthermore, it emphasizes that a work transition is a relational project, pointing out the significance of strong ties and formal ties to people who consider ‘horizontal’ career moves during a work transition. Altogether, this suggests that practical, existential, rhetorical as well as relational issues are involved in work transitions and biographical learning. Keywords: biographical learning, work transition, job loss, adult learning, adult education, outplacement counselling.

Abstract [sv]

På senare år har betydelsen av berättelser och berättande framhållits av samhällsvetare från olika discipliner. Inom pedagogisk och utbildningssociologisk forskning har exempelvis begreppet biografisk lärande tagits i bruk för att visa hur människor tolkar, förstår och skapar mening i sina biografier genom självbiografiskt berättande. Denna avhandling diskuterar begreppet biografiskt lärande i relation till ett forskningsprojekt om omställningsprocesser efter uppsägning bland privat- och statsanställda tjänstemän. Medan tidigare forskning om uppsägning och arbetslöshet framför allt har intresserat sig för orsaker, effekter, copingprocesser och hur människor går till väga för att söka arbete, föreslås i denna avhandling att omställningsprocesser kan teoretisk förstås i termer av biografiskt lärande.

I avhandlingen placeras begreppet i en handlingsteoretisk ram och utrymme skapas som gör det möjligt att tala om olika former av biografiskt lärande. Genom analys av narrativa intervjuer med personer som blivit uppsagda (n=23) föreslås att denna variation bland annat handlar om i vilken utsträckning och på vilket sätt människor engagerar sig i reflexivitet och kreativt handlande. Analysen visar också att variationen kan förstås med hänvisning till att människor under en omställning ställs inför vissa valsituationer och i samband därmed gör olika val. Studien visar att en uppsägning, under vissa betingelser, medverkar till kritisk reflektion och ”horisontella” karriärsteg.

Avhandlingen diskuterar även begreppet reflexivitet som alltså är centralt för biografiskt lärande. I studien föreslås att reflexivitet bland annat utövas genom berättande, i det specifika moment då evaluering av det som berättelsen handlar om äger rum. Eftersom evaluering genomförs på olika sätt, bör man tala om reflexivitet i pluralis. Slutligen framhålls att omställning är en relationell process och att formella så väl som nära relationer har stor betydelse när människor överväger ”horisontella” karriärsteg. Nyckelord: biografiskt lärande, omställning, uppsägning, vuxnas lärande, vuxenutbildning, karriärvägledning.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Linköping: Linköping University Electronic Press, 2012. 90 p.
Linköping Studies in Arts and Science, ISSN 0282-9800 ; 553Linköping Studies in Behavioural Science, ISSN 1654-2029 ; 163
National Category
Social Sciences
urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-76638 (URN)978-91-7519-895-8 (ISBN)
Public defence
2012-05-11, I 101, Hus I, Campus Valla, Linköpings universitet, Linköping, 13:00 (English)
Available from: 2012-04-13 Created: 2012-04-13 Last updated: 2013-09-04Bibliographically approved

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Hallqvist, AndersEllström, Per-ErikHydén, Lars-Christer
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Education and SociologyFaculty of Arts and SciencesHELIX Vinn Excellence CentreWork and Working LifeHealth and Society
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