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Narrative Theory

Teacher Education Quarterly

The Rise of the Life Narrative

Learning Lives: An Example

In this section I give an example of a research project I am currently involved with that seeks to address some of the dilemmas present in live history work—the language of individualizing, scripting and de-contextualizing inherent in the rise of the life narrative. The Learning Lives project is a large interdisciplinary project funded by the Economic and Social Research Council in Britain from 2004-2008. What is developed in this project is a range of strategies that provides an historical and cultural context for understanding lives. We require a range of approaches to capture the complexities of time mentioned earlier—the broad, historical, the generational, the cyclical and the personal dimensions of lives situated in time.

Learning Lives is a longitudinal study that aims to deepen understanding of the meaning and significance of informal learning in the lives of adults, and aims to identify ways in which the learning of adults can be supported and enhanced. As well as informal learning, the project has begun to focus on what we have called “primal learning.” Primal learning is the kind of learning that goes on in the elaboration and ongoing maintenance of a life narrative or identity project. The kind of motifs that emerge in primal learning are those such as the quest, the journey, the dream—all of them central motifs for the ongoing elaboration of a life mission. We have come to see this kind of narrative learning as central in the way that people learn throughout the life-course and to see that it requires a different form of research and elaboration to understand than the more traditional kinds of formal and informal learning. It is at this point in investigating primal learning that we begin to develop the concepts of narrative capital and narrative learning, which were mentioned earlier.

In the Learning Lives project collaboration between the universities of Brighton, Exeter, Leeds and Stirling, we are also focussing as well on different genres of learning—on the relationships between mobility, migration and learning, work employment and learning, and learning in the family and the community. We are also beginning to develop a strong theme around the learning of older people and how that links with new forms of primal learning at later ages.

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  • Date of publication: 08/08/2012
  • Publisher: Teacher Education Quarterly
  • Subject:
    Narrative Theory
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