CONSTRUCTING THE ADULT LEARNER - A GOVERNMENTALITY ANALYSIS

Diploma

1. Introduction

Would you agree that lifelong learning seem to be a mantra which we can hear everywhere; from policy makers, the media, our boss, our colleagues at work, our teachers and even maybe from our friends? Usually, it seems as if lifelong learning refers to us as humans who learn during our entire life, not only at school, but also during our leisure time, at work, etc. Thus, it seems as if we are constructed as adults who learn all the time. How come we speak of adults as learners? My hypothesis is that it has some relation to how lifelong learning and adult education are discussed today related to ideas about governance. How do we reason about adult education? Is adult education a way to include people in society; to give adults a first or a second chance and/or is it a way to free people from constraints in their everyday life, e.g. to acquire the prerequisites to be able to participate in the political apparatuses in Sweden such as voting, etc? Further, is adult education spoken of as a way of increasing the prosperity of Sweden, a way of minimizing state expenditures?

Adult, higher and liberal adult education is repeatedly spoken of in such a way in official documents produced today. Educating the adult population is presented as one of the most important political goals on the agenda, as a way of constructing a good and prosperous society where there are both gains for society and the individual (e.g. SOU 1998:51). It would be interesting to try to analyse what kinds of effects such a way of speaking constructs. In one way, one might say that my starting point in this dissertation is to see how concepts such as lifelong learning and inclusion, central in the discussion on adult education in Sweden, are more or less taken for granted. The way we speak about such concepts might seem to be the ‘only’ way to speak of them. Everyone should ‘of course’ be included in society. But 20 years ago we did not speak of lifelong learning to the same extent and in the same way, or of inclusion in the same way. Thus, the use of such concepts in their specific forms today probably has a relation to how the adult learner and the governing of such a subject are discussed. The idea that we learn all our lives constructs a specific adult learner; one who is constantly learning. Thus, the way we speak of adult education and all our everyday practices are part of creating such an adult learner. We have what Mitchell Dean (1999) calls a problematic of government; a situation in which questions about government and of how one should govern arise. As an illustration I will take an example from one official text concerning adult education.

Lifelong learning should be a real possibility for all – from the early stages of life and throughout life. In a society where education and knowledge become more and more important for the welfare of society, every individual’s opportunities for lifelong and lifewide learning must be promoted. This requires a well developed infrastructure for lifelong learning in which everyone’s knowledge and competencies needs to be acknowledged; everyone needs to be supported when making important choices and everyone is given access to the learning they need; at the time, in the way, within the preferred area of education, and at the level needed. Increased collaboration between society, working life and the individual is needed if this is to become a reality instead of only a wish for the future. In the last few years, extensive changes have been initiated aimed at strengthening the individuals, the labour markets and society’s demand of lifelong learning (DS 2003:23, p. 7).

In the above quotation, we can discern several statements, which influence who the adult learner should become. First of all, there is an idea that knowledge and education are central aspects of the wellbeing of Sweden. Therefore, the citizens need to participate in lifelong learning. Not only are they to be educated, but also the knowledge already gained is to be acknowledged. Lifelong learning is a continuous and lifelong process of learning that takes place in different settings; you are never free from learning. Further, there is an individualisation of the adult. He/she has to choose by him/herself what to, when to, how to and what level of education to participate in. Someone should support the person in such choices, but the choices should be made by the adult him/herself. The individual is part of a society and working life. These three actors need to cooperate as a way of creating a desirable future. Such ways of reasoning are in line with several narratives concerning adult and higher education today. Everyone needs to be included in lifelong learning, but not through a ‘state’ dictating who and in what way. Instead, the individuals are encouraged to be their own decision makers in their lives; they should desire participation in lifelong learning. No more is there a ‘state’ deciding what to do and what not to do. We should be free!

But as a researcher, the question is not to acknowledge such narratives. Instead, it is to scrutinise it, try to understand it from different viewpoints. One might want to see what the constraints are for each person to be able to become free of these constraints – to empower disadvantaged, oppressed groups and to change society. In such an analysis, the focus might be on structural aspects in our society and its practices such as gender, poverty, illness, organizational ownership, etc. and how they limit the possibilities for certain groups to act and/or to learn (e.g. Brown 2005, Endresen & Von Kotze 2005, Gouthro 2005, Yoon ng & Cervero 2005). Another perspective might be to analyse how lifelong learning contributes to the good of the people. How can education and learning be organised as a way of enabling us to face the future and its challenges (e.g. Barnett 2000a, 2000b, Gibbons 2002, Soden & Maclellan, 2005)? Yet another perspective, which I have employed in this dissertation, might be to try and analyse these texts as producers and products of discourse. Discourse defines what can and cannot be said, what is included and excluded. It is an interest in power relations where power is seen as productive; it produces certain kinds of subjects (Foucault 1980, 1981). Further, discourse constructs ideas of who the adult learner should become and a specific idea of how governing is to be conducted. Discourse is specific to time and space. What can be said about the adult learner today might not have been the case 50 or 100 years ago. Thus, the problem today seems to be how a country will be able to shape its citizens as educated subjects who are responsible individual actors as a way of creating a prosperous society. What makes it possible to speak about adult education and the adult learner in such ways today?

In this dissertation, I will problematize narratives about adult education and the adult learner in our own time by contrasting it with other cultural and historical situations. What are, according to these narratives, the problems we face today and how can adult education and the adult learner be a solution to these? What makes it possible to speak about the subject in the way it is spoken of? Is the way of speaking about the subject the only way? How has it been spoken of earlier on? In what way is the subject to be governed? What rationalities of governing are constructed? What kinds of practices of exclusion are created? In sum, my interest is to analyse the rationalities of governing created in the discourse of adult education and how techniques of governing fabricate specific adult learners.