ESREA research network
Between Global and Local: Adult Learning and Communities
In 2017 the 9th ESREA Conference of the Network Between Global and Local: Adult Learning and Communities (BGL-ALC) will meet at the University of Lower Silesia (ULS) in Wrocław, Poland. The conference theme will be:
“Adult learning & communities in a world on the move: between national tensions and transnational challenges”.
The conference will take place from Thursday 25th to Saturday 27th of May, 2017.
At the Network’s last conference in 2015 hosted by our colleagues at the Faculty of Arts of the University of Ljubljana in Slovenia, we discussed how substantial learning is connected with the everyday life of adults, with the environment and social milieus they live in, with their efforts to tackle social inequalities, injustices, and to enhance their quality of life and well-being. The conference addressed in particular the tensions between neo-liberal encroachments on public and social learning and the increasing challenge of private interests through commercialisation and commodification of learning in the public spaces of communities. Conference participants discussed the need for research about learning processes (in public and social spaces) in communities, and about the need for interdisciplinary and transnational approaches in our work to give meaning to the many different aspects of personal and social development of individuals, groups and whole communities. The development of many local initiatives, it was agreed, are clearly bound up with global processes.
Since Ljubljana in June 2015, we have witnessed unparalleled waves of migration across Europe, waves of refugees moving through countries and crossing borders on a scale unseen in Europe since 1945. With over a million refugees and displaced people crossing EU borders in 2015, and more than 300 thousand reaching EU countries alone via the Mediterranean routes in 2016 up to September (and 3500 dead and missing on these routes this year to date), the BGL-ALC Network will turn its attention to adult learning and communities in this world ‘on the move’, and will seek to address in discussion possible responses to the national tensions and transnational challenges we observe and experience in our work.
The astonishing, dramatic, events of the autumn of 2015 were largely triggered by well-known causes: war, homelessness, persecution, hopelessness, despair. Such ‘local’ causes, in Syria above all, but also in Eritrea, Somalia, Congo, Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Balkans, were given an unprecedented ‘global’ character through the increasingly interlocking character of the ‘local’ crises and their individual – yet connected – roles within trans- and supranational politics. The EU and individual member states alone, leaving aside the US, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iran and so on, with their various security, humanitarian, military portfolios are involved in operations of many different types from West and North Africa to Syria, Iraq, Turkey and Afghanistan. The ‘local’ emergencies of Central and Sub-Saharan Africa, the destruction of civil society in Syrian and Iraqi cities by international mercenaries of IS recruited perhaps in Birmingham or Dortmund or the bombing of Syrian cities by the Russian and US air forces become ‘global’ experiences in the rafts sinking off the coast of Lampedusa or the overfilled ‘jungle’ camps at Calais or on Lesbos. And become again ‘local’ emergencies, local chances as they begin to involve the civil societies each migration wave successively reaches. Needless to say, the new media in the dissemination and the sharing of both horror and hope have shown themselves to be both crucial and ambiguous in their relationship to the shaping of events and the responses to them, and have incontrovertibly become an integral part of the events themselves.
The numbers of people involved in this historic chain of events – international refugees, refugees within their own land and asylum-seekers worldwide – is put at around 65 million people (UNHCR June 2016). The United Nations, in its special Summit for Refugees and Migrants in September 2016 drew up the New York Declaration which, first, calls for governments to save lives and share responsibility for large movements of people. Secondly, and more pertinently to this Network’s Call, the Declaration calls for a campaign entitled “Together – Respect, Safety and Dignity for All” in order “to respond to rising xenophobia and turn fear into hope” (UN Press Release 19 September 2016).
This response is timely, as we have witnessed contradictory reactions across Europe and beyond from civil and ‘uncivil society’, new forms of political turbulence as different actions and attitudes are rehearsed to understand, ‘manage’, limit, dam, or ‘discourage’ the movement of millions in the face of war.
More than this, we have seen:
The EU’s continuing incapacity to formulate an agreed response to the crises on its borders (Arab Spring, Syria, Turkey, Ukraine), all of which contribute to a world of people on the move
Intense ‘peripherisation’ of central European problems (the financial and banking crises of 2008/9 and their impacts in Portugal, Spain, Ireland, Greece) and the tensions arising from the socialisation of anti-crisis policies (with negative effects on pensions, health provision, employment for the young, care for the elderly everywhere and most dramatically in the EU ‘South’)
Dissonant political responses to shared challenges (youth unemployment, migration, asylum, humanitarian aid, foreign aid)
Sharp and historic rises in the levels of violence towards ethnic minorities, generally challenging millions of citizens with ‘migration backgrounds’, coupled with a historic resurgence of forms of nationalism and chauvinism in many parts of Europe thought to have been ‘overcome’ or outlived
Growing challenges to traditional political systems across Europe with the appearance not only of new parties of the political Right, but the legitimisation in public debate of anti-democratic discourses throwing open the debate about the future of democratic citizenship in many, if not all EU member countries
Both inside and on the borders of Europe the rise of movements openly rejecting open, democratic political action, rejecting multicultural projects, individual political, social and sexual freedoms, reaffirming on the contrary narrow, racist, homophobic, anti-pacifist, ideological and religious intolerance and extreme forms of nationalist bigotry and movements of ethnocentric ‘identity’
The BGL-ALC Network and a world on the move
In the research fields and methodological perspectives of the BGL-ALC Network, the first thing that can be stressed is diversity, which is wholly coherent with the diversity we face when talking about communities. Diverse communities, we argue, include within themselves all the diversity of the people living in them. In the past community was often considered a more or less homogeneous space that differentiated neatly between ‚us’ and ‚them’ (Hoggart). This kind of symbolic shelter to people, however, hides a reality: community is a place where conflict and confrontation are the usual thing, and, we add, conflict and the way conflict is resolved are substantial elements in the definition of community as a symbolic place. Thus, our first conclusion is an invitation to reflect on the concept of community and the different roles that it can play in people’s daily lives, either as a place of shelter or as a place of confrontation and debate.
Community is also a place in which to join people. It is a public place where everyday life is developed. In this sense, it can be affirmed that community is a place to learn. To learn about democracy and participation, and it is itself the source for learning and teaching. Community is a place where people are creating knowledge about the community and about themselves. The educative process can lead to the knowledge created becoming ‚really useful knowledge’ to transform communities and improve the life of the people living in them.
The creation of knowledge is an important step to researching and transforming communities, but this creation of knowledge should be done in an alternative way (as participatory research, for example, does) and produce an alternative knowledge: a liberating knowledge that allows people to understand and transform the surrounding environment and that helps people to understand the world.
Social movements we consider to be agents of adult learning and development. Social movements can be creators of solidarity and of shared responsibilities. Communities are based on the solidarity among their members, but also on solidarity with other people outside the community. This important move from ‚I’ to ‚we’, in the context of the waves of migration and displacement we are experiencing today, needs to be discussed and will be a central element of our work at the conference.
In short, we conclude that the most important task is to reflect on social change in a context of migration and flight, social tensions, the temptations of demagogy and chauvinism, and how adult education and learning can help people to confront these changes in a participatory and democratic way.
Papers, round tables, and keynote talks will address themes from among the following:
Contributions to the theory of learning in a world on the move. How adequate are our notions of lifelong learning, of international adult education and learning programmes and what is the contribution of our research in this field?
How do we build better dialogue and connectivity between diverse people in situations where opportunities for dialogue are being challenged, when in our cities and regions the ‘other’ is frequently experienced as a threat rather than a source of solidarity, learning and enrichment?
Adult learning and discourses of power. difference and ‘identity’, and new forms of solidarity that further social learning and the creation of democratic forms of citizenship and living together
Adult learning and the work of movements of volunteers, local initiatives, and the responses of state agencies, flanked as they are by growing apparatuses of security and policing
The role of communities in furthering integration, tolerance, and offering alternatives to exclusion, radicalisation, and political division
How does our research respond to current definitions of ‘sovereignty’ within the nation state, and to the widespread takeover of the notion of ‘identity’, seen for many as the fixed attribute of nations/ethnic groups, and formulated as an antithesis to difference and diversity?
The role of research into adult learning in addressing rising levels of xenophobia, racism and fundamentalism in the world outside as well in local communities. How can we best to embrace, to value, and to work with ‘difference’ within our own learning communities?
These and any other themes which address the relationship between adult education and communities, and the role of local actors, whether individual or institutional, and transnational movements confronting the challenges posed by thousands of people on the move may be proposed for discussion at the conference.