During the last two conferences, in Milan 2015, and Magdeburg, 2014, different topics emerged as interesting themes for life history and auto/biographical research: of the political role and potential of our work as well as the role of the arts, of literature, poetry and music in helping to illuminate and think about the parameters of learning and agency in a troubled world. We have now decided to focus on the place and nature of hope in learning lives, and of the resources of hope that we draw on as both researchers and people, whether at an individual or collective level.
We want to consider the role of hope in building better dialogue and connection between diverse peoples, at a time when dialogue often seems difficult and the other and otherness can be experienced as a threat rather than a source of enrichment. The other may be someone of a different class, religion, ethnicity, nationality, age, gender, sexual orientation etc. and the dynamics of our interaction may be stifled. Perhaps we may need new resources of hope to help in building a new politics and education of and for humanity, across difference; and for strengthening democratic processes in contexts of diversity.
For over 40 years the emphasis has been on dialect, on what is distinct, of empowering the marginalized and neglected; this continues to be important, yet we might also need attention to be paid to what we share in common, as human beings, and how we can build resources of hope collectively at a global, national and local level.
It was the British cultural theorist and adult educator Raymond Williams who coined the phrase ‘resources of hope’, and whose inspiration continues to be alive today. Williams had been deeply involved in workers’ or popular education in the United Kingdom, which was an alliance between workers organisations and progressive elements in universities. A mix of Enlightenment idealism, faith in reason, as well as, for others, like R.H. Tawney, religious belief in the potential divinity in everyone, characterised this movement and its aspirations towards democratic socialism. Here was a tradition that played a key role in envisioning and building the welfare state after the Second World War (Rose, 2010).
Moreover, such popular education could model, in microcosm, the good, fraternal and more egalitarian, democratic society that many aspired to. The experience shaped Williams’ own conviction that spaces were needed across civil society in which people could learn openness and respect for each other and for different perspectives. Where all partialities of opinion could enter in a spirit of intellectual challenge and social purpose, combined with respect and humanity.
The generation of resources of hope was, in such terms, no easy, flabby, limited academic affair. It was a questioning, challenging and troubling space, in the company of people who, despite differences, could sometimes become friends. It was a quest for something better in which human agency rather than economics per se had a central role.
A focus on the nature and role of hope, within life histories, may inevitably include aspirations towards a better and perhaps more peaceful life. This may be particularly appropriate for us today in the context of rising levels of xenophobia, racism and fundamentalism. During both the Magdeburg and Milan conferences, a number of us began new conversations about the biographical origins of what we thought to be essential for the good life, and the good society: which included being attentive to the social and political life of the planet, of our country/ies, institutions, and/or groups.
This might link, in turn, to our experiences during childhood, adolescence, youth and adulthood, where resources of hope were created: perhaps by a teacher, in political movements, in a spiritual encounter or by falling in love with literature. Hope of course plays an important role in religious and spiritual communities: the hope of a better future, perhaps, or of redemption, or of finding resources of hope in giving to others. We want to create a space where we might think about such experience together, however different our understanding might be: to seek to illuminate where resources of hope can lie, and how we make sense of them, whether in the lives of those with whom we research, or in our own lives, when thinking auto/biographically.
- What resources of hope are foregrounded in our research?
- What resources of hope have been important in our own lives?
- Can life-based or narrative research itself offer resources of hope, and if so how and why?
Resources of hope, as noted, can take other forms: Raymond Williams himself saw great potential in new forms of communication technologies, and their capacity not only for educational activity but also for experimenting and experiencing forms of self-government. Resources of hope might, in short, be partly digital: in the interplay of diverse communities, local and global; and in a determination to occupy or reclaim parks, halls, schools, universities, churches, synagogues and mosques for building horizontal forms of dialogue, learning and decision making.
Life-histories and auto/biographies also represent potential sites of innovation, for transformative learning, for community and political action, in diverse settings as well as for, at a different level, experience, perhaps, of the numinous and sacred. In such terms researching lives goes far beyond “pure research” - or a detached view of academic research in an ivory tower – towards a highly nuanced as well as subjectivist sensibility.
The conference seeks to build dialogue around this theme, and differing ways of understanding it: between those who may see the issue as to do with challenging oppression in the secular world and securing control over processes of production and or reproduction; or those who think the spiritual, or even the religious, is a crucial resource of hope (not least given the location of our conference in the Cathedral grounds).
We will also be attentive to weaving into our work previous themes of our conferences: embodiment and narrative, critical reflection, social change, agency. One goal of this conference is to encourage all participants to reflect on their research and to ask themselves about the meaning of hope, at both a social and maybe a more intimate and individual level, as well as methodologically: where hope might lie, in short, in the business of doing research itself, in its myriad forms and dimensions.