Activism in a troubled world - auto/biographical and narrative perspectives on struggles for the good and beautiful

The Annual Conference of ESREA – European Society for Research on the Education of Adults - Life History and Biography Network

Thursday 27 February to Sunday 1 March 2020 
Venue: Canterbury Cathedral Lodge

Conference will commence with registration and welcomes on Thursday 27 February at 4pm Canterbury Cathedral Lodge and close on Sunday 1 March lunchtime.

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From its first meeting in Geneva, in 1993, the Life History and Biography Network of ESREA has been a forum for a wide range of researchers, including doctoral students, drawing on different disciplinary backgrounds, and coming from every corner of Europe, and beyond. Life history and biographical approaches in adult education and lifelong learning are very diverse, and our conferences are based on recognition and celebration of this diversity; we have sought to create spaces for dialogue, demonstration, reflexivity and discovery. In 22 years, the Network has provided the basis for diverse and influential publications, as well as for major collaborative research projects and many other forms of collaboration. It is our intention to continue this established tradition and we anticipate that a book will emerge from this conference.

Our previous conferences have explored areas of research and practice in life history and auto/biography: such as the political role of life history and or arts based research, the role of wisdom and the spiritual, of the emotions, of the embodied nature of learning and narratives, of the meaning of words, of interdisciplinary research, and of the dynamic of agency and structure as well as structuration processes (see ESREA’s website and the Introductory Chapter of Embodied Narratives. Connecting stories, bodies, cultures and ecologies, edited by Laura Formenti, Linden West and Marianne Horsdal

Activism in a troubled world:  auto/biographical and narrative perspectives on struggles for the good and beautiful.

Our focus for the conference in Canterbury will be on activism, in its many forms. We wish to look at how activism has led some of us to life history and auto/biographical research, and or how our research has engaged us as activists. While activism was very present at the roots of adult education, the evolution of the field towards professionalization and more rigorous (scientific?) research has created a distance, if not a gap, between those who care and those who research.

Is activism still a value for researchers in adult education and learning? And how do we interpret it nowadays? We will create a space to interrogate activism, as a position of the researcher, as a philosophy, and as a value. It will allow us to focus on how the process and outcomes of research on adult education and learning has effects at the macro, meso and micro level, not least in ways that support learning, social justice and care for beleaguered cultures and our planet. We also wish to engage in provocative possibilities that the world of activism and research might be sufficiently different as to question what each can offer the other. Ultimately, we are asking if a life history and biography approach to researching adult formal, non-formal and informal learning can help in what the American pragmatists called a struggle for what is good and beautiful.

Previous conferences have asked delegates to consider learning lives and the role of life history and biography research in exploring the resources, personal and public, that can be drawn on to bring about hopeful change. Our research chronicles the battles of the self to resist the influence of darker forces: shadows of narcissism, patriarchy, colonialism, the seemingly insatiable desire to consume, all set within the context of a world of instant communication, and a rush to pass judgment in the clamor for ‘likes and dislikes’. Perhaps life history and auto/biography offer some hope where lives can be learned about at a deeper level. And processes of doing research provide spaces for dialogue and connectivity in diversity and thus stronger motivation towards activism. Such spaces can help us to explore questions about what is good, or good enough, as well as what is beautiful and aesthetically pleasing. We might address all this in the context of:

  • What it means to be an activist and whose values we represent?
  • In neoliberal times, is narrative research a source of activism in its own right?
  • How do we learn to live on a planet suffering from human over consumption?
  • Are academics just avoiding taking an activist stance?
  • What can different lenses of gender, sexuality, culture and politics bring to our research?

ESREA's language policy is inclusive. Abstracts for the peer-review process may be in English or French. Papers and presentations will be welcome in French as well as English. Where possible, a short (1000-1500 word) summary in English should be provided.

For French, German, Italian speakers (and for all others): slides in English or bilingual are recommended. Professional translation is not provided during the conference, instead we will use the linguistic skills of colleagues to facilitate dialogue. Tolerance, respect, mutual support and curiosity will do the rest. It is important to notice that speakers requiring some element of translation or explanation must accept that they can say less in the allotted time: they should plan for this, perhaps by providing essential information in the form of a hand-out, for example.

The conference will be held in the beautiful settings of the Cathedral Lodge within the precincts of Canterbury Cathedral, in the centre of this ancient city. A cathedral has existed on this site for over 1300 years, while some of its Deans and Archbishops have been passionately interested in adult education, in the broadest sense, and in ideas of social justice. The building is used for courses and conferences. The Cathedral Lodge offers attractive accommodation and there are many other hotels and guest houses nearby.

Delegates will need to make their own accommodation arrangements.
A comprehensive list of accommodation in the City and close to the our main campus can be found in our Canterbury Visitor's Booklet.

Second Call for Papers 
We are pleased to confirm that the deadline for submission of abstracts for papers and proposals for symposia/workshops is now Monday 25th November.

  • Abstracts (WORD format) should have no more than 500 words, and use the Times New Roman font at 12 points.
  • The title of the abstract should be clear.
  • Your name, institutional affiliation, phone and email should NOT be included in the abstract, but be on a separate page.

Submissions should be sent to:
Please put "ESREA 2020 Paper Submission" as the subject.
Alternatively submit your proposal using the form below.

Proposals for papers, symposia, workshops, or posters will be blind reviewed; acceptance will be announced by early December 2019.


  • Name
  • Abstract
    Either enter your abstract below or attach as a word document

Three bursaries are available for which doctoral (ie PhD/EdD/DClin) and MA students can apply.

  • To apply you must be a member of ESREA (individually or through an institutional membership), whose proposal for the conference has been accepted.
  • Each bursary is a maximum of 300 Euro to cover travel and accommodation expenses.

To apply please provide a short statement about your academic position, a letter of support from your supervisor and the reasons for applying (e.g. lack of funding from your institution).

  • Applications must be made soon after you have been notified that your proposal has been accepted.
  • Applications can be made for one person or a group.
  • Successful applicants will be notified in early January.

Send your application to

For futher information about the conference please contact:

Conference fee

  • Standard: £350
  • Doctoral Students: £315

Book your place



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