A critical search for the ‘self’ in adult education: Bourdieuian insights into transformative possibilities

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Yelverton Halpin, Mary
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University College Cork
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This study investigates the ‘self’ of six Irish working-class women, all parenting alone and all returned to the field of adult education. Bourdieu’s concepts of habitus, field and capital are the backdrop for the study of the ‘self’, which is viewed through his lens. This study commenced in September 2012 and concluded in August 2014, in a small urban educational setting in an Irish city. All of the women in the study are single parents, most of them did not complete second level education, and none of them had experienced adult or third level education. Their ages vary from 30 to 55 years. The study pursues the women’s motivations for returning to education, the challenges they faced throughout the journey, and their experiences, views and perspectives of Adult Education. The methodology chosen for this research is critical eethnography, and as an emerging ethnographer, I was able to view the phenomena from both an emic (inside) and an etic (outside) perspective. The critically oriented approach is a branch of qualitative research. It is a holistic and humanistic approach that is cyclical and reflective. The critical ethnographic case studies that developed are theoretically framed in critical theory and critical pedagogy. The data is collected from classroom observations (recorded in a journal) and interviews (both individual and group). The women's life experiences inform their sense of self and their capital reserves derive from their experience of habitus. It also attempts to understand the delivery of the programmes and how it can impact the journey of the adult learners. The analysis of the interviews, observations, field notes and reflective journals demonstrate what the women have to say about their new journey in adult education. This crucial information informs best practice for adult education programmes. This study also considers the complexity of habitus and the many forms of capital. The theme of adults returning to education and their disposition to this is one of the major themes of this study. Findings reflect this uncertainty but also underline how the women unshackled themselves of some of the constraints of a restricted view of self. Witnessing this new habitus forming was the core of their transformational possibility becoming real. The study provides a unique contribution to knowledge as it utilises Bourdieuian concepts and theories, not only as theoretical tools but as conceptual tools for analysis. The study examined transformative pedagogy in the field of adult education and it offers important recommendations for future policy and practice.
Habitus , Capital , Field , Critical ethnography , The 'self' , Critical literacy
Yelverton Halpin, C. 2016. A critical search for the ‘self’ in adult education: Bourdieuian insights into transformative possibilities. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.
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