Getting stuck , becoming unstuck: agency , identity and transitions between learning contexts

John Field, Heather Lynch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Flexibility and change are typically viewed as endemic features of late modernity, leading to increased emphasis on the importance of transition during the adult life course. The paper examines experiences of transition for eight contributors to a research project that collected and analysed life histories as the basis for an under- standing of learning in relation to identity, agency and change in adult life. Four of the interviewees report mired transitions, and four report on transitions that became mobile after a period of immobility. The paper identifies a number of fac- tors which can restrict movement, structural and internal, real and imaginary, that are described in these stories. We then set out our socio-cultural understanding of the ‘betwixt and between’ status that Turner calls liminality, suggesting that many do not experience liminality as wholly emancipatory. The paper concludes with a discussion of the implications for lifelong learning strategies, which need to attend to the weight of what Alheit calls ‘biographicity’ in understanding learners’ lives. While this requires acknowledgement of the role of informal learning, it does not however justify understating the importance of formal adult learning.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-17
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of adult and Continuing Education
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - May 2015


  • lifelong learning
  • transitions
  • liminality
  • progression
  • identity
  • agency


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