Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg

Portrait, M. Ebner v Eschenbach, Bln, 22

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Habilitation research project

Knowledge production practices in research on adult education: A genealogy of recursions, from the mid-niineteenth century to the turn of the millennium (working title)

An established element of the academic discipline of adult education is the matter of how its collective knowledge has developed. At the latest, this sub-discipline of education studies had begun by its emergence in the 1950s, in the context of overarching education reform, to turn increasingly towards the systematic generation of insights for its store of specialist knowledge. This said, reflection on the emergence of these insights has been in progress for much longer, dating back to the beginnings of the Enlightenment or even earlier, and is in evidence in the broad range of discourses from philosophy, theology, sociology, education and other areas which, each in their specific context, explore the development of knowledge on adult education.
Research into adult education, whether it undergirds its findings by theoretical or empirical means, is certainly part of the furniture of adult education as an academic discipline. This notwithstanding, we remain, ‘due to the “young academic” age of adult education […] [without] a comprehensive history of the discipline’ (Ciupke et al. 2002, 25) which might, inter alia, examine ‘issues of the development of [the subject’s] theory prior to 1933’ (ibid.); matters are no better for the period after this date. The research memorandum from which these quotations are taken, on the state of historical research into adult education, and its associated summary of the present-day situation point to the existence of a research lacuna on adult education in terms of its academic historiography. Almost two decades after the memorandum’s publication, the essential accuracy of its findings stands, despite the appearance, in the intervening period, of introductions to the subject, textbooks and a handful of studies approaching adult education from a historical perspective.
It is against this backdrop that my research project will explore knowledge production practices in research on adult education in the period from the mid-nineteenth century to the end of the twentieth, illuminating a variety of logical structures driving this production. It is not the intent of this work to create a chronological list of research into adult education to the end of retracing linear developments; instead, it will employ the method of historical epistemology to produce what I will term a genealogy of recursions structured by situations of epistemic rupture yet to be identified. Its point of departure in this context will be reflection on knowledge production practices, that is, the act of reconstructing processes of attaining, undergirding and revising insights in adult education and pedagogy, on the basis of the assumption that the rationales for validity proposed for each of these insights emerge within these practices of knowledge production themselves. Systematically centring these practices is one of the project’s strategies for providing a view on the processes via which academic knowledge production in this field occurs and takes shape.
The significance of historical epistemology to the research proposed here further relates to two substantial aspects of the work. First, I proceed from the assumption that the conditions within which an insight or specific knowledge becomes possible – or not – are contingent in nature, subject to historicity and contextuality; second, I assert that the development of specific academic disciplines and the accumulation of knowledge and insights within them do not proceed as linear evolution, but rather behave in a discontinuous, ‘revolutionary’ manner. The conception of academic ‘progress’ underlying this research therefore rejects the teleological model in favour of an identification of knowledge accumulation or development in liminal situations of transition or rupture between ‘paradigms’, ‘epistemes’, ‘styles’ or similar entities. I attempt to pinpoint, highlight and define such settings of epistemic rupture and relate them to one another genealogically, and in so doing make a decisive turn away from the concept of a chronological development of the field. In this spirit, the notion of a ‘genealogy of recursions’ transcends its originary remit of serving to historically reconstruct the development of research in adult education via casting light on and pinpointing ‘epistemic ruptures’, and proceeds to invent a history, in the sense of genealogy as critique, that writes the past with its back turned to the future (as in Walter Benjamin’s thoughts on Klee’s ‘Angelus Novus’). My intent is therefore for my project, in relation to practices of knowledge development, to contribute substantially to research on the basic principles of adult education as an academic discipline. In pointing to moments where an ‘epistemic chrysalis’ is shed, I simultaneously attempt to provide new impetus to both the historical dimension of academic work on adult education and the epistemological dimension of basic adult education research.