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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Individualism in adult education : an analysis Dawson, Jane Margaret


There is a line of critique within the adult education literature which remarks on the individualistic nature of the field, its theories, values, and practices. In addition to pointing out the abundant manifestations of individualism — andragogy is held up as a typical example — these authors also maintain that individualism is not so much a particular attribute of adult education as a reflection of modern Western culture as a whole. In light of this general cast of the critique, the intent of this thesis was to examine the statements about individualism in adult education from the perspective of two contemporary philosophers, Charles Taylor and Alasdair Maclntyre, in whose works the concept of the individual is seen to be a crucial factor in the development of modern civilization. The question was asked: "How does the adult education critique of individualism measure up against Taylor's and Maclntyre's views about the key cultural and social role of the idea of the individual?" The analysis involved three tasks: first an examination of the statements about individualism in the adult education literature to determine their central and thematic features; second, the construction of an analytic framework derived from pertinent elements of Taylor's and Maclntyre's work; third, an assessment of the adult education statements from the perspective of the views presented in the framework. Conclusions drawn in the analysis were that according to the views of these two philosophers, the adult education critique of individualism provides only a partial picture of the way in the which the concept of the individual influences the workings of modern thought and sensibility (taking adult education as a microcosm of wider societal patterns). In addition to being a shaping factor of the status quo, as the adult education critics claim, the concept of the individual is also seen as a shaping factor of views which are most critical of the status quo; the same core values and beliefs underlie both affirmative and critical stances towards individualism, and towards society. For Taylor and Maclntyre, to understand the tensions of modernity requires viewing both stances together in terms not just of their differences but also their close relationship. Thus from their view, the adult education critique fails to adequately account a central ingredient of modernity related to the topic of individualism. The significance of this evaluation for adult education theory and research is that a deeper understanding is needed of the way in which the notion of the individual is woven into the contemporary social fabric, in order to come to terms with "what is really going on" not only in adult education but in the wider scope of human affairs.

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