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Part Two: A pluriverse of personal stories

Stories matter - the past, kinship, and the cosmic web

Sharon Clancy

Over the summer Shirley Walters and I worked together to draft a dialogue paper for a new International Handbook on Adult Education which will come out in spring 2024. This process of conversation was a source of great learning for me as Shirley talked to me about her powerful and visceral experience of ‘unlearning separation’ and reclaiming relationality through an immersion on the Imfolozi Wilderness Wild Self Trail in June 2023. At the same time, I was wrestling with my own conception of kinship and my relationship with my own past which I was exploring chiefly through poetry writing, which seemed to reach a deep imaginative space in the “psychosocial, historical and educational imagination” (West, 2016, p.37) which other writing did not. I was drawn back in my writing into the childhood sensory, intuitive and fully open world, the world of myth and fairy tales, discomfiting, disruptive and profoundly alive. 


I had become very struck by the inarticulacy of education and formal academic writing in helping us address these deeply felt matters and was looking for guidance. I had begun digging back through the layers of my own experience, of coming from a working-class mining community, and my understanding of the ways in which work – in this case the dark, complex and largely hidden world of mining - can both separate us from and connect us with the land and the natural world, that interconnected relationality between the human and more than human. This reflexivity has become an increasingly important area for me over recent years and I see narrative and hearing others’ stories as being essential to the process of self-reflection, humility and curiosity that is necessary to our collective flourishing. But I was struggling for a space for this thinking, which seemed to me a spiral rather than a linear process, “being both lived and understood forwards and backwards in a ‘spiral movement’ of constant interpretation and reinterpretation” (Lawler, 2008, p.19), which can allow us to dig for and unearth hidden memories, kinships and connections. 


Into this mix came the two PIMA workshops on September 14th and October 5th, facilitated by PIMA organisers and led by Dr Elizabeth Lange. It was a rare moment for me where I felt both part of, and as if I was experiencing, genuinely transformative education. Elizabeth talked about learning from old human wisdom, about the role of mytho-poetic language in countering and rethinking a deadening form of education which is arguably no longer fit for purpose, requiring a process of ‘composting’, along with other moribund ideas of modernity which have brought us to this space of climate collapse and disconnection. She reminded me that ‘no person is self-contained but rather is embedded relationally from the first breath. This is our matrix of life. Even before we develop language or a separate sense of child self, our relations constitute who we are. I felt, at long last, the cosmic web reconnecting in my heart and my mind, a connection to a network of others seeking alternative possibilities and a profound feeling of hope in these darkest of times. 


About the Author

Sharon Clancy is Assistant Professor in educational leadership at the University of Nottingham, specialising in post-16 and Further Education. Her writing focuses on adult education, class, culture and social justice issues. She convenes, with Iain Jones, the Research Circle on Fostering Democracy, Debate and Dialogue which emerged from the Centenary Commission on Adult Education, on which she is also a commissioner. Her PhD, completed in 2017, was a socio-political case study of a historic short-term adult residential college. Sharon is currently Vice-Chair of the Raymond Williams Foundation, Communications Officer for SCUTREA and Co-editor of the Studies in the Education of Adults journal. 


Lawler, S. (2008). The middle classes and their aristocratic others: Culture as nature in classification strugglesJournal of Cultural Economy, 1(3), 245-261.


West, L. (2016). Distress in the City – Racism, Fundamentalism and a Democratic Education. U.C.L., IOE Press.

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