EquJust researchers Anja Heikkinen, Jenni Pätäri, Sini Teräsahde, Katriina Tapanila and Tracy Cheng participated in the 5th Biennial Conference of the ESREA Research Network for Adult Educators, Trainers and their Professional Development (ReNadET). The meeting was organized at the University of Tallinn in 18-20 October 2017. We enjoyed a vivid learning journey and are thankful for all the discussions and ideas for our academic work.

Heikkinen, Pätäri and Teräsahde held a symposium “Breaking the Walls in and between Finnish Adult and Vocational Education”. We discussed, among other things, the relationship between academic knowledge production, its preconditions and social change.

Thanks for a wonderful and stimulating conference for all the organizers and participants!

Symposium abstract: Anja Heikkinen, Jenni Pätäri & Sini Teräsahde, University of Tampere Finland (firstname.lastname@uta.fi)

Breaking the walls in and between Finnish adult and vocational education

Our symposium questions firstly the standard interpretations on formation of adult and vocational education as a field of study according to which there was a logical progress from practice to conceptualization of practice to theory and metatheory (e.g. Finger & Asun 2001). Secondly it questions the antagonistic division between practice, research and policy in adult and vocational education.

We discuss how the science of (general) education, adult education (science) and vocational education (science) had diverse roots before becoming educational sub-disciplines in faculties of education, established in the 1970s. Although it is possible to map differences in their underlying theoretical and conceptual frameworks, we argue that the actual solutions may also be understood as outcomes of power struggles in politics, industry, academy and among practitioners. Although they are increasingly taking place in transnational settings, such struggles are still worth noticing when considering the disciplinary status and socio-political role of adult and vocational education in different societal contexts.

We suggest that historicizing and contextualizing – genealogical, actor-based, relational – analysis is required to make sense about the societal, political and economic role and functions of adult and vocational education. “Breaking the walls” is required to take seriously the societal responsibility of the academy to actualize the contents of the basic concepts of these disciplines with regard to the challenges we face, such as the globalization and localization of economy, supranationalization of politics and administration and the growing number of ecological, economic and social crisis (Pätäri, Heikkinen & Teräsahde 2016).

Group’s theoretical approach builds on Latour´s (1994) and Narotzky´s (2007) interpretation on emergence of research fields with their distinctive concepts as political programmes. The historicizing and power-critical framework owes to the ideas of Foucault’s (1980a, b, c) genealogy and Latour’s (2005) actor-networks.

  1. Sini Teräsahde: Relations and actors in the making of disciplines – research, practice and policy in adult education

Teräsahde is studying the relation of research, practice and policymaking in adult education as actor-networks, based on the philosophy and sociology of Bruno Latour. In this presentation she asks what actor-network theory has to offer for research on disciplinarization of adult education. The disciplinarization of adult education could be seen as a collective process of facts construction – constitution of black boxes in Latour’s terminology. According to actor-network theory, also adult education discipline would have to be defined relationally. The discipline is negotiated between i. a. academics, practitioners and policymakers and the negotiations happen in mediators requiring translation of interests.

  1. Anja Heikkinen: Political, industrial and professional networks in struggle about disciplinary identities of adult and vocational education.

The journey of educational science (study of education) started in Finland 1852 in the University of Helsinki, mainly qualifying teachers for gymnasia. Initiatives on including folk edification (~popular education) in educational science were made in 1920, also about establishing a professorship, but the predecessor of the discipline of adult education, study of folk edification, started in the School of Social Sciences 1928; chair followed 1946. The first professorship in vocational education was established in the University of Tampere, but inside Department of primary school teacher training in Hämeenlinna, in 1987.

The formation of adult and vocational education as academic disciplines in Finland doesn’t follow conventional interpretations. Nor does the development of concepts and theories proceed hand in hand with the development of the disciplines in the academy. Examples to back the argument are discussed from a few turning points in their history.

  1. Jenni Pätäri: Emerging adult education discipline educating adult educators for social change

Following Foucault’s genealogical approach Pätäri discusses how a certain body of knowledge on folk edification (“vapaa kansansivistystyö”) got constituted as science with the question of social change in the heart of it. Following this she problematizes adult education’s relation with society and societal roles of adult education researcher. In Finland the discipline of adult education referred mainly to folk edification until the 1960s. In 1966 the name of the discipline was changed to adult education. Analysing data from 1910s to 1940s Pätäri highlights tensions between the missions of civic education and professional education for teachers and civil servants, and the “truth” of the right kind of folk and subjugated popular knowledge.


Finger, M. & Asun, J. M. 2001. Adult education at the cross-roads: Learning our way out. London & New York: Zed Books.
Foucault, Michel 1980a. Truth and Power. In C. Gordon (ed.), Power/Knowledge. Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972-1977 by Michel Foucault. The Harvester Press, Suffolk 1980, pp. 109-131.
Foucault, Michel 1980b. Powers and Strategies. In Colin Gordon (ed.), Power/Knowledge. Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972-1977 by Michel Foucault. Suffolk: The Harvester Press, Suffolk 1980, pp. 134-145.
Foucault, Michel 1980c. Tarkkailla ja rangaista. Suom. Eevi Nivanka. Otava, Helsinki 1980. (Surveiller et punir. Naissance de la prison, 1975.)
Heikkinen, A. 2012. Manufacturing a Discipline:  the Case of Finnish Vocational Education. In J. Kivirauma, A. Jauhiainen, P. Seppänen & T. Kaunisto (eds.) Social Perspectives on Education. University of Turku.
Heikkinen, A. & Teräsahde, S. 2011. Aikuiskasvatus on tutkimisen ja asiantuntemuksen arvoinen. AITURI-hankkeen loppuraportti. Tampere: Tampereen yliopiston kasvatustieteiden yksikkö [https://www.aikuiskasvatuksentutkimusseura.fi/aikuiskasvatus/tutkimus/aituri-hanke-2010-2011/].
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Latour, B. 2005. Reassembling the social: an introduction to actor-network-theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Narotzky, S. 2007. The Project in the Model: Reciprocity, Social Capital, and the Politics of Ethnographic Realism. Current Anthropology 48 (3) pp. 403–424.
Pätäri, J., Heikkinen, A. & Teräsahde, S. 2016. The Responsibility of Nordic Adult Education Research and the Planetary Condition. In A. Harju & A. Heikkinen (eds.) Adult education and the Planetary Condition. Helsinki: VST & SVV [https://issuu.com/svv-ohjelma/docs/adult_educ_planetary_cond_2016].
Vähämäki, J. 2010. Tieto ulos instituutioista. Niin & Näin 4/2010 pp. 115–119.

Presentation Heikkinen, Pätäri & Teräsahde (slides)

Photos: Cheng Jiao, Katriina Tapanila & Jenni Pätäri