Edited by Yaojun Li
Chapter 16: Social ties, agency and change: education and social capital in adult life
Many social theorists argue that late modernity is characterized by increasing change across all areas of adult life, leading to continuing experience of transition in the adult life course. Moreover, participation in education and training can itself provide a stimulus to further change, whether in employment or in other spheres of everyday life. This chapter explores the role of social networks in adults’ strategies for coping with educational transitions. It is informed theoretically by recent research into social capital and adult learning, which has pointed to a largely beneficial relationship between participation in learning and engagement in social and civic activity. It also attends to other, more intimate forms of social capital, above all family life. Drawing on life history data from a study of agency, identity and learning among British adults, a series of broad strategic categories are identified. These are explored through illustrative case studies of three individuals’ life stories. On the basis of this discussion, it is suggested that some combinations of social support seem better suited to promoting successful transitions than others. In short, social capital must be understood as a dynamic quality of changing relationships, which actors manipulate more or less consciously in response to change, and not as a static phenomenon that is ‘owned’ for once and for all by a particular group or individual.
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