Learning and identity

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


This chapter discusses how an individual’s identity has an effect on their learning and vice versa. In particular it focuses on what it means to have an identity as someone who sees oneself, and is seen by significant others, as a competent learner. When thinking about identity it is usual to focus on the characteristics of an individual that are maintained over time and that distinguish one person from another. However, identity is socially constructed in interaction with others and so it is dynamic and only relatively stable (see Schuller et al., 2004). It follows from this that identity is not fixed, but is created and re-created in interactions between the individual and the social world that they inhabit (Bauman, 1996; Sfard and Prusak, 2005; Wenger, 1998). This does not mean, however, that identity is completely fluid, since individuals seek to make sense of their experiences by constructing patterns of consistency and coherence regarding the nature of their identity in their relationships with others. Learning has a strong relationship to identity because, through the institutions of the family, education

and work, the individual’s outlook and self-image are socially shaped so that ‘fundamental to our understanding of learning … is our understanding of the whole person in a social situation’ (Jarvis, 2009: 31). Viewing learning and identity as developing through social relationships and within particular contexts or ‘communities of practice’ (Wenger, 1998) is also helpful in dealing with issues of power and responsibilities because it addresses:

how collective discourses shape personal worlds and how individual voices combine into the voice of a community … [as well as] the mechanisms through which the collective and the common enter individual activities … through learning.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Routledge International Handbook of Learning
EditorsPeter Jarvis, Mary Watts
Place of PublicationLondon
Number of pages9
ISBN (Electronic)9781136598562, 9780429230530
ISBN (Print)9781138577039, 9780415571302
Publication statusPublished - 15 Dec 2011
Externally publishedYes

Publication series

NameRoutledge International Handbooks of Education


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