Psychoanalytic Perspectives on Learning and the Subject Called the Learner

Authored by: Linden West

The Routledge International Handbook of Learning

Print publication date:  December  2011
Online publication date:  May  2012

Print ISBN: 9780415571302
eBook ISBN: 9780203357385
Adobe ISBN: 9781136598562


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In this chapter I explore the contribution that psychoanalytic perspectives, mainly object relations theory, can make to a richer understanding of learning, in all its dimensions, as well as to theorising the subject that we call the learner. I draw on in-depth auto/biographical research used to illuminate micro-level processes in learning and teaching, including in informal settings. The research is to be understood by reference to a continuing neglect of the visceral, embodied aspects of learning and the marginality of psychoanalytic perspectives in thinking about learning and educational processes more widely (Hunt and West, 2006, 2009). However, the neglect does not go unchallenged: Tara Fenwick, for example, in applying complexity science to experiential learning, notes the potentially important contribution of psychoanalytic learning theories, in that analysis of learning ‘should focus less on reported meanings and motivations’ and more on what is happening ‘under the surface of human encounters’, including ‘the desire for and resistance to different objects and relationships’ (Fenwick, 2003: 131).

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