During the last conference in Copenhagen, 2017, on “Discourses we live by”, there were many moments when we reflected on the role of relationships and groups, both as resources and occasions for learning, e.g. when they offer recognition, challenges, and opportunities for reflection, and as contexts of power, oppression, and mystification, when frames of meaning and structures are imposed on us. And when our proximal system, the family and cultural groups in which we are embedded, seem unable to evolve with us. We also reflected on the role of conflict as a triggers for transformative and intercultural learning, and or a deadlock and the driving force behind dramatic escalations of violence.

We are social and communicating beings: in fact, we are born in a human group, a family, whatever this term might mean, across different cultures, and we become part of many groups, communities, teams, organizations, associations. Every time we engage with the new and different we have to learn how to position ourselves in connection to others, and to the whole. We also learn how to separate, to individuate, to take a distance, to be able to transform ourselves, and our relationships, in a healthier, safer, more respectful and rewarding ways. Separation as well as togetherness lie at the root of human flourishing. Our narratives can sustain, celebrate, or challenge the I, and the Us, in building individual and collective identities.

By researching learning biographies, we can discover many references to experiences of belonging, and to their role in shaping experience and meaning, and how they are part of the construction of knowledge, identity, awareness, and coordinated action. Togetherness can be a filter to read human lives, at an intermediate (meso) level in relation (and maybe connecting) the subjective (micro) level with the larger context (macro). But separation from families, from the known and familiar, is important too in building new, even liberated identities and for understanding ourselves in the world.

So, we have decided to focus the next conference (1-4 March 2018) on the place and nature of togetherness in learning lives, and how it becomes part of our research. And of the discontents – echoing Freud – that can surround such experience.

We want to consider the learning potential of dialogue as well as of breakdown and conflict, at a time characterized by many experiences of dis-connection and reciprocal mistrust, of violence, and refusal to engage with the other except in negative ways. When groups become ‘immune’ from the other, offering protection and belonging but at the expense of any capability to engage with diversity and otherness, and to learn from them.We want to consider different kinds of human groups, their origins, their processes of construction and destruction, and of potential evolution and transformation: is there a form of group learning, when we consider a group as a ‘Mind’, i.e. a system of ever changing interconnections that develops information of its own? (Bateson, 1972).

Various themes can intersect: of class, religion, ethnicity, nationality, age, gender, sexual orientation etc. and how individuals can make a difference within the groups they compose, or can feel that development is only possible through separation. Homogeneity and heterogeneity are always present, and the way they are managed can favour learning or hinder and block it, e.g. when one’s characteristics become reasons for marginalization, symbolic violence, bullish behaviour, etc.

Perhaps we need new ways of conceiving connectedness, to help in building more open communities and to revitalize educational processes, and or research, as social and communicative human endeavours, and to enhance our humanity, across difference, and against overly narrow and constraining ideas of belonging. And for strengthening democratic processes in contexts of life, work, and learning. Biographical research emphasizes subjectivity, and the possibility of telling one’s story, as a way to illuminate individual life experience and trajectories; this continues to be an important focus for us as researchers, but we also need to consider how we can together build better contexts to sustain transformation as well as continuity, at all levels.

As frequently discussed in previous conferences in Milan, Canterbury and Copenhagen, new conversations, models and methods are needed to highlight the auto/ biographical origins of what is essential for a good life, and for a just society; this goes back to our experiences during childhood, adolescence, youth and adulthood, encompassing formal education, as well informal and workplace learning, and experiences of political engagement. A class, a party, an association, a group of friends, our family of origin as well as the family we created, like a working team, can play an important role: the conference will be a space for us to think about such experiences together, hence realizing this same process in our conversations, to seek to illuminate where resources for learning can lie and how we make sense of them, in the lives of those with whom we research, as well as our own.