Written for the SCUTREA members by Linden West and Barbara Merrill in memory of John Field.



John mattered to both of us as a friend, colleague and inspiration. He could be humorous, sharp and questioning while attuned to our struggles as academics in seeking understanding in authentic ways. He was a generous man and a good human being, adult educator and scholar. John worked in university adult education, in various settings, at Warwick, Bradford, Ulster and Stirling, as well as being a Visiting Professor in Germany. His father had been based in Germany for military service, and John spoke fluent German. He was open to diverse cultural and intellectual influences and studied and wrote eclectically on international and cultural issues in adult education. His interests ranged, in fact, from student motivation to wider questions about historical forces shaping learners and learning. They encompassed masculinities and perceptions of the male body alongside changing perceptions of the very purpose of adult education. John was open to diversity in research methodology, both quantitative and qualitative, including the auto/biographical.



European adult education was important to John, and he was highly involved in the European Society for Research on the Education of Adults (ESREA) from its earliest days. He was a member of the ESREA Steering Committee for several years. At the second meeting of ESREA in 1992, John (Warwick) became a chair, along with Barry Hake (Leiden) and Dick Taylor (Leeds) of the Social Movements and History research network. In 1997, he became one of the convenors of the Active Democratic Citizenship network. John was an active presence too at various ESREA conferences over a long period.



He was similarly involved in the UK research organisation on adult education – the Standing Conference of Teachers and Researchers in the Education of Adults (SCUTREA). He was always a strong and influential presence at SCUTREA conferences.



John had a long-standing interest in mental well-being and transitional processes in lifelong learning. He chaired the Advisory Board for the ESRC Research Centre on Learning and Life Chances in Knowledge Economies and Societies at the University of London and was a Visiting Professor at Birkbeck. His widely cited book Lifelong learning and the new educational order plotted the important yet problematic shift towards a lifelong learning paradigm. The book remains inspirational to this day and is standard fayre in reading lists in the study of education, adult education, lifewide and lifelong learning.



Barbara recalls, ‘I first met John in 1991 when I started working in The Department of Continuing Education (now the Centre for Lifelong Learning), University of Warwick. I was new to academia, having worked previously in school education. John eased my career transition by being kind, approachable and supportive, which I really appreciated because adult education was a new field for me. I learnt a lot from John as he was so knowledgeable on adult education that it was always rewarding to talk to him. As a colleague, he had a sense of humour, which brightened up meetings and when working together. John left Warwick to work in other universities, but after Chris Duke left, he came back as Professor of Lifelong Learning and Head of Department. He was a great asset to the department and the University as a whole in furthering adult education and programmes for local adult students. I was saddened when he moved to Stirling, but we remained in contact through various research projects, ESREA, SCUTREA and as friends’.



‘John could also be mischievous in a lovely way. We gave a joint paper together at the 2010 ESREA Triennial Conference in Linköping, Sweden. I was in the middle of presenting my part of the paper when people started laughing at the powerpoint. I turned round to find that John had inserted a photo of me! I last met John in January this year. As we said goodbye, I never expected that this was going to be the last time I saw him. I won’t ever forget what became the last goodbye’.



Linden recalls that John was one of the examiners for his PhD, based on his book Beyond Fragments, adults, motivation and higher education, a biographical analysis. ‘It was a PhD by publication, and I was uncertain what to expect’. ‘Loved the book, Linden’, he said, ‘but we’re going to put you through your paces’. And he and Bill Williamson, from Durham, did precisely that. It made the Viva both more memorable and better for it. The book was part of a quest to understand learners and learning in deeper, interdisciplinary ways, and his appreciation of this, in a humane and supportive spirit, characterised him and the best of adult education. Like many academics seeking to establish themselves – I’d worked as an administrator for many years and had only recently returned to the academy – I was uncertain and anxious about what I was doing. I was challenging the absence of deeper psychosocial sensibilities in studies of adult learner motivation. And what I felt to be a troubling superficiality in much existing work on the topic: in the problematic distinction, for instance, between vocational and personal motivation’. ‘Isn’t the personal implicated in the vocational choices we make, whether consciously or not?’ I asked. ‘John recognised what I was trying to do and always encouraged me further. Feeling seen and recognised in such ways helps us in turn to better recognise others. This was John’s great gift, and these qualities were fulsomely acknowledged in his induction to the International Adult and Continuing Education Hall of Fame in 2014’.



We worked with John on the European-financed RANLHE study of non-traditional learners in European Higher Education. His wide, interdisciplinary reading and transnational sensibility enriched the study and everyone participating in it. John, in essence, put simply, was a giant of a man – in many senses – who helped us and so many others to think and write more eclectically, deeply and clearly. He was in touch quite recently with Linden too (they remained in contact over the years) about his curating an exhibition – Radical dissent: the Kent Miners and Workers’ Education – at the Kent Betteshanger Miners’ Museum. He was enthusiastic about seeing this, and he and Julie, his partner, planned to meet up with Linden. He was always interested and supportive in this kind of way. ‘He was, well, proud’, Linden states, ‘of someone like me, whom he’d mentored, exploring working-class history in new ways’. The meeting, of course, never took place, but his spirit is alive and well in the Exhibition.


He will be greatly missed. Thank you, John, for all you have done and were.


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