Current theory, policy, and practice of lifelong learning are strongly influenced by ideas about the transformations that are taking place in contemporary societies. One influential set of ideas emphasizes that because of the rapid changes that are taking place in the (late-) modern world and because of the erosion of traditions, there is a constant need for individuals not only to learn new skills and knowledge in order to be able to adjust themselves to the changes, but also to reflexively (re)construct one’s self. Anthony Giddens has referred to this as the “reflexive project of the self.” It thus becomes a lifelong learning task. In this paper we raise some critical questions about Giddens’s views and their implications for lifelong learning. On the one hand we show, using ideas from Charles Taylor, that the construction of the self does not necessarily have to be understood in the reflexive and individualistic terms suggested by Giddens. With Taylor we argue for the importance of the social, moral, and intersubjective dimensions of the construction of the self. Against this background we then discuss ideas from Confucianism that also highlight the social, moral, and intersubjective dimensions of understanding the self. The latter view is not simply a theoretical option but actually continues to influence the ways in which a large part of the world population views their lives and their selves. Both for theoretical and practical reasons we therefore suggest that there is a need to take a broader outlook on what the personal dimensions of lifelong learning in contemporary society might look like.
Lifelong learning self identity late–modernity morality ethics individualism West East Confucianism