Learner autonomy and the theory of sociality

Lewis, Tim (2014). Learner autonomy and the theory of sociality. In: Murray, Garold ed. Social Dimensions of Autonomy in Language Learning. Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan, pp. 37–59.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1057/9781137290243_3

URL: http://www.palgrave.com/products/title.aspx?pid=64...


Most approaches to learner autonomy treat it an individual’s psychological capacity for exercising control over the learning environment. They fail to take into account the extent to which language learning revolves on social interaction, whether the collectivity engaged in it is that of the classroom, or of the online earning communities fostered by telecollaboration.

This chapter therefore takes a different view of what is meant by learner autonomy. It builds on the approach to autonomy promulgated by David Little, which places interdependence, rather than independence at the heart of the concept. It uses ideas developed by Kant and Habermas to identify elements that are absent or awry in earlier thinking about learner autonomy. It explores the relevance to the learner autonomy field of research into human (and primate) sociality by de Waal, Henrich and Tomasello, as well as the philosophy of sociality developed by Raimo Tuomela. It seeks to explain in what ways successful learner autonomy in a social context differs from the oft-promulgated vision of it as total personal control.

In particular the chapter develops the Kantian idea of `respect for persons as ends’ as an necessary component of learner autonomy in social contexts, equating it with established features of sociality such as empathy, altruism, fairness and reciprocity. Finally it studies concepts of joint intention and action, exploring their implications for thinking about learner autonomy. Illustrative data is drawn from online learner discussion forums.

Viewing alternatives

Download history


Public Attention

Altmetrics from Altmetric

Number of Citations

Citations from Dimensions

Item Actions



  • Item ORO ID
  • 35949
  • Item Type
  • Book Section
  • ISBN
  • 1-137-29023-4, 978-1-137-29023-6
  • Keywords
  • language learning; autonomy; sociality; altruism; empathy; fairness; reciprocity; respect; control
  • Academic Unit or School
  • Faculty of Wellbeing, Education and Language Studies (WELS)
  • Research Group
  • Language & Literacies
  • Copyright Holders
  • © 2013 Selection, introduction and editorial matter Garold Murray, © individual chapters, respective authors
  • Depositing User
  • Timothy Lewis