Balancing More Than Backpacks: Communitarian Ideas Applied to Educational Expeditions

Article excerpt

Introduction

Educational expeditions, particularly overseas youth expeditions, are a growing sector within the broader field of outdoor education (Allison & Von Wald, 2010). The human dimensions of educational expeditions can be complex, challenging, and critical to an expedition's success or failure. Educational expeditions often neglect adequate preparations for the interpersonal challenges while focussing on logistical or physical challenges (Potter, 1997). This paper seeks to explore ways in which interpersonal challenges frequently centre on the tension between individual liberty and social order (Beames & Stonehouse, 2007). Though no formula is likely to address every human dimension of an expedition, expedition leaders and outdoor educators could enhance their expeditions, and potentially illuminate complex interpersonal conflicts, through the introduction of a communitarian philosophical framework.

Educational expeditions within the broader context of outdoor education literature

The phenomenon of educational expeditions has a relatively long history, particularly in the United Kingdom, where they have been in practice since at least 1932 when the Public Schools Exploring Society (now called BSES Expeditions) ran their first expedition to Finland (Allison & Von Wald, 2010). Despite the long history, expeditions have received relatively little attention in formal educational research (Allison & Von Wald, 2010). Until the recent publication of Understanding Educational Expeditions, edited by Simon Beames (2010), there had been no collection of writing that brought together a range of theoretical perspectives to inform practice. Besides the numerous 'how to' expedition books and guides, much of the existing research on educational expeditions, mostly journal papers, has focused on participant experiences (Allison, 2000; Allison & Higgins, 2002; Potter, 1997; Takano, 2010) and social interactions and group experience (Beames, 2004, 2005; Beames & Atencio, 2008). The subject of group facilitation has received much greater attention within the literature of outdoor education than educational expeditions, and this literature has largely focussed on residential, facility-based or short-term (less than two weeks) educational experiences (Beames, 2010; Seaman, 2007; Stan, 2009; Thomas, 2010; Tozer, Fazey & Fazey, 2007). Beames and Stonehouse (2007) have written a brief article in Horizons about the potential benefits of utilising a communitarian framework. In a similar vein, Loynes (1998, 2002) wrote about the loss of community values and the decreased emphasis on place in many outdoor programmes. Hales (2006) sought to build upon Loynes' ideas in his exploration of how the process of individualisation led to an emphasis on self over aspects of community and place. Following the work of these authors this article seeks to add to the foundation of social theories applied to outdoor education, to further develop possible implications for practice when introducing a communitarian philosophy to educational expeditions.

The development of modern Communitarian philosophy

The tension between individual liberty and social order is as old as humanity, and is seen in the writings of the early Greek philosophers, through the influence of religious doctrine in the Middle Ages and in present day political and academic discourse (Buber, 1996; Etzioni, 1996; Nightingale, 2010; Stonehouse, Allison & Carr, 2011; Vanier, 2002). In the early 1990s a small group of academics met in Washington, D.C., to discuss this tension and to reflect upon the polarisation of the debate within American society (Etzioni, 2004, p. 3). The group expressed a concern that the expansion of individual rights, and a growing sense of entitlement, did not correspond to an equally rising sense of citizen responsibility, but in fact reflected an "explosion of rights and recession of responsibilities" (Etzioni, 1995, p. …