Academic journal article Journal of Outdoor and Environmental Education

Camping to Change the World

Academic journal article Journal of Outdoor and Environmental Education

Camping to Change the World

Article excerpt


As well as providing amazing recreational experiences, camping can nurture our connection with both nature and one another. The development of such deeper relational competence is needed for our species to take the next step in our psychosocial evolution. Without this we can expect ongoing environmental degradation, social strife and personal anxiety. By being aware of the philosophical underpinnings and possible practical applications of these ideas, we can all be in a better position to appreciate and experience camping at a much deeper and rewarding level. This holistic view of camping aims to integrate humour, humility and hope.


As a youngster I remember laughing at the definition of camping as "loitering with-in-tent". In this presentation I want to reframe and examine deeply what that 'intent' might be, how it gets constructed, and what the consequences of different 'intents' might be.

As indicated in my title, I believe that camping--along with many other activities--has the potential to change the world (for the better). Camping can be both a means for developing our 'good intent', and for taking meaningful action to create the better world(s) we would want to live in, and that we would want to pass on to future generations.

Perhaps I should first tell you where I am coming from, a little about my association with camping, and about some of my assumptions and the frameworks I use to think about topics such as the one we are dealing with.

I was born in Aylesbury in the UK during WWII, and we camped throughout my youth--both with my family and through the Cubs and Scouts. I did some camping with my children in North America, and I camp occasionally now with my partner in Australia, where I have lived since 1995. In addition, each year a group of us take our Social Ecology undergraduate students for a one-week camping trip in the Blue Mountains (at Glastonbell, near Bell, NSW).

I looked up 'camping' in the 'Oxford Book of Quotations' and the only reference was to H.G. Wells, who in his novel Bealby (Part III, p. 7) stated:

   The life of breezy freedom resolves
   itself in practice chiefly into washing
   up and an anxious search for
   permission to camp.

This certainly was an important part of my memory of camping with my family. It is interesting that in Lancashire, where my father comes from, the word 'camping' is used to refer to situations when someone engages you in conversation, for example, when you meet someone unexpectedly on the street. I also remember having numerous meaningful conversations with other campers.

One meaning of the Latin word campus, from which 'camping' is derived, is 'level ground'. I certainly remember much time spent searching for such ground--and also sometimes crawling into my sleeping bag only to find that the bit of ground I was on was far from level.

One of my father's entertaining stories relates to a camping trip that he made as a young Sea Scout. On the last day of the trek he arrived about midnight on Chorleywood Common (Hertfordshire). It was pitch black with no moonlight, and he had no torch, so it was difficult to find a suitable site, until by chance he came upon a piece of flat ground. He pitched his tent quickly and, being exhausted from the long trek, went to sleep immediately. He was awakened in the morning by a very angry local--an early morning golfer. He had pitched his tent on the golf green of the 9th hole! An innocent mistake, but one he would never make again.

With my love of nature, I did an undergraduate degree in zoology and a PhD in ecology--which involved spending two years studying life in a bat-inhabited cave in Trinidad. There my camp was a hammock covered in a mosquito net strung between two trees close to the cave mouth. Occasionally I shared the trees with a three-toed sloth, several snakes (some poisonous), hundreds of tree frogs, and a diverse range of insects, spiders and their relatives. …

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