Academic journal article Journal of Outdoor and Environmental Education

The Constitution of Outdoor Education Groups: An Analysis of the Literature

Academic journal article Journal of Outdoor and Environmental Education

The Constitution of Outdoor Education Groups: An Analysis of the Literature

Article excerpt


  Gangs, tribes and teams are, in many respects, all the same; what
  we want are teams--HRH The Duke of Edinburgh. (Gair, 1997, p. 133)

As the opening quote illustrates, groups come in many different forms, but not all are equally desirable. In this article I examine some of the assumptions made about groups in the outdoor education literature, the forms of groups that are being privileged and the effect these assumptions have on outdoor education practices. I use an example of the processes a group goes through to establish the pace at which they will walk on a tramping trip to illustrate some of the points raised in the literature. This story is drawn from an amalgam of experiences I have had, and others have shared with me, of walking with groups. The story appears in italics throughout the paper as I am using it as a touch stone to ground the theory rather than empirical evidence on which to build theory.

The group is milling around. They are putting off that moment of lifting their packs onto their backs to start a three day walk. This is the first time most in the group have been tramping. The route plan they had mapped out the previous day had looked very straightforward. Now that they are looking at the surrounding hills and can see what those contour lines on the map mean, some in the group are no longer so confident about the walk.

The instructor gathers the group together and asks that question that always comes up when groups move together. 'How will we work out how to set the pace? Remember, it is important to stay together so we can help each other' (1). There is some joking about holding hands or tying everyone together with their boot laces. Then one of the group comes up with the answer that so often seems to settle this discussion. 'We will move at the pace of the slowest person.' The others nod in agreement. This seems a sensible solution, after all the group won't be able to move faster than the slowest person will it? They know each other well enough to assume that Katie will be the slowest. They agree she will walk at the front. Then begins the groaning that accompanies putting on full packs for the first time, the beginning of the track is identified and Katie starts to walk. The rest of the group arrange themselves behind her. Within half an hour of starting their walk, most of the group have passed Katie and become quite spread out.

What does the solution, 'We will move at the pace of the slowest person?' tell us about outdoor education groups when it comes to the problem of moving together,? In this paper, I draw on the work of Michel Foucault (1992) to scrutinize some of the assumptions made about how groups work in the outdoor education literature. This paper starts with an explanation of the methods Foucault (1992) used to think differently about experience. This provides a framework to look at why we join groups, how groups are thought to work and how it is possible to be a group member. Problematising groups allows for an appraisal of accepted practices in outdoor education, highlighting the limits of some common assumptions and draws attention to other lines of inquiry as to how outdoor education groups work.

Foucault's analytics.

Foucault's (1992) project in volume two of The History of Sexuality, was to write "a history of the experience of sexuality, where experience is understood as the correlation between fields of knowledge, types of normativity, and forms of subjectivity in a particular culture" (p. 4). I use this framework to consider the experience of groups. By fields of knowledge, Foucault is referring to the forms of discursive practices that shape what is known, in this case, about outdoor education groups and what is done in groups. Practice is the point at which the "planned and the taken-for-granted meet and interconnect" (Foucault, 2002, p. 225). This includes such things as why we aim for teams rather than gangs or tribes in outdoor education. …

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