Academic journal article Journal of Outdoor and Environmental Education

Listening Place

Academic journal article Journal of Outdoor and Environmental Education

Listening Place

Article excerpt


A relationship with 'place' has the potential to transform our practice as educators. As Gruenewald (2003a) states, "an understanding of it [place] is key to understanding the nature of our relationships with each other and the world" (p.622). Yet, renowned nature writer Hay (as cited in Gessner, 2005) has said that one of the worst things happening on the planet right now is that we are "forgetting about localities", our place in the world where we take root, take responsibility and form community (p.16). The result being that we become increasingly alienated from the neighbours (human and more-than-human) that we occupy this earth with and the lessons they might offer us (Baker, 2005; Evernden, 1993). It seems as though even the field of outdoor education is not immune to this trend.

In 1986, Priest proposed that outdoor education promote a blend of relationships including: intrapersonal, interpersonal, ecosystemic and ekistic. Since then, Hales (2006) and Loynes (1998; 2002) have made compelling arguments that although leaps and gains have been made in terms of educating for the intrapersonal or self-development within the field they have come at the expense of the development of equally important relations with the local land and community. Loynes (2002) has argued that the current, dominant approach to outdoor education ends up stripping lessons of their context and particularity, he states:

  My concerns were that an 'off the shelf, commodified approach
  to providing adventure experiences and talking about them was
  counter to the organic and emergent nature of experiential
  learning as it takes account of environments, individuals,
  groups, cultures and activities and the experiences that
  arise from their interaction. (p. 113)

Among his primary concerns is the fact that "groups are understood as teams in the context of a shared goal and not as communities with a multiplicity of needs and dreams" and that the individualized nature of outdoor programs often comes "at the expense of human interdependence" (Loynes, 2002, p.114). He also points out that within the dominant paradigm of outdoor and experiential learning, the rest of the natural world is viewed as a "resource" rather than "a home to which to relate" (p. 114). Haluza-Delay (1999a) points out that within the field the natural world has also been seen as "opponent" to "conquer" (p.130). Loynes (1998) warns that by embodying such values, whether intentional or not, we are on a slippery slope sliding towards disconnecting people from the very community and places that the field originally attempted to highlight. Hales (2006) echoes this concern, stating:

  Despite the intentions of the motive of service in promoting
  equality of self, others and the environment there still
  appears to be a trend in some outdoor education practice to
  prioritise self-development over the development of relations
  with others and the environment. (p. 54)

Baker (2005) specifically highlights the disconnection from place that is happening within experiential education, stating "the day has passed when participants can leave adventure-based programs with a sense of accomplishment, but without a sense of their relationship to the land" (p. 268-9). Often it appears that within outdoor and experiential education, the land becomes the "backdrop" of the learning rather than the focus for it (Baker, 2005; Haluza-Delay, 1999b; Miner, 2003).

Many within the field argue that we need to reverse this trend of disconnection from place and community as it devalues the very relations that sustain, create, inform and inspire. Roberts (2009) points out that 'our relations to others define us' (p.34) and Jay (2005) reminds us that Dewey himself has said "shared experience ... is the greatest of human goods" (p. 295). Similarly, others (Baker, 2005; Knapp, 2005; Martin, 1999) argue that we need to carefully attend to the more-than-human relations within place as they also have so much to teach. …

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