Academic journal article Australian Journal of Outdoor Education

Balancing More Than Backpacks: Communitarian Ideas Applied to Educational Expeditions

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Outdoor Education

Balancing More Than Backpacks: Communitarian Ideas Applied to Educational Expeditions

Article excerpt


This paper examines the viability of using a communitarian framework within outdoor education practice, specifically in order to address the tension between individual rights and social responsibility that is frequently found on overnight (or multi-day) educational expeditions. The setting of educational expeditions offers rich potential for exploring concepts of how the expression of rights generates claims upon others and how an assumption of rights presumes certain responsibilities. The implications of utilising a communitarian framework in outdoor education is examined through the analysis of two educational expedition scenarios. The paper concludes that a communitarian framework, particularly the concepts of rights and responsibilities and the establishment of shared values, can be useful for facilitating discussion around the often messy and complex area of interpersonal dynamics on educational expeditions. In addition, the direct parallels between an expedition experience and society at large, viewed through a communitarian lens, offers educational relevance beyond the outdoor education experience.

Keywords: educational expeditions, communitarianism, youth expeditions, group dynamics, community, values


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. …

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