A guided tour at the intersection of Outdoor Education and Tourism
Originally published in Pathways: Ontario Journal of Outdoor Education (Spring 2020)
Back in grad school we didn’t talk much about the industry, or what I’ve always called “the dirty work”, of the Outdoors. We philosophised over Foucault, inspected works of Ibsen, and harped over Humberstone, but rarely did we touch on the multiple facets of the modern outdoor industry. Getting a job, starting a business, risk insurance, and Excel spreadsheets were not primary topics of the curriculum. The world of Outdoor Education is filled with discussions that sit on the intersection of education and environment. Recently in the wake of the publication of Wild Pedagogies: Touchstones for Renegotiating Education and the Environment in the Anthropocene and it’s subsequent ‘‘walking colloquiums’’, readers and attendees were asked to re-wild our awareness as practitioners by cooperating with our seemingly monolithic friend, the “more-than-human-world’’, as co-teacher. (Jickling et al., 37). Like many Outdoor Educators, I have worked extensively in both the tourism sector and more traditional school programs, therefore; I reflect on how can these ‘‘touchstones’’ of Wild Pedagogy can be applied in the context of a growing industry increasingly dominated by capitalism and commodified excess. How could outdoor practitioners contest the status quo in a landscape of increasingly “McDonaldise[ed]” it’s offerings (Loynes, 1998; Zegre,Needham, Kruger and Rosenberger,2012)?
In 2018, the global adventure tourism industry was valued at approximately $80 billion more than the global Outdoor Education industry and, at least in pre-pandemic times, these numbers were expected to respectively double by 2026 (Chouhan, Vig , & Deshmukh 2019). In a world where the availability of outdoor and adventure tourism jobs become more plentiful than those in Outdoor Education, being an Outdoor Education professional means transferring one’s skills to a feverishly growing tourism industry. Using my experiences as an outdoor guide in Oslo, Norway, I will frame my experience using the “Six Touchstones for Wild Pedagogies” to emphasize how outdoor tourism can be an educationally productive and satisfying position to be in for both guides and guests.
Intersecting Wild Pedagogies:
In their chapter the “Six Touchstones for Wild Pedagogies in Practice ‘’, The Crex Crex Collective poses 6 main “points of departure and places to return to” in an effort to assist educators “who are ready to expand their horizon, and are curious about the potential of wild pedagogies” (Jickling et al., 77). The touchstones arguably serve as an evolving checklist for outdoor practitioners that can be “read, responded to, and revised as part of an evolving, vital, situated, and lived practice”. In response to this experiential process offered by the Crex Crex Collective, I’d like to briefly go through the 6 points of the checklist and offer some meditations on the touchstones as they relate to my practice as an outdoor guide thus far.
“Touchstone #1: Nature as a co-teacher” (Jickling et al., 79)
Oslo is a city where the Scandinavian cultural phenomena of Friluftsliv, one that puts nature at the heart of the culture, bears much influence on its urbanity. The city itself has used nature as it’s teacher and this is exemplified in it’s urban planning. Oslo’s affinity for landscape architecture and a public transport system that is specifically designed to get people to the wilderness, are just two examples of how a city can cooperate with nature for design. As a guide I am in a unique position to regularly renegotiate the concept of what is natural or native in a city where over half the land mass is considered park or forest.
The duty towards tourists to speak for the surroundings forces me to revisit the terms of urban and wilderness as they begin to evolve whilst observing and traversing by bike, foot, or ferry through Oslo’s fringy reality of place and landscape. The dichotomy of humans and nature is ever present on tour. In terms of the tour and place, urban and wilderness are in cooperation while juxtaposed, for example, as the sounds of waves crashing against our ferry drum up old stories of ice age glacial melt and the future of climate and social change. Somewhere between the tour and nature, the guide facilitates the interpretation.
“Touchstone #2: Complexity of the unknown and spontaneity” (Jickling et al., 84)
In cooperation with nature, a primary role of the Guide is to provide a confident sense of awareness and context through facilitation and interpretation to a group that is relatively situated in the unknown. At first glance, a tour may seem somewhat restrictive in regard to “spontaneity” because of predetermined routes, talking points and time constraints. However, between the loose framework of departure times and must see attractions lies a majority of liminal space, and that space is where unique and spontaneous experiences occur. Aside from the basic tasks associated with leading and informing tourists from point A to Z, a tour is full of unpredictability (i.e. tourist diversity, weather, the ever changing cityscape…etc.) and the ability to improvise proves to be a paramount skill necessary and one that can only be achieved through a heightened awareness that has been trained through experience. A guide that can confidently improvise on tour, perhaps unbeknownst to their tourists, can facilitate in the manifestation of a temporary micro-culture that inspires wonder and exploration that is accessible in the liminal space of the unknown.
“Touchstone #3: Locating the Wild”
On the surface, locating wilderness and natural areas while on tour in Oslo is no difficult task. Oslo is considered a “European Green Capital” (European Commission, 2020). But, looking deeper into this concept, The Crex Crex Collective notes that “The wild can be occluded, made hard to see, by cultural tools, by the colonial orientation of those doing the encountering, and, in urban spaces, by concrete itself” (Jickling et al., 88). The distractions of a busy city, smart phones, social media that are feverishly clawing at our attention span can prove to be some of the trickiest variables on tour. The tourism industry could seem to be the epitome of attracting patrons of a colonial mindset and for many tourists this is the case. Guides can not predict or choose their audience, however; we are met with a tremendous opportunity to gain access to a willing and captive audience. A guide can easily find themselves in a powerful position to subtly lead by example, share local stories, shape global perceptions and highlight evidence of colonization in front of multiple groups of audiences every day. Guide’s ability to unveil the wild, demonstrate dissection of a place, or simply provide a space for others to be in the wild, could result in a paradigm shift. The potential to demonstrate and disseminate the fundamental acts of decolonizing perspectives during a tour is something that seems vastly underrated in the field of tourism.
#4 : Time and practice
Once the wild is located, one needs time to be there. Philosophy around Naess’ Deep Ecology emphasizes that through experiences in nature one will identify with nature and therefore become empathetic towards it. Time is typically a crucial issue when guiding a tour. Logistics, limited gear supply, and budget make up the bulk of practicalities that shape a tour behind the scenes. With these constraints there remains a window for some aspects of “Clock-time” & “Deep time” as they were referred to in touchstones (Jickling et al.,92). During the clock time allotted in a 3–4 hour tour, admittedly there is little time for habit forming or deep examination. However, tourists do engage in certain less than monumental rituals such as the wearing of helmets and collecting of personal items when leaving the bike as we bike, stop, talk, walk, and bike again. As a guide I have the ritual to regularly open the discussions for any questions,as I aim to foster an environment on tour that is open for the interaction and curiosity of my guests.
When it comes to the concept of deep time, I see at least two opportunities. During the tour there are multiple times where tourists may break off from the group to explore independently at different sights for 10 to 30 minutes. During this time they take their experience into their own control to explore the ruins of an ancient monastery or explore the world’s largest permanent outdoor art installation. Having this independence is not only a nice break but also, for many, the first time they’ve been alone exploring in this unknown new place. Of course different guides have various schedules and one works with what they have, but it is educationally beneficial to be aware and take these opportunities for exploration whenever possible. The second opportunity I see is in the reflection process. If the guide manages to facilitate a memorable tour experience, there is arguably an increased likelihood that tourists will reflect more deeply upon their time in nature on tour. Of course, the long term effects of my tours have not been empirically documented, but customer reviews and feedback do refer to primarily positive and thoughtful outcomes.
Touchstones 5 and 6 : Socio-Cultural change, Building alliances and the human community
Ideally, if time on tour spent in nature develops empathy, empathy may “induce people to protect nature, not because they think they ought to, but because they feel inclined to” (Milton in Gurholt, 2013, p. 1). On tour these touchstones work hand-in-hand with each other. The first (#5) in regards to the judgement in information delivered by the guide and the second (#6) facilitation by way of the guide and nature as co-teachers. A key concept in Wild Pedagogy, thus far, is the belief “that education is always a political act’’ (Jickling et al., 97). The term political, in this context, does not simply refer to governmental politics, but frames education as a vessel for socio-cultural and ecological change.
In the article Defining Friluftsliv (2007), Nils Faarlund notes that Friluftsliv offers a space to challenge “the patterns of thought, values, and lifestyles imposed by modernity” (p. 56). By default outdoor guides are positioned on a unique platform to lead willfully captive audiences into that potentially space where socio-cultural and ecological experiences foster empathy and instigate thoughtful challenge of the status quo. Arguably, the Guide’s position is more advantageous in comparison to traditional educators whose audience typically is required to be there. Guides have a practical responsibility to act as the intermediary between their co-teacher and it’s community. With this responsibility may come the Guide’s greatest responsibility: the ability to curate and exchange facts and stories with places and spaces for the audience. Without becoming too dogmatic, Guides have the opportunity to subtly display progressive socio-cultural and ecological information that is relevant to individual visitors, locals, and the global community at large. Exposure and experience with the local human and ‘more than human” community, even on a short bike tour through Oslo will undoubtedly offer a tourist some kind of exchange in empathy, identification, or ideas both socio-cultural and ecological.
Despite expectations you may have had of yourself in school, your dreams of being that outdoor social-worker or hybrid wilderness therapeutic arts practitioner could land you in disappointment whilst you jocky tourists from sight to sight. On the contrary, let this not cloud one’s perspective and distract from the great opportunities tourism presents in itself to educators and other outdoor practitioners. Perhaps this shouldn’t be seen as a conundrum at all but rather a meeting point of needs that at first glance may seemingly lie on different sides of the ideological spectrum. In fact we could consider ourselves lucky to possess skill sets that provide even more opportunities for both employment and promotion of strong human nature relations that go beyond the four walls of a classroom. The tour is an ever changing mobile classroom and with the right “lesson plan” any Wild Pedagogue can disseminate key concepts that are both globally relevant and place based in a short period of time to a wider audience than a standard school class. This unprecedented access makes the tour a hugely advantageous platform for those who are trying to communicate specific messages across large audiences.
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Faarlund, N. (2007). Defining Friluftsliv. In B. Henderson & N. Vikander (eds.) Nature first: Outdoor Life the Friluftsliv Way (pp. 56–57). Toronto: Natural Heritage Books
Gurholt, K. P. (2014) Joy of nature, friluftsliv education and self: combining narrative and cultural–ecological approaches to environmental sustainability, Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning, 14:3, 233–246
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