Toward a relational understanding of outdoor environmental education: A case study of two residential learning settings in South Devon, UK.
Date: 15 February 2018
University of Exeter
PhD in Geography
This thesis examines the ways in which outdoor environmental education can be understood in the context of relational-environmental encounters. The study focuses on residential learning programmes with secondary school students in the UK. The research aims to explore the extent to which current educational practices, structures and ...
This thesis examines the ways in which outdoor environmental education can be understood in the context of relational-environmental encounters. The study focuses on residential learning programmes with secondary school students in the UK. The research aims to explore the extent to which current educational practices, structures and pedagogies in two case study locations can be said to occur as continuous lived experiences; invoking relational ontologies. Furthermore, this research examines the environmental encounters of students and considers how these encounters shape and challenge environmental narratives consisting social and cultural norms. Making use of developments within behaviour change theory, ecological ethics and environmental pedagogy, this thesis brings together ways of understanding environmental and sustainability education, notions of relational ways of being, and models for transformative societal change. The research methodology makes use of ethnographic encounters in two case locations comprising residential education centers in South Devon, UK, chosen for their representation of instrumental and emancipatory pedagogies. Participating in fifteen outdoor environmental education programmes over ten months, participant observation, focus groups, interviews and photo elicitation were deployed. In-field and subsequent thematic analysis, using structured coding elicited four central themes: structure, choice, relationships and discomfort. These themes formed the core empirical analysis and enabled an exploration of relational practices occurring across the spectrum of contemporary environmental education. The research therefore provides a narrative of residential experiences in a subjective, emergent and reciprocal environment, whereby both lived and learning experiences provide space for instrumental and emancipatory learning. Consequently, contributions are made to geography and education in four key areas; firstly, the articulation of a pedagogy of discomfort deployed explicitly and implicitly within environmental education; secondly, an advancement of relational connotations of place-making within environmental education as being emergent of agency, structure and the setting itself; thirdly, through the ecotheraputic ‘performance’ of other-than-human material and ecological environments in education discourses; and finally, through an advancement of a blended approach to environmental education, understood from an ecological-ethical, as well as a behavioural-practice perspective.
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