A discourse analysis of post-World War Two outdoor education practice in New Zealand

Hollingsworth, Ray
Devine, Nesta
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Master of Education
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Auckland University of Technology

The focus of this study is to understand current outdoor education practice in New Zealand, using the methodology of Foucauldian discourse analysis. The French philosopher Michel Foucault reasoned that what appears ‘normal’ in society, is actually generated by ‘normalising practices’ (Zink and Burrows, 2006). He developed ways of looking at the world and at history, that help reveal these ‘normalising practices’. Several of these ways were useful in the analysis of this research, especially the concept of discontinuity, and the relationship between knowledge and power.

Data was collected by examining two historically separate tragedies (called Events in the research), in 1953 and 2008. The discourses emerging from the two Events confirmed there had been a change in ‘normal’ practice, from an ‘apprenticeship’ style of training, with little paperwork, to a ‘systems’ approach with a focus on audit trails. Interviews with six outdoor educators confirmed that the shifting discourse reflected related shifts in practice. These educators had very long lengths of service that enabled them to reflect on any historical changes. The interviews confirmed that the practice of the past emphasised experience, judgement and mentoring and the practice of the present is dominated by paperwork relating primarily to risk management. The interviews provided the clue as to when the practice changed – the era from the mid 1980’s to early 1990’s. An examination of the wider literature of that time revealed the discontinuity – the thing or event that pushed knowledge in a different direction. In this particular case, that discontinuity was the election of a government that pursued a neo-liberal economic ideology.

Current practice therefore has its roots in the ideology of neo-liberalism. This ideology has become hegemonic – invisibly dominant. Its tenets of market forces, managerialism, and Principal-Agency theory can be seen in the language, the paperwork, the use of contractors, the existence of pre-employment courses, the skill sets and experience levels of new practitioners, and the compartmentalisation of knowledge.

Foucauldian discourse analysis of the data also revealed three invisible, yet dominant, power / knowledge relationships in current practice. In the first power /knowledge relationship, ‘Governing Bodies and Practitioners’, Governing Bodies encompass Edifices, like the law, and Organisations that Govern, like NZOIA. They act upon Practitioners, like outdoor instructors, by using various tactics to coerce compliance and self-regulation.

The second power / knowledge relationship is ‘Competition between Organisations that Govern’. In this relationship, the competition results in a systematic increase in suspicion and a diminishing ability to make choices. The third power / knowledge relationship is ‘The Dominant Discourses of Outdoor Pursuits and Risk Management’. In this relationship, the dominance of outdoor pursuits and risk management leads to a suppression of other ways of using the outdoors as an educational medium.

Thus outdoor education in New Zealand, post-World War Two, has experienced two different models of practice – the old ‘apprenticeship’ model and the new ‘systems’ approach. This study suggests what is needed in the future is a blending of the old model and the new: less emphasis on systems and therefore less paperwork; more emphasis on the amount of experience and the quality of those experiences needed in order for practitioners (especially new practitioners) to make quality judgements in the field.

Foucauldian discourse analysis , Outdoor education , 2008 Mangatepopo tragedy , New Zealand , 1953 Mt Taranaki tragedy , Power /knowledge , Apprenticeship , Systems , Neo-liberalism
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