The Importance of Direct Experience: A Philosophical Defence of Fieldwork in Human Geography

Max Hope

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

    77 Citations (Scopus)

    Abstract

    Human geography fieldwork is important. Research has shown that when students ‘seeit for themselves’ their enjoyment and understanding is enhanced. In addition it helps develop subject-specific and transferable skills, promotes ‘active learning’ and links theory to ‘real world’ examples in a ‘spiral of learning’. Stressing the socially constructed nature of knowledge and identity, however, Nairn (2005) has made a valuable critique of the assumption that human geography fieldwork gives students direct and unmediated access to ‘the truth’. Drawing on qualitative research with students in New Zealand she shows that their fieldwork experience, rather than enhancing their understanding, reinforced misconceptions they held prior to the trip. Using evidence from an action research project on the student experience of human geography fieldwork in the Western Isles of Scotland, this paper argues that while fieldwork can reinforce preconceptions in the way Nairn describes, this is not inevitably so. Fieldwork can give us direct experiences thatchallenge our preconceptions. The reality of others can ‘call us to attention’ in ways that make them matter to us. This ‘enhanced affective response’ helps deepen our understanding of the wider world and our place within it. It is for this reason that fieldwork remains a valuable mode of learning for human geography students.
    LanguageEnglish
    Pages169-182
    JournalJournal of Geography in Higher Education
    Volume33
    Issue number2
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - May 2009

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    fieldwork
    geography
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    action research
    qualitative research
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    title = "The Importance of Direct Experience: A Philosophical Defence of Fieldwork in Human Geography",
    abstract = "Human geography fieldwork is important. Research has shown that when students ‘seeit for themselves’ their enjoyment and understanding is enhanced. In addition it helps develop subject-specific and transferable skills, promotes ‘active learning’ and links theory to ‘real world’ examples in a ‘spiral of learning’. Stressing the socially constructed nature of knowledge and identity, however, Nairn (2005) has made a valuable critique of the assumption that human geography fieldwork gives students direct and unmediated access to ‘the truth’. Drawing on qualitative research with students in New Zealand she shows that their fieldwork experience, rather than enhancing their understanding, reinforced misconceptions they held prior to the trip. Using evidence from an action research project on the student experience of human geography fieldwork in the Western Isles of Scotland, this paper argues that while fieldwork can reinforce preconceptions in the way Nairn describes, this is not inevitably so. Fieldwork can give us direct experiences thatchallenge our preconceptions. The reality of others can ‘call us to attention’ in ways that make them matter to us. This ‘enhanced affective response’ helps deepen our understanding of the wider world and our place within it. It is for this reason that fieldwork remains a valuable mode of learning for human geography students.",
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    note = "Reference text: Anderson, K. (2000) Thinking ‘positionality’: dialogue across multicultural, indigenous, and settler spaces, Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 90(2), pp. 381–391. Andrews, J., Kneale, P., Sognez, W., Stewart, M. & Stott, T. (2003) Carrying out pedagogic research into the constructive alignment of fieldwork, Planet, Special Issue 5, pp. 51–52. Armstrong, J. (2002) Conditions of Love: The Philosophy of Intimacy (London: Penguin). Beveridge, C. & Turnbull, S. (1989) The Eclipse of Scottish Culture (Edinburgh: Polygon). Bauman, Z. (1993) Postmodern Ethics (Oxford: Blackwell). Boyle, A., Conchie, S., Maguire, S., Martin, A., Milson, C., Nash, R., Rawlinson, S., Turner, A. & Wurthmann (2003) Fieldwork is good? The student experience of field courses, Planet, Special Issue 5, pp. 48–51. Boyle, A., Maguire, S., Martin, A., Milsom, C., Nash, R., Rawlison, S., Turner, A., Wurthman, S. & Conchie, S. (2007) Fieldwork is good: the student perception and the affective domain, Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 31(2), pp. 299–317. Burkitt, I. (1991) Social Selves: Theories of the Social Formation of Personality (London: Sage). Cottingham, C., Healey, M. & Gravestock, P. (2002) Fieldwork in the Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences Higher Education curriculum: an annotated bibliography. Available at http://www2.glos.ac.uk/gdn/ disabil/fieldwk.htm (accessed September 2007). Couper, P. & Stott, T. (2006) Field safety training for staff in geography, earth and environmental sciences in HE: establishing a framework, Planet, 16, pp. 4–8. Dowrick, S. (1995) Intimacy and Solitude: Balancing Closeness and Independence (London: Women’s Press). Du Gay, P., Evans, J. & Redman, P. (Eds) (2000) Identity: A Reader (London: Sage). Foskett, N. (1999) Forum: fieldwork in the geography curriculum—international perspectives and research issues, International Research in Geographical and Environmental Education, 8(2), pp. 159–163. Frankenberg, R. (1993) White Women, Race Matters: The Social Construction of Whiteness (London: Routledge). Fuller, I., Edmondson, S., France, D., Higgitt, D. & Ratinen, I. (2006) International perspectives on the effectiveness of geography fieldwork for learning, Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 30(1), pp. 89–101. Fuller, I., Gaskin, S. & Scott, I. (2003) Student perceptions of geography and environmental science fieldwork in the light of restricted access to the field, caused by foot and mouth disease in the UK in 2001, Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 27(1), pp. 79–102. Gold, J. R., Jenkins, A., Lee, R., Monk, J., Riley, J., Shepherd &Unwin, D. (1991) Teaching Geography in Higher Education: A Manual of Good Practice, pp. 22–35 (Oxford: Blackwell). Haigh, M. J. (1996) Empowerment, ethics, environmental action: a practical exercise, Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 20(3), pp. 399–411. Hall, T., Healey, M. & Harrison, M. (2002) Fieldwork and disabled students: discourses of exclusion and inclusion, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 27(2), pp. 213–231. Hartsock, N. (1987) Rethinking modernism: minority versus majority theories, Cultural Critique, 7, pp. 187–206. Healey, M. & Jenkins, A. (2000) Kolb’s experiential learning theory and its application in geography in higher education, Journal of Geography, 99, pp. 185–195. Higgitt, M. (1996) Addressing the new agenda for fieldwork in higher education, Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 20(3), pp. 391–398. hooks, b. (2003) All About Love: New Visions (New York: William Morrow). Horney, K. (1991) Neurosis and Human Growth: The Struggle Toward Self-Realization (New York: Norton). Hunter, J. (1991) The Claim of Crofting: The Scottish Highlands and Islands, 1930–1990 (Edinburgh: Mainstream Publishing). Kennedy, T. & Waddington, S. (2003) Examining the effects of teaching/learning methods on student understanding of value-laden issues, Planet, Special Issue 5, pp. 65–67. The Importance of Direct Experience 181 Downloaded By: [Swets Content Distribution] At: 09:43 22 March 2010 Kent, M., Gilbertson, D. D. & Hunt, C. O. (1997) Fieldwork in geography teaching: a critical review of the literature and approaches, Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 21(3), pp. 313–332. Kern, E. & Carpenter, J. (1984) Enhancement of student values, interests and attitudes in earth science through a field-orientated approach, Journal of Geological Education, 32, pp. 299–305. Kern, E. & Carpenter, J. (1986) Effect of field activities on student learning, Journal of Geological Education, 34, pp. 180–183. Kobayashi, A. (1994) Coloring the field: gender, ‘race’ and the politics of fieldwork, Professional Geographer, 46, pp. 73–80. Larner, W. (1995) Theorising ‘difference’ in Aotearoa/New Zealand, Gender, Place and Culture, 2(2), pp. 177–190. Lasch, C. (1985) The Minimal Self: Psychic Survival in Troubled Times (London: Picador). Lasch, C. (1991) The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations (New York: Norton). Lee, A. (1996) Gender, Literacy, Curriculum. Re-writing School Geography (London: Taylor & Francis). Lingus, A. (1994) The Community of Those Who have Nothing in Common (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press). Macmurray, J. (1993) Conditions of Freedom (Amherst, MA: Prometheus Books). Macmurray, J. (1995) Reason and Emotion (London: Faber & Faber). May, J. (1999) Developing fieldwork in social and cultural geography: illustrations from a residential field class in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 23(2), pp. 207–225. McCrone, D. (1992) Understanding Scotland: The Sociology of a Stateless Nation (Abingdon: Routledge). McEwen, L. (1996) Fieldwork in the undergraduate geography programme: challenges and changes, Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 20(3), pp. 379–384. Moon, J. A. (2004) A Handbook of Reflective and Experiential Learning (London: Routledge). Nairn, K. (1996) Parties on geography fieldtrips: embodied fieldwork? New Zealand Women’s Studies Journal, 12(2), Special Issue: Educating Sexuality, pp. 86–97. Nairn, K. (1999) Embodied fieldwork, Journal of Geography, 98, pp. 272–282. Nairn, K. (2005) The problems of utilizing ‘direct experience’ in geography education, Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 29(2), pp. 293–309. Pearce, D., Markandya, A. & Barbier, E. (1996) Blueprint for a Green Economy (London: Earthscan Publications). Regan, T. (1983) The Case for Animal Rights (Berkeley: University of California Press). Robson, E. (2002) An unbelievable academic and personal experience: issues around teaching undergraduate field courses in Africa, Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 26(3), pp. 327–344. Rose, G. (1993) Feminism and Geography: The Limits of Geographical Knowledge (Cambridge: Polity Press). Shah, A. & Treby, E. (2006) Using a community based project to link teaching and research: the Bourne Stream Partnership, Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 30(1), pp. 33–48. 182 M. Hope Downloaded By",
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    The Importance of Direct Experience: A Philosophical Defence of Fieldwork in Human Geography. / Hope, Max.

    In: Journal of Geography in Higher Education, Vol. 33, No. 2, 05.2009, p. 169-182.

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

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    N1 - Reference text: Anderson, K. (2000) Thinking ‘positionality’: dialogue across multicultural, indigenous, and settler spaces, Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 90(2), pp. 381–391. Andrews, J., Kneale, P., Sognez, W., Stewart, M. & Stott, T. (2003) Carrying out pedagogic research into the constructive alignment of fieldwork, Planet, Special Issue 5, pp. 51–52. Armstrong, J. (2002) Conditions of Love: The Philosophy of Intimacy (London: Penguin). Beveridge, C. & Turnbull, S. (1989) The Eclipse of Scottish Culture (Edinburgh: Polygon). Bauman, Z. (1993) Postmodern Ethics (Oxford: Blackwell). Boyle, A., Conchie, S., Maguire, S., Martin, A., Milson, C., Nash, R., Rawlinson, S., Turner, A. & Wurthmann (2003) Fieldwork is good? The student experience of field courses, Planet, Special Issue 5, pp. 48–51. Boyle, A., Maguire, S., Martin, A., Milsom, C., Nash, R., Rawlison, S., Turner, A., Wurthman, S. & Conchie, S. (2007) Fieldwork is good: the student perception and the affective domain, Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 31(2), pp. 299–317. Burkitt, I. (1991) Social Selves: Theories of the Social Formation of Personality (London: Sage). Cottingham, C., Healey, M. & Gravestock, P. (2002) Fieldwork in the Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences Higher Education curriculum: an annotated bibliography. Available at http://www2.glos.ac.uk/gdn/ disabil/fieldwk.htm (accessed September 2007). Couper, P. & Stott, T. (2006) Field safety training for staff in geography, earth and environmental sciences in HE: establishing a framework, Planet, 16, pp. 4–8. Dowrick, S. (1995) Intimacy and Solitude: Balancing Closeness and Independence (London: Women’s Press). Du Gay, P., Evans, J. & Redman, P. (Eds) (2000) Identity: A Reader (London: Sage). Foskett, N. (1999) Forum: fieldwork in the geography curriculum—international perspectives and research issues, International Research in Geographical and Environmental Education, 8(2), pp. 159–163. Frankenberg, R. (1993) White Women, Race Matters: The Social Construction of Whiteness (London: Routledge). Fuller, I., Edmondson, S., France, D., Higgitt, D. & Ratinen, I. (2006) International perspectives on the effectiveness of geography fieldwork for learning, Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 30(1), pp. 89–101. Fuller, I., Gaskin, S. & Scott, I. (2003) Student perceptions of geography and environmental science fieldwork in the light of restricted access to the field, caused by foot and mouth disease in the UK in 2001, Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 27(1), pp. 79–102. Gold, J. R., Jenkins, A., Lee, R., Monk, J., Riley, J., Shepherd &Unwin, D. (1991) Teaching Geography in Higher Education: A Manual of Good Practice, pp. 22–35 (Oxford: Blackwell). Haigh, M. J. (1996) Empowerment, ethics, environmental action: a practical exercise, Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 20(3), pp. 399–411. Hall, T., Healey, M. & Harrison, M. (2002) Fieldwork and disabled students: discourses of exclusion and inclusion, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 27(2), pp. 213–231. Hartsock, N. (1987) Rethinking modernism: minority versus majority theories, Cultural Critique, 7, pp. 187–206. Healey, M. & Jenkins, A. (2000) Kolb’s experiential learning theory and its application in geography in higher education, Journal of Geography, 99, pp. 185–195. Higgitt, M. (1996) Addressing the new agenda for fieldwork in higher education, Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 20(3), pp. 391–398. hooks, b. (2003) All About Love: New Visions (New York: William Morrow). Horney, K. (1991) Neurosis and Human Growth: The Struggle Toward Self-Realization (New York: Norton). Hunter, J. (1991) The Claim of Crofting: The Scottish Highlands and Islands, 1930–1990 (Edinburgh: Mainstream Publishing). Kennedy, T. & Waddington, S. (2003) Examining the effects of teaching/learning methods on student understanding of value-laden issues, Planet, Special Issue 5, pp. 65–67. The Importance of Direct Experience 181 Downloaded By: [Swets Content Distribution] At: 09:43 22 March 2010 Kent, M., Gilbertson, D. D. & Hunt, C. O. (1997) Fieldwork in geography teaching: a critical review of the literature and approaches, Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 21(3), pp. 313–332. Kern, E. & Carpenter, J. (1984) Enhancement of student values, interests and attitudes in earth science through a field-orientated approach, Journal of Geological Education, 32, pp. 299–305. Kern, E. & Carpenter, J. (1986) Effect of field activities on student learning, Journal of Geological Education, 34, pp. 180–183. Kobayashi, A. (1994) Coloring the field: gender, ‘race’ and the politics of fieldwork, Professional Geographer, 46, pp. 73–80. Larner, W. (1995) Theorising ‘difference’ in Aotearoa/New Zealand, Gender, Place and Culture, 2(2), pp. 177–190. Lasch, C. (1985) The Minimal Self: Psychic Survival in Troubled Times (London: Picador). Lasch, C. (1991) The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations (New York: Norton). Lee, A. (1996) Gender, Literacy, Curriculum. Re-writing School Geography (London: Taylor & Francis). Lingus, A. (1994) The Community of Those Who have Nothing in Common (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press). Macmurray, J. (1993) Conditions of Freedom (Amherst, MA: Prometheus Books). Macmurray, J. (1995) Reason and Emotion (London: Faber & Faber). May, J. (1999) Developing fieldwork in social and cultural geography: illustrations from a residential field class in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 23(2), pp. 207–225. McCrone, D. (1992) Understanding Scotland: The Sociology of a Stateless Nation (Abingdon: Routledge). McEwen, L. (1996) Fieldwork in the undergraduate geography programme: challenges and changes, Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 20(3), pp. 379–384. Moon, J. A. (2004) A Handbook of Reflective and Experiential Learning (London: Routledge). Nairn, K. (1996) Parties on geography fieldtrips: embodied fieldwork? New Zealand Women’s Studies Journal, 12(2), Special Issue: Educating Sexuality, pp. 86–97. Nairn, K. (1999) Embodied fieldwork, Journal of Geography, 98, pp. 272–282. Nairn, K. (2005) The problems of utilizing ‘direct experience’ in geography education, Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 29(2), pp. 293–309. Pearce, D., Markandya, A. & Barbier, E. (1996) Blueprint for a Green Economy (London: Earthscan Publications). Regan, T. (1983) The Case for Animal Rights (Berkeley: University of California Press). Robson, E. (2002) An unbelievable academic and personal experience: issues around teaching undergraduate field courses in Africa, Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 26(3), pp. 327–344. Rose, G. (1993) Feminism and Geography: The Limits of Geographical Knowledge (Cambridge: Polity Press). Shah, A. & Treby, E. (2006) Using a community based project to link teaching and research: the Bourne Stream Partnership, Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 30(1), pp. 33–48. 182 M. Hope Downloaded By

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    N2 - Human geography fieldwork is important. Research has shown that when students ‘seeit for themselves’ their enjoyment and understanding is enhanced. In addition it helps develop subject-specific and transferable skills, promotes ‘active learning’ and links theory to ‘real world’ examples in a ‘spiral of learning’. Stressing the socially constructed nature of knowledge and identity, however, Nairn (2005) has made a valuable critique of the assumption that human geography fieldwork gives students direct and unmediated access to ‘the truth’. Drawing on qualitative research with students in New Zealand she shows that their fieldwork experience, rather than enhancing their understanding, reinforced misconceptions they held prior to the trip. Using evidence from an action research project on the student experience of human geography fieldwork in the Western Isles of Scotland, this paper argues that while fieldwork can reinforce preconceptions in the way Nairn describes, this is not inevitably so. Fieldwork can give us direct experiences thatchallenge our preconceptions. The reality of others can ‘call us to attention’ in ways that make them matter to us. This ‘enhanced affective response’ helps deepen our understanding of the wider world and our place within it. It is for this reason that fieldwork remains a valuable mode of learning for human geography students.

    AB - Human geography fieldwork is important. Research has shown that when students ‘seeit for themselves’ their enjoyment and understanding is enhanced. In addition it helps develop subject-specific and transferable skills, promotes ‘active learning’ and links theory to ‘real world’ examples in a ‘spiral of learning’. Stressing the socially constructed nature of knowledge and identity, however, Nairn (2005) has made a valuable critique of the assumption that human geography fieldwork gives students direct and unmediated access to ‘the truth’. Drawing on qualitative research with students in New Zealand she shows that their fieldwork experience, rather than enhancing their understanding, reinforced misconceptions they held prior to the trip. Using evidence from an action research project on the student experience of human geography fieldwork in the Western Isles of Scotland, this paper argues that while fieldwork can reinforce preconceptions in the way Nairn describes, this is not inevitably so. Fieldwork can give us direct experiences thatchallenge our preconceptions. The reality of others can ‘call us to attention’ in ways that make them matter to us. This ‘enhanced affective response’ helps deepen our understanding of the wider world and our place within it. It is for this reason that fieldwork remains a valuable mode of learning for human geography students.

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