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Neoliberal Ideologies in Outdoor Adventure Education: Barriers to Social Justice and Strategies for Change

Robert P. Warner, Lisa Meerts-Brandsma, Jeff Rose


Outdoor adventure education utilizes expeditions and experiential education to provide students with opportunities for personal growth. However, by selling the possibility of adventure and character development, outdoor adventure education organizations unknowingly entangle the field with neoliberal ideologies. Neoliberalism is a political and economic ideology that promotes decentralization of governance, the rule of law, individual rights, and a free market. Despite its prevalence in the literature of related fields, outdoor adventure education scholars seldomly address neoliberalism, especially its effect on the field’s social justice efforts. In this paper, we examine how outdoor adventure education’s subscription to neoliberal principles, most notably individual rights and the free market, inhibits the field’s attempts to contribute to social justice. 

Social justice is a process that seeks to unearth the institutional and systemic roots of injustice to work toward greater social equity. Institutions working toward social justice must disentangle from elements of a dominating neoliberal system that actively perpetuates social inequities. By understanding neoliberalism’s influence, the outdoor adventure education field can become a leader for social justice by identifying the problems, and subsequent inequities, associated with neoliberalism. However, if outdoor adventure education hopes to progress beyond the oppressive structures imposed by neoliberal ideologies, we argue that the field needs to critique its current political, economic, and pedagogical practices. Outdoor adventure education organizations must embrace their role in developing citizens for a more just society by taking systematic and collective action. In an effort to make a tangible contribution, we offer potential strategies for mitigating the effects of neoliberalism and advancing social justice efforts in outdoor adventure education. 


Neoliberalism; outdoor adventure education; social justice

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