Albeit an ample introduction to outdoor studies, its plenitude is overwhelming

Daniel Svensson
Division of Science, Technology and Society, Chalmers University of Technology

Barbara Humberstone, Heather Prince & Karla A. Henderson (red)
Routledge International Handbook of Outdoor Studies
529 pages, hardcover.
Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge 2016 (Routledge International Handbooks)
ISBN 978-1-138-78288-4

Routledge’s International Handbook-series is indeed an ambitious project. I have contributed to one of these myself (Hall, Ram & Shoval 2017) and there are hundreds of others, including broad overviews like Routledge International Handbook of the Sociology of Sport (Giulianotti 2015) and what to me looks like more narrow topics such as Routledge International Handbook of Jungian Film Studies (Hockley 2018). The handbook format has both advantages and problems, which I will return to in the final part of this review. Let me just state directly that I will not be able to mention every chapter nor author in this anthology. Instead, I will focus on the aspects most interesting to the readers of this journal (presumably relations between outdoor studies and sport).

As is the case with a number of other Routledge handbooks, one important aspect of the Routledge International Handbook of Outdoor Studies seems to be an articulation of a research field or theme. Outdoor studies may be a growing field, but is not among the classic disciplines. In fact, it evolved out of the field of outdoor education in the 1990s (Humberstone, Prince & Henderson, p. 1). The editors start out with their view of what outdoor studies in general, and this anthology in particular, can offer. They aim to bring together and summarize current knowledge within the field, as well as offer guidance for the future (Humberstone, Prince & Henderson, p. 1).

The book contains six parts, each with an introduction by one of the editors. The first part is the most theoretical. It includes chapters on the historical roots and ideas behind outdoor education and general recreational activities in different cultures and contexts. There is clearly a multitude of ideological positions from which outdoor education may be advocated, including militarism (Brookes), nationalism (Becker) and environmentalism (Öhman & Sandell). It may also be out of concerns of countering sedentary lifestyles (e.g. through analyzing socio-ecological contexts; Carpenter & Harper). In short, a lot of potential is attributed to outdoor activities and outdoor studies. Save environmentalism, it is basically the same potential usually accredited to sport – physical and moral fostering of the population, especially the youth.

Part two deals with the formal aspects of outdoor studies and its representation within the educational system. I read this section as a report from the field, where different ways of organizing and formalizing outdoor learning is being presented. Here we see a strong emphasis on the UK and Scandinavia, which may in some respects be explained by the long traditions of outdoor education and outdoor life in these areas, to the extent that outdoor life has become a form of cultural heritage (Sandseter & Hagen, p. 101).

In the third part, attention is turned towards less formal (i.e. not within the public education system) outdoor education, for example in sailing (McCulloch) or adventure education (Sibthorp and Richmond). Here we also see a critical examination of the commercial aspects of non-formal outdoor education (Allin & West; Brown, Harris & Porter). As in sport, there are tensions between the historical justifications of outdoor life and the logic of commercialization and privatization (Henderson, p. 156). It seems that outdoor life has gone through a process of sportification.

Part four is a collection of case studies and examples from around the world. This section shows that while there are many similarities in the role of nature and the outdoors, not least in the idea that it promotes health and provides a way to address environmental issues (Henderson, p. 273), there are also differences. For example, the Scandinavian friluftsliv seem to be more focused on personal nature-experiences of all kind, and less focused on extreme risks which are central in the Anglo-American tradition (Pedersen Gurholt, p. 294). The Czech turistika is quite similar to friluftsliv (Martin, Turcová & Neuman) but seem to be even more playful in its approach. This section also contains several chapters which underline the importance of cultural understanding for the role ascribed to outdoor education (e.g. Okamura; Ooko & Muthomi; Pedersen Gurholt).

Here we are introduced to transdisciplinary and interdisciplinary approaches to outdoor studies, mainly by different strands of social science.

Part five deals with social and environmental justice in relation to outdoor studies. There are chapters focusing on ethnicity (Roberts), gender (Warren), age (Boyes) and disability (Crosbie). The take-away message form this part of the book is, as I see it, that access (be it actual or perceived) to the outdoors is unevenly distributed in many countries, and that such inequality is a threat both for social and environmental sustainability. Ultimately it is a question about land use and management, as outdoor recreation faces competition from other forms of land use in landscapes that are often multi-functional (Mansfield, p. 416). Indeed, this multi-functionality of rural landscapes where outdoor recreation often take place, is a hot topic not just in the UK but also in Scandinavia, where forestry, mining, windpower, hydropower, reindeer husbandry, sport and tourism may have claims for the same landscapes. As demands for landscapes suitable for sport events and training continue to grow, sport scholars could contribute much more to this discussion.

The sixth and final part is sort of a return to a more theoretical approach. Here we are introduced to transdisciplinary and interdisciplinary approaches to outdoor studies, mainly by different strands of social science. Sport (Collins & Collins; Olive) and tourism (Beedie; Maher) dominate this section and once again the potential of outdoor recreation/nature tourism as fosterer of environmental concern is put forward (Humberstone, p. 424). Another point of interest here is the chapter on adventure sports coaching (Collins & Collins), in which it is argued that coaches in non-traditional outdoor sports need to have a good understanding of context and place in order to make the right decisions and be able to lead by example. In fact, the authors question the transferability of general coaching theories, mainly, as I understand it, because of the role played by the environment (Collins & Collins, p. 461). The role of experiential knowledge about local environments and contexts in sports and outdoor life may be actualized by the current process of “indoorization” in many sports, a process that favors universal, scientific knowledge rather that local, experiential knowledge.

Several chapters throughout the book (e.g. Greenaway & Knapp; Öhman & Sandell; Beard; Pedersen Gurholt) touch upon issues of epistemology, and the relation between experiential and theoretical knowledge. It is argued that an experience-based, personal knowledge can help foster a relationship to nature and consequently influence our behavior toward it (Öhman & Sandell, p. 36-37). This can be done by formal education or by less formalized events, such as camps where experiential learning can take place in the desired setting (Bialechski, Fine & Bennett, p. 233). Similar arguments about experiential knowledge transfer at training camps have been raised by sport leaders during the 20th century (e.g. Yttergren 2012; Svensson 2016). This is a discussion dealt with in detail in the chapter on experiential learning (Beard); how is knowledge generated, transferred and co-produced? In sport, that issue has received a lot of attention from historians, sociologists and others. The trends have shifted over time but the importance of experiential knowledge and learning cannot be denied, even as we see a growing influence of theoretical knowledge in most sports. In the borderlands between sport studies and outdoor studies, the role of personal, experiential knowledge could be a shared point of interest.

This anthology succeeds in showing the richness of methods, theories and disciplines engaged in outdoor studies. As an introduction to the field, or as part of a reading list, it will definitely fulfil its purpose. However, I cannot fully shake the feeling that I would have needed an International Handbook of Reading and Reviewing Handbooks to fully appreciate the whole built from the eclectic and diverse content of this anthology. There are so many threads to follow here that the reader risks losing track of the overarching aim of the anthology. I would not blame that on the editors, who have done a good job in their introductory chapter and elsewhere to explain why outdoor studies are important. Rather, there is something about the format of gathering some 50 chapters and hundreds of authors in one book that makes it hard for the reader to grasp. The chapters are organized in thematic sections which serve their purpose well, and the introduction to each section by the editors help the reader understand how the chapters are connected. Still, it would have been interesting to see the diversity of perspectives and issues raised in the chapters being more deeply analyzed, perhaps in a longer final discussion? It would also have been interesting with a few more contributions dealing with other areas of the world than the UK or Scandinavia.

This criticism aside, Routledge International Handbook of Outdoor Studies does deliver on the most important criteria: it gives an overview of outdoor studies as a research field, it raises important methodological and theoretical issues (not least regarding the connections between outdoor studies and environmentalism), and it offers a multitude of examples of how outdoor studies can be and have been used to foster a better understanding of human interaction with landscapes.

Copyright © Daniel Svensson 2017


Hall, C. M., Ram, Y. & Shoval, N. (eds.) (2017). The Routledge International Handbook of Walking Studies. Abingdon & New York: Routledge.
Hockley, Luke (ed.) (2018, forthcoming). The Routledge International Handbook of Jungian Film Studies. Abingdon & New York: Routledge.
Giulianotti, Richard (ed.) (2015). The Routledge International Handbook of the Sociology of Sport. London: Routledge.
Svensson, Daniel (2016). “Technologies of Sportification – Practice, Theory and Co-Production of Training Knowledge in Cross-Country Skiing Since the 1950s”. European Studies in Sports History (ESSH), vol. 9, 2016, pp. 141-160.
Yttergren, Leif (2012). Träna är livet: träning, utbildning och vetenskap i svensk friidrott, 1888–1995. Malmö:


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