Excellent textbook for outdoor learning, albeit not for all

Anne Tjønndal
Nord University, Norway.


Simon Beames, Chris Mackie & Matthew Atencio
Adventure and Society
194 pages, paperback.
London: Palgrave Macmillan 2019
ISBN 978-3-319-96061-6

In Adventure and Society, authors Simon Beames, Chris Mackie, and Matthew Atencio aim to provide an accessible overview of how ‘adventurous practices’ influence, and are influenced, by the world around them. Together, the authors pose a formidable force to publish a book on this topic. Beames is a Senior Lecturer in Outdoor Learning at The University of Edinburgh (UK). Mackie is an associate lecturer at the University of the Highlands and Islands (UK), and Atencio is a professor at the Department of Kinesiology, California State University East Bay (USA). Both Beames and Atencio are established researchers in the field of adventure and action sports, while Mackie and Beames both have extensive personal experience with outdoor leisure and adventure.

Adventure and Society consists of 11 chapters, and includes topics such as adventure and risk, adventure and equalities, adventure and identity, and adventure and tourism. The first three chapters (conceptualizing adventure, adventure and contemporary society, and daily adventure practices) sets the theoretical base for the topics discussed related to adventure sports in the remaining eight chapters. Overall, the contents of the book provide fresh new insights into the role adventure sports play in modern societies. The chapters on adventure and sustainability and adventure, technology and social media are particularly timely, and my personal favorites in this book.

The authors write that the book is aimed at a broad audience of undergraduate and postgraduate students across diverse subject areas and that it aims to be an accessible starting point for deeper theoretical exploration of the social, cultural, economic and environmental aspects and significance of adventure sports in contemporary society. From my perspective, this book would make an excellent addition to readings at an undergraduate level, especially for courses in outdoor learning (‘friluftsliv’) and nature-based tourism. It could be equally relevant as reading in sociology of sport courses as many of the chapters include definitions of established sociological concepts and short introductions to classical sociological theories. For instance, through reading this book you will be introduced to inequalities of gender, ethnicity and social class, concepts such as hegemony and discourse, as well as Goffman’s work on identity. Some chapters also touch on pedagogical theories, like the work of John Dewey, which could potentially make it relevant for certain courses within sport pedagogy. The way such theoretical concepts are connected to empirical examples of adventure sports would certainly be helpful for many undergraduate students in their quest to understand theoretical concepts and social theories.

It could be equally relevant as reading in sociology of sport courses as many of the chapters include definitions of established sociological concepts and short introductions to classical sociological theories.

There are many other reasons why Adventure and Society is superb for undergraduate courses in these fields. Firstly, the chapters are short and consistent. Each chapter spans around 10-25 pages in length, and so they are not too overwhelming for students to read. This is an advantage for undergraduate students of these subjects in Scandinavian countries, who do not have English as a native language, and in many cases are apprehensive about taking on the task of reading English academic literature. Secondly, and more substantially, the chapters in this book have four wonderful features that I know students will appreciate. Each chapter contains discussion questions that can be used as educational tools by lecturers. The chapters also have case studies and chapter summaries before providing a list of “key readings” on each chapter topic. Together, these elements make Adventure and Society the perfect undergraduate reading.

One drawback is that many of the discussion questions presuppose a certain level familiarity with outdoors leisure, adventure, and adventure sports, as for instance, in chapter 9 on page 138: “Reflecting on an educational or developmental adventure programme that you are familiar with, ask yourself: who decided the outcomes of this programme? What activities, teaching methods, and locations were used to achieve these outcomes?”. This is not a major issue with the book, but it somewhat collides with the intention to provide a broad overview of adventurous practices for undergraduate students.

I am uncertain if I would recommend this book at a postgraduate level. For the same reasons that I think this book is great for the undergraduate level, it is not as suitable for postgraduate courses. Where short introductions to sociological concepts and social theories are helpful for undergraduate students, they perhaps become too shallow and descriptive for the postgraduate student. Here, I think the suitability of the book depends on the postgraduate course it is aimed at and the academic background of the students. For instance, a student with a master’s degree in sociology would not gain many new insights from the theoretical descriptions in the book, but could still find the case studies and the discussion questions interesting.  In other words, this book works best as an introduction to the development and social significance of adventure sports, and as a first introduction to the sociological concepts and theories presented. In this way, Beames, Mackie, and Atencio have accomplished exactly what they set out to do.

Copyright © Anne Tjønndal 2020

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