The Paradox of Structured Autonomy: A Critical Ethnography of Challenge-by-Choice and Safe Spaces in Adventure-based Experiential Education


  • Franklin Vernon Indiana University - Bloomington


Experiential Learning, Safe Space Pedagogy, Critical Pragmatism, Ethnography


Whereas conceptual deconstructions and critiques of safe space pedagogies as subtly oppressive are readily available, little empirical research has systematically explored the manners in which students and educators come up against such curricula. This study focuses on a popular American setting for alternative and progressive learning: an adventure and environmental education center that uses safe space pedagogies in manners historically claimed to maximize student experiences. The author posits that unintended breakdowns in democratic learning appear borne of hierarchically privileging structural norms of individualism in safe space pedagogies. The argument highlights ways in which students and educators are actively—if tacitly—renegotiating alternative educational environments beyond the claims of safe space pedagogy.

Author Biography

Franklin Vernon, Indiana University - Bloomington

Franklin Vernon, Ph.D(c) is a Doctoral Candidate and Visiting Lecturer in the School of Public Health, Department of Recreation, Park, and Tourism Studies.


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