WWOOFing Nature: A Post-Critical Ethnographic Study

2017-02-14T22:34:35Z (GMT) by Yoshifumi Nakagawa
What is WWOOFers’ nature experience? This sociologically oriented post-critical ethnographic study of ten international WWOOFers (i.e. participants in Willing Workers On Organic Farms) in Australia investigates the overarching research problem of developing rich empirically-driven interpretations, conceptual understandings, and theoretical explanations of ‘nature experience’. The study is situated within the overlapping fields of ecotourism studies and environmental education. A limited yet needed representation of WWOOFers’ nature experience will advance the interdisciplinary knowledge of how participants’ experiential meaning- making and informal environmental learning locally occurs in embodied relation to nature within globalising ecotourism phenomena.
   In order to engage appropriately with the complex notions of ‘nature’ and ‘experience’, the research problem of ‘nature experience’ is ecophenomenologically disaggregated into three interrelated research questions: (RQ1) What is the WWOOFers’ experience of nature?; (RQ2) What is the nature of their experience?; and (RQ3) What are the ecopedagogical relations between the two?
   From a post-critical standpoint, WWOOFing may be represented as an ‘alternative’ tourism experience, but, on rich ethnographic and phenomenological investigation, it may also include other experiential layers shaped by a wider range of humans and other than humans in the environment. In order to access, represent, and explain this ontological complexity of the layered realities of WWOOFers’ nature experience, if only partially and contingently, this study (meta-)methodologically employs an interrelated levels of analysis approach to sociologically complex inquiry. There, how the phenomenon of WWOOFing is constituted is investigated through a series of analytical processes that are sensitive to increasing levels of epistemological abstraction, consisting of ethnographic description, hermeneutic phenomenological interpretation, socio-ecological analysis, and poststructuralist (de)theorisation.
   The ethnographic fieldwork of approximately 50 days/nights was conducted over a four-month period in 2014 at five geographically and socio-culturally diverse rural WWOOF sites in the State of Victoria, Australia. The ten international WWOOFers who participated in this study consisted of three Britons, three Germans, two Italians, one South Korean, and one Taiwanese. As a researcher/WWOOFer, I spent approximately one week with each research participant on-site, not only observing and interviewing them, but also working and living with them.
   A major finding of this study confirms the significance of the ‘alternative’ in WWOOFers’ nature experience while indicating that it is accompanied and challenged by other types of nature-human relations. In doing so, this study destabilises the assumed anthropocentric understanding and practice of what nature is (or should be). With this key finding, amongst many others, this study recommends a post-critical and less anthropocentric framing of the researched in and with nature so as to inquire into multiple aspects of nature-human relations relevant to educative nature experience.