Experience and the Political:The Critical Current
A third current runs through the river of experience we have been exploring. It is perhaps the smallest current in our river, a thin line that exists on the edges and eddies and often runs counter to the main currents. It is also, relatively speaking, the most recent of the influential currents in experiential education. I have labeled this distinctive current with the title “Experience and the Political” to signal the ways in which experience in this variation is embedded within the dynamics of power and social justice. “Political,” in this sense, does not refer to the domain of government but rather to the ways in which we might examine how power influences and dictates interactions and decision-making. Rather than viewing experience as a form of associated living and interaction as informed by the pragmatist current, or as individual meaning-making and transformation as informed by the Romantic current, the political current views experience through the lens of power, either as a tool for reproducing inequalities or as a means for emancipation (Reynolds, 1999). If the main currents in our river of experiential education are comprised of the romantic and pragmatist constructions of experience, the political current seems to be more of a counter-current. It often runs against the main flow and suggests aims and purposes of experience in education far different from much of the water we have explored up to this point. Yet, despite its relative size and impact, it must be accounted for. As any river person will tell you, the eddies and counter-currents are ignored at your peril.