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Outdoor Environmental Education Research Blog

Outdoor Environmental Education Research Blog

A compilation of research from students and staff in Outdoor Environmental Education at Moray House School of Education and Sport.

Rooted in Relationships: Becoming ‘Placed’ in Social and Ecological Communities

About the author

Sarah R. Squire recently completed a MSc in Outdoor Environmental and Sustainability Education, and has been offered admission to continue to PhD. Her research interests include intersectional sustainability, philosophy of education, land- and place-based education, and human and more-than-human communities. In the interim between degrees, she will have completed a British Sign Language course through Deaf Action, a certificate in herbology from Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, and a Forest and Outdoor Learning Award, as well as publishing an article in Pathways: The Ontario Journal of Outdoor Education titled: Wall-pigeon-pictograph-massacre-map: Living into experiential education with new materialism, Fall 2023, Vol 36, Issue 1, pages 15-18. Originally from California, she has a background in teaching and enjoys learning Gaelic, gardening, being a beginner at rock climbing, and reading aloud with her children. Sarah occasionally posts on Instagram as @CommonWilderness and can be reached at 



“To be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognised need of the human soul. […]

It is necessary for [a person] to draw well-nigh the whole of his moral, intellectual and

spiritual life by way of the environment of which he forms a part.”

(Simone Weill, 1952, p. 43)

I approached the MSc Outdoor Environmental and Sustainability very curious about place relationships, and the intersections of ecology, culture, colonial histories, language, and education. The course work helped to develop my understanding of the importance of ‘place’ in outdoor education (i.e., Baker, 2005; Beames, Higgins, Nicol & Smith, 2024) and in interdisciplinary research (i.e., Tuck & McKenzie, 2015; Kockel & McFadyen, 2019). It also furthered my interest in Indigenous ways of knowing, Indigenous languages, and ‘traditional ecological knowledge’. These interrelated themes have implications for environmental and sustainability education, and they manifest in our awareness of ourselves in relationships: within our social communities, our more-than-human communities, our cosmologies, and within our own bodies and actions.

In my dissertation research, I wanted to explore how human persons might engage with these place-based relationships with kinship and reciprocity—to become ‘rooted’ in a place and engaged in sustainable ecologies—particularly when Indigenous relationships have been damaged, lost, or destroyed. The question necessitates confronting violent histories and complex identities in order to move towards more hopeful futures (Williams, 2023). Writing as a White woman from the United States, I began with my own embeddedness in my questions, moving outwards to connect with larger themes and threads of academic discourse, and then ‘placing’ my inquiry in the specificity of a community in Edinburgh.

What I did

Recognising the complex web of relationships around ‘place,’ I put a lot of emphasis on working out a coherent ontology and a valid methodology for my research. I sought to ground my inquiry in the work of Indigenous scholars and those with meaningfully intact relationships with place and more-than-human communities. I drew on the work of Indigenous North Americans including Robin Wall Kimmerer (2013, 2021), Shawn Wilson (2013), and particularly Eve Tuck and Marcia McKenzie (2015). I also wanted to contextualise my work in the specific, non-abstract landscape where I was writing, with reference to particularly Scottish histories and ways of conducting research (i.e., Kockel & McFadyen, 2019; McFadyen & Sandilands, 2021). Exploring the interconnected, non-dualistic nature of place, I also engaged with new materialisms and post humanist methods. This process resulted in an embodied research practice of conversations with fellow volunteers at a community-owned project in Edinburgh while we worked side-by-side in the garden or the kitchen. I recorded these diffractive conversations and then diffracted them again (Barad, 2014) in my writing process (Richardson & St. Pierre, 2005).

A few things I learned

The co-created conversations revealed insights I was not expecting, such as the very tangible importance of language for wellbeing and rooted relationships. They also affirmed prior knowledge from my background in education, such as the importance of meaningful work and the ability to make choices, re-framed as aspects of place relationship and kinship. The process of re-turning the conversations in my writing generated helpful metaphors of relatedness moving from a rooted tree to a dynamic rhizome and a multi-rooted strawberry plant.

The research process brought forward two themes of particular interest to me: the potential of non-hierarchical structures and peer-to-peer learning for generating sustainable communities, and the significance of relational paradigms worked out in educational practice (see Lange, 2023). I plan to pursue these themes further as I continue to PhD research.

A few practical things I learned. The first, befitting my interest in relationships, is to shamelessly seek out support, and offer it to others. A great deal of my learning happened through conversations with peers and faculty, as well as neighbours, family, et cetera, and a great deal was missed because of conversations that did not happen. The second,  my realisation through this process of the value I place on deeply personal writing, which is relevant to my commitment to relational validity and community work, but can also be in tension with the demands of rigorous, formal academic writing. Working out my research in a variety of written forms, each appropriate to its purpose and audience, is a practice I would like to carry forward.


Baker, M. (2005). Landfullness in adventure-based programming: Promoting reconnection to the land. Journal of Experiential Education, 27(3), 267-276.

Barad, K. (2014). Diffracting Diffraction: Cutting Together-Apart. Parallax, 20(3). 168-187.

Beames, S., Higgins, P., Nicol, R., & Smith, H. (2024). Outdoor learning across the curriculum: Theory and guidelines for practice. Routledge.

Kimmerer, R. W. (2013). Braiding sweetgrass. Milkweed Editions.

Kimmerer, R. W. (2021). A family reunion near the end of the world. In G. Van Horn, R. W. Kimmerer, & J. Hausdoerffer (Eds.), Kinship: Belonging in a world of relations (Vol. 1, Planet) (pp.111-124). Center for Humans and Nature Press.

Kockel, U., & McFadyen, M. (2019). On the carrying stream into the European mountain: Roots and routes of creative (Scottish) ethnology. Anuac, 8(2). 189-211.

McFadyen, M., & Sandilands, R. (2021). On ‘cultural darning and mending’: Creative responses to ceist an fhearainn / the land question in the Gàidhealtachd. Scottish Affairs, 30(2). 157-177. DOI: 10.3366/scot.2021.0359

Richardson, L., & St. Pierre, E. A. (2005). Writing: A method of inquiry. In N. K. Denzin & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), The Sage handbook of qualitative research (3rd. Ed.) (pp. 959-978). Sage Publications.

Tuck, E., & McKenzie, M. (2015). Place in research: Theory, methodology, and methods. Routledge.

Weil, S. (1952). The need for roots (A. Wills, Trans.). Routledge. (Original work published 1949)

Williams, L. (2023). From Indigenous philosophy in environmental education to Indigenous planetary futures: what would it take? Australian Journal of Environmental Education, 2023(39), 320–335. Doi: 10.1017/aee.2023.23

Wilson, S. (2013). Using Indigenist research to shape our future. In M. Gray, J. Coates, M. Yellow Bird, & T. Hetherington (Eds.), Decolonizing social work (pp. 311-322). Taylor & Frances Group.


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