“The show must go on!” Fieldwork, mental health and wellbeing in Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences
Fieldwork is central to the identity, culture and history of academic Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences (GEES). However, in this paper we recognise that, for many academic staff, fieldtrips can be a profoundly challenging ‘ordeal’, ill-conducive to wellness or effective pedagogic practice. Drawing upon research with 39 UK university-based GEES academics who self-identify as having a mental health condition, we explore how mental health intersects with spaces and expectations of fieldwork in Higher Education. We particularly focus upon their accounts of undertaking undergraduate residential fieldtrips and give voice to these largely undisclosed experiences. Their narratives run starkly counter to normative, romanticised celebrations of fieldwork within GEES disciplines. We particularly highlight recurrent experiences of avoiding fieldwork, fieldwork-as-‘ordeal’, and ‘coping’ with fieldwork, and suggest that commonplace anxieties within the neoliberal academy – about performance, productivity, fitness-to-work, self-presentation, scrutiny, and fear-of-falling-behind – are felt particularly intensely during fieldwork. In spite of considerable work to make fieldwork more accessible to students, we find that field-based teaching is experienced as a focal site of distress, anxiety and ordeal for many GEES academics with common mental health conditions. We conclude with prompts for reflection about how fieldwork could be otherwise.