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Using drifts or ‘dérives’ as a walking pedagogy, one can facilitate non-predictable, unplanned encounters, creating opportunities to discuss different ways of perceiving space, time and people.


Unexpected encounters: walking pedagogies in community learning

Authors: Ângela Saldanha Published:

Using drifts or ‘dérives’ as a walking pedagogy, one can facilitate non-predictable, unplanned encounters, creating opportunities to discuss different ways of perceiving space, time and people.

For years, Teresa Eça and Angela Saldanha have been exploring wandering as a tool for collaborative learning. They share some photo memories from these unplanned journeys. The text is a visual essay produced for issue 2/2021 on Adult Learning Outdoors.

During a drift around places, wandering processes may be activated to help the walker to understand what surrounds him or her and learn from the experience. In our work we have been exploring drifts or ‘dérives’ to construct collaborative learning situations. Debord (1958) defines the ‘dérive’ as an unplanned journey through a landscape, in which participants let themselves be aware through sensory and emotional experiences of what they may encounter and share the experiences with other participants of the journey.

We have organised ‘dérives’ for groups of adults, usually teachers, as a way of demonstrating the pedagogical possibilities of walking, cartographies and wandering. We find that this method is also good for approaching themes such as environmental education and citizenship education.

During the drifts, participants share stories to build a collective cartography with metaphors through audio, visual or other multimedia formats. Through using the drift or ‘dérive’ as a walking pedagogy, we facilitate non-predictable, unplanned encounters, creating opportunities to discuss different ways of perceiving space, time and people.

Figures 1-2: Se Acaso’ by collective C3, 19 May, 2013.  Porto, 5.a.m- Matosinhos 12. a.m; (first image by a participant at the beginning of the drift, second photo of the group

THROUH WANDERING, we believe we can build transformative experiences by paying attention to our own body’s sensations and the relationship between our body and the space around us. The walking rhythm and visual and audio perceptions initiate awareness of the landscape and create learning experiences. By focusing on sensations and emotions, we advocate for the senses that are normally skewed. This gives us tools to observe each detail of the landscape, distinct sounds, subtle transitions between light and shadow. And, in this way, we can activate the creative thinking process.

Figure 3: Women’s Roads, 8 March 2014, Porto, Portugal

TO CELEBRATE INTERNATIONAL Women’s Day, we engaged with an informal group to discover traces of women in the name of the streets. As a gift and starting point, we brought a poem. We walked without a plan through the city, following the feelings, memories and associations shared in the conversations. There were few women’s names in the streets and we only passed through one monument dedicated to a woman. The city buildings evoked stories of underrepresented women and sparked feminist questions.


Figures 4-5: The City of the Others (Porto, 6 February, 2014)

IN “THE CITY OF OTHERS”, we engaged a small group of people to learn about foreign people who had lived and were living in the city. As a gift, we provided a rain coat and a marker that was used to create the map of the journey. Together we discovered the names of the streets, shops with foreign languages or exotic goods, trees in private and public gardens coming from other continents. We also shared old stories about trading and slavery. After the drift, all the participants shared their photos, videos and stories in a private group.


Figure 6: Drift, Lisbon, June 2014 (drawing by one of the participants)

AS A PART OF A TEACHER training course for the visual art teachers’ association APECV, we explored walking pedagogies in the old city of Lisbon ‘Alfama’. We invited our participants to experiment with “pedestrian pedagogy”, learning that takes place on foot and on the move in the company of others, sharing and creating knowledge without hierarchy. Participants started the drift in small groups, enjoying the conversations as they walked through the buildings and gardens. At times they would stop to take a picture, record a sound with a smartphone, write or draw in the sketchbooks or collect something from the soil.

Figures 7-8: Errante; Azores-Terceira, 9 September 2019

IN SEPTEMBER 2019, we organised a drift on the island of Terceira, an archipelago in the Azores, for the ASPEA Environmental Education Association. As a gift, we brought a handmade bag, a map, four bottles to capture the four elements earth, air, fire and water, and a sketchbook to draw in. We asked participants to bring their smartphones and take and share photos, sounds and videos.  We proposed a one-day journey through earth and water (forests and gardens, rivers and sea) to observe and reflect on nature using artistic methods, approaching the philosophy of wandering.


Figure 9: Errante, 6-9 June, 2019, Spain. Drift with Collective C3: walk from Muros to Fisterra in Northern Spain

FIELD NOTES: “We need to open our inner space, wander, think, move, observe and listen with attention to all the small details that surround us’… ‘We have to interpret the signs transmitted by outer space to be able to find our place in time and in space’” “Ambulating without plans or objectives opens new ways of learning such as being open to the unexpected. We walk without destination, without hurry, we do not plan to go to any specific place and, by doing so, we discovered time for contemplation (which is absent from our daily life and educational settings).”



Figure 10: Errante, 6-9 June, 2019, Spain

WE SHARE OUR STORIES, constructing a collective cartography, emerging little by little as each participant shares their experiences. Often the process also brings up rich metaphors that are communicated through oral, visual or other multimedia formats.


Debord, Guy (1958). Internationale Situationniste n° 2, décembre 1958.

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Ângela Saldanha is a Participatory artist and designer. She is vice-president of the Association of Teachers of Expression and Visual Communication (APECV) and works as Coordinator of the APECV Team in the project ‘Acting on the Margins: Arts as Social Sculpture’. Show all articles by Ângela Saldanha
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