Have you found your tribe?


Do you find this too? When you change your car, you seem to notice more of your new model on the roads? Or when you come across an interesting area of research, you start to notice the parallels in other things you do, in different spheres, or even unrelated parts of your work or hobbies?

I’ve found this recently in the final throes of the research I’ve been undertaking for my (it seems to have lasted a lifetime) Masters dissertation. Cue the eye-rolling and groans from some of my colleagues… “here he goes again…Have you not finished that thing yet’?

In short, and to save you the pain of listening and nodding politely before drifting into thinking about your ever-lengthening to-do-list, I’m exploring Neo-tribes, belonging and the process of enskilment. There, that wasn’t so bad, was it? I’m actually researching how novice sailors undertaking a round-the-world yacht race, experience the process of (hopefully) moving from what Howell (1982) describes as unconscious incompetence, through to unconscious competence. I’m also researching where they feel they are ‘at’ on their personal journey towards Enskilment (Brown 2017) and hence ‘becoming’ a bona fide ocean sailor. And, I’m not afraid to say, that even though it never gets the time it truly deserves, I’m loving it. I’m not pretending that some of that warm fuzzy feeling isn’t because I’m getting to sail across the Atlantic this summer, and the fact that I love a challenge, but what I’m actually realising, is that it’s as much about the people as it is about the sailing. In other words, I think I might have found my ‘tribe’… Or at least one of them. Because I’m pretty sure that, just like me noticing more Ford Focus Ecoboost’s on the road, I’m starting to realise that I feel part of several different tribes. I’m assuming there’s a tribe for mountain runners somewhere out there, along with one for owners of Working Cocker Spaniels, and another for urban environmentalists?  

Macbeth (2021) might refer to each of these groups as neo- tribes, or sub-cultures, whereas through an education lense, Wenger (2011) might liken them to a community of practice. The process of ‘joining’ that tribe, in the views of Macbeth would likely mean you’re somewhere along your journey towards ‘belonging’, or to Brown (2017) it might be likened to enskilment.  Others might see it as a process of enculturation, leading to occupational or professional socialisation, (Zmudy et. al. 2009) be that to the benefit or to the detriment of the one on that journey. I’m personally keen, as an HE in FE educator, on the idea of Wenger’s communities of practice. Having moved from ‘legitimate peripheral participation’ in my formative years of teaching, to now feeling a little more established within the community, I see us morphing and shaping our practice as we support Gen Z and Gen Alpha on the start of their own journeys towards enskilment. It seems to fit well. Whether we see these associations as neo-tribes, sub-cultures or communities of practice though, we humans, be it as educators, pracademics, or students- like to feel ‘part’ of something, don’t we?

There’s been valuable research and discussion in recent years on ‘belonging’ within higher education settings, including significant work by Blake, Capper and Jackson (2022) supported by WonkHE and Pearson. Their work, along with projects by Advance HE, is helping institutions to identify and nurture the foundations (connection and inclusion amongst others) required to support both their students and staff to feel part of their community.  The links that Blake et. al., make between belonging and supporting positive mental health and well-being are strong. The benefits this can bring in the form of positive student experience, student outcomes and educational gain should also be heard loud and clear. Sorry, we went a bit TEF there for a moment, didn’t we!

This draws my mind back to our HE staff conference at The Bedford College Group in the summer of 2023, where we explored belonging, and what it is to be an educator in the ‘HE in the FE’ space. We wanted to help our staff teams to ‘feel’ connected to the college and it’s mission.  On reflection, we were encouraging them, through that sense of belonging, to feel part of the HE in FE space, and it’s associated community of practice. In time, and with active encouragement, we hope this sense of belonging will infuse it’s way into our student body, and ultimately benefit their experience and outcomes.   

So, what’s to come of all of this talk of communities, tribes and sub-cultures? Well ultimately, I’m hoping to find my tribe on a 70ft sailing yacht in the summer. I’m also looking forward to experiencing my own journey towards enskilment, and possibly feeling that I’m becoming what Brown (2017) would refer to as a sailor-scholar, or what Posner (2009) would likely call a pracademic. Sort of like what a Ford Focus is to a Vauxhall Astra, or a Honda Civic?  I’m also looking forward to getting back to college and continuing our work on building that feeling of belonging with my colleagues… even the ones who’ll roll their eyes when I start to tell them about the number of Ford Focus’s I saw before I left Washington on the log sail back to Portsmouth…

Blog By: Charlie Whewell - Group Head of Higher Education and Partnerships at the Bedford College Group and Lecturer in Outdoor Adventure


Blake, S., Capper, G. and Jackson, A. (2022). Building Belonging in Higher Education Recommendations for developing an integrated institutional approach. [online] Available at: https://wonkhe.com/wp-content/wonkhe-uploads/2022/10/Building-Belonging-October-2022.pdf. Accessed: 22/02/2024‌

Brown, M. (2017). The offshore sailor: enskilment and identity, Leisure Studies, 36:5, pp 684-695, DOI: 10.1080/02614367.2016.1252787 

Howell, W. S. (1982). The empathic communicator. University of Minnesota: Wadsworth Publishing Company

Macbeth, J. (2021). Offshore sailing: subcultures and neotribes. Consumer Tribes in Tourism: Contemporary Perspectives on Special-Interest Tourism, 241-257.

Posner, P. L. (2009). The pracademic: An agenda for re‐engaging practitioners and academics. Public budgeting & finance, 29(1), 12-26. 

Wenger, E. (2011). Communities of practice: A brief introduction. scholarsbank.uoregon.edu. [online] Available at: https://scholarsbank.uoregon.edu/xmlui/handle/1794/11736. Accessed: 22/02/2024

Zmudy, M. H., Curtner-Smith, M. D., & Steffen, J. (2009). Influence of occupational socialization on the practices and perspectives of two inexperienced adventure educators. Journal of Adventure Education & Outdoor Learning9(2), 115-134.

Scroll to Top