This paper describes the theoretical underpinnings and methodology of a study investigating the production and reproduction of gender in physical education lessons in three schools in New South Wales, Australia. The intention of the paper is to demonstrate how questions raised within a feminist examination of the construction of gender in physical education can be explored using both the methodology provided by a poststructuralist approach informed by Michel Foucault and the analytical tools provided by semiotics and systemic functional linguistics. Although some results of the analysis are provided, these serve more as examples of the potential of such an approach rather than as an exhaustive report of outcomes.
Matthew Atencio and Jan Wright
This article examines a local park basketball culture and shows how discursive practices constituted masculine hierarchies and proliferated black masculinities. Through pickup basketball, several young black men took up various positions of power and were able to determine access to neighborhood parks and dictate the codes of behavior. Drawing on poststructural and social geography theories, we argue that male power became authorized through the community’s privileging of basketball and led to the hierarchical distribution of black masculinities within park spaces. The young black men psychically and materially invested in black masculinities, which were aligned with the logics of “heroic” and responsible citizenship; these notions had prominence because of the strong (re)production of the “Sport vs. Gangs” discourse (Cole, 1996) in their neighborhoods. Rather than providing an essentialist reading of these young men as positioned by this neo-liberal discourse, however, we also pay attention to the possibilities that the young men used basketball to invest in diverse life pathways involving alternative versions of the self.
Dr Jan Wright and Shoshana Dreyfus
The notion of the body as “a medium of culture” (Bordo, 1990, p. 13), and specifically the female body as a site on which the oppression of patriarchy is inscribed or played out has been discussed by many feminist theorists (Bartky, 1988; Bordo, 1990; Dimen, 1989). More recently there has been increasing interest in the material body as a source of kinesthetic pleasure rather than, or simultaneously as, a site of inscription and oppression. In searching for new ways to think and talk about the body, there is a recognition that it cannot be seen simply as either a site of oppression or pleasure, but rather as a site where many apparently contradictory and opposing discourses can coexist and where interesting and complex mixes of pleasure and oppression can occur simultaneously (Shilling, 1993).
In this paper we attempt to explore these complexities through a study of belly dancing. This is a form of physical activity with an increasingly large following. On one hand, it seems possible to conceive of belly dancing as ‘feminist project’ as it offers possibilities for challenging hegemonic constructions of femininity and for women’s empowerment; on the other hand, many of the practices associated with belly dancing work to construct discourses which sit uncomfortably with feminist understandings of the body. This paper then becomes an exploration of the complex meanings which constitute the contemporary practice of belly dancing, with reference to a specific dance class in a regional city in Australia.
While we are using the description ‘feminist project’ as a guiding principle for this paper, we also recognize that this is not a totalizing concept and will be different for different women in different contexts. We also recognize that the attribute “feminist” is itself not unitary but that feminist theory takes many forms, takes up different issues and defines its objects of study in a variety of ways. In the paper we draw on feminist post-structuralist theory to examine the various discourses and social practices of belly dancing. This allows us to recognize that in talking about the dance, the women interviewed may draw on a wide range of discourses which are concerned with women and their bodies, and which in their different ways may be characterized as feminist. On the other hand, the consequences of taking up one discourse rather than another have implications for how women are located and locate themselves in relations of power. We are wary, for instance, of essentializing discourses which attempt to naturalize sexual differences in a context where male and female attributes are often seen as constituting the opposite sides of a binary where those attributes associated with women are regarded as of lesser value.
Jan Wright and R.C. King
An analysis of the teacher language used in physical education lessons reveals the influence of many discourses that are current in our culture, including those related to gender. The subtle meanings carried in the linguistic choices made by teachers provide one framework through which girls and boys come to form particular relationships with their bodies. These relationships are culturally constructed and influence the desire to be active and the choice of activities. The process of gender production can be made visible by a comparative analysis of the lexico-grammatical structure of texts from two gymnastic lessons using the systemic functional model of linguistics developed by Michael Halliday (1978, 1985). The most distinctive features that have emerged from the analysis have been the different linguistic choices made by male and female teachers in the grammatical realization of interpersonal meanings. These differences contribute to the construction of a social order for the participants in physical education lessons that mirrors the gender relations in the culture of the larger society. Revealing the way the language works provides for the possibility of different linguistic choices—choices that may constitute a different social reality.
Lisette Burrows, Jan Wright, and Justine Jungersen-Smith
The expansion of health as a concept, repeated expressions of nationwide concerns about young people’s health, and the accompanying information explosion about health and fitness have worked together to support versions of physical education that explicitly address health issues. The conflation of health with physical education, however, is not without problems. This paper explores some consequences of the relationship between health, fitness, and physical activity through an examination of students’ responses to questions relating to health and fitness in the New Zealand National Education Monitoring Project. The children responding to the NEMP tasks were very familiar with the relationship between physical activity, fitness, and health. While this seems to point to the efficacy of physical and health education programs, the ways in which these children seem to have accepted this relationship with a great deal of certainty does not necessarily contribute to their health and well-being but rather suggests an acceptance of discourses that are associated with guilt, the self-monitoring of the body, and which seem to deny the pleasure that can be associated with physical activity.