Perspectives on the Academic Discipline of Kinesiology

in Kinesiology Review

This special issue of Kinesiology Review celebrates the 40th anniversary of the publication of George Brooks’s Perspectives on the Academic Discipline of Physical Education: A Tribute to G. Lawrence Rarick (1981). Written by many of the luminaries within kinesiology, the papers in this special issue highlight the tremendous growth of knowledge that has occurred in the subdisciplines of kinesiology over the last 40 years and the breadth of contexts in which new knowledge is now being applied. Kinesiology has rapidly become an influential discipline, and its breadth, depth, and influence continue to grow. Though not without challenges, there is much to be optimistic about concerning kinesiology’s future.

The 40th anniversary of the publication of George Brooks’s Perspectives on the Academic Discipline of Physical Education: A Tribute to G. Lawrence Rarick (1981) represents a wonderful opportunity to take stock of where the discipline of kinesiology stands today and how it has transformed over the last 40 years. Scholars of the history of kinesiology know that our discipline emerged from the professionally focused program of physical education many years before the publication of Brooks’s book. Physical education underwent its own radical transformation from a professional program dedicated to preparing physical educators to a disciplinary program focused on preparing students capable of applying their knowledge in a much wider context than the secondary school physical education classroom. Most scholars credit the profession-to-discipline shift to a seminal and influential paper published by Franklin Henry in 1964, titled Physical Education: An Academic Discipline (Henry, 1964). Although no single paper was responsible for engendering the shift in the name of the discipline from physical education to kinesiology (but see Newell, 1990a), the shift happened nonetheless. As will become apparent to the reader of the articles of this special issue, the discipline of kinesiology is a different beast from what it was 40 years ago—a recognizable beast to be sure, but one with greater girth, greater weight, and more appendages.

The field of kinesiology was in an early phase of its evolution when the Brooks (1981) book was published. In the lexicon of Kuhn’s (1962) classic description of the structure of scientific revolutions, it is fair to say that the field was still in the midst of revolution (and its attendant conflict), but clearly on the route toward “normal science.” Many of its conflicts were connected with discussions about the appropriateness of the shift from the professional focus to a disciplinary focus espoused by Henry (1964) and the appropriate label for a discipline with such a diversity of content, methods of inquiry, and potential applications (Henry, 1978; Newell, 1990a, 1990b, 1990c, 2007). The progress toward “normal science” was associated with identification of the subdisciplines and the breadth and depth of their content; a process that was already well underway by 1981. Roberta Park, in her chapter in the Brooks (1981) book on the emergence of the discipline of physical education in the United States, noted that an explosion of knowledge had already occurred following the publication of Henry’s (1964) paper such that it was impossible for researchers to keep abreast of all the latest developments (Park, 1981). Park’s lament is as palpable today as it was in 1981, though the extent of the growth in knowledge is magnified many times over. Moreover, knowledge growth within kinesiology is having an impact beyond its disciplinary boundaries and a number of scholars are tackling pressing issues of broad societal concern. Not only has the body of knowledge exploded, but so too has the number of professional organizations, journals, and degree programs in kinesiology. The American Kinesiology Association lists over 100 international journals with connections to kinesiology (and that is a conservative estimate), and identifies over 3,500 Associates, Bachelors, Masters, and PhD degree programs within the United States (American Kinesiology Association, 2021).

Our academic discipline has always characterized itself as cross-disciplinary since its birth under the name physical education. Henry (1964) laid out his argument for a cross-disciplinary approach to the field in his paper and then clarified his position some years later (Henry, 1978). Many others have championed the case for a cross-disciplinary approach to the field (e.g., Lawson & Morford, 1979). Although terms like cross-disciplinary, interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary, and transdisciplinary are poorly defined (and understood) and have been used interchangeably over the years (Lawson & Kretchmar, 2017), the spirit expressed by those who champion a cross-disciplinary approach is one of integration. The common focus on human movement, or more recently physical activity, is what integrates the discipline into a coherent whole. Nevertheless, a number of scholars have questioned whether integration within the field of kinesiology is more of a wish than a reality, particularly given the potential for fragmentation when knowledge explodes within the subdisciplines and they become increasingly specialized, as has occurred in kinesiology. Despite warnings since 1981 about the dangers of overspecialization and fragmentation to the unity of the discipline (e.g., Hoffman, 1985; Thomas, 1987), the papers in this special issue reveal that the significant accumulation of knowledge within the subdisciplines has not fractured the discipline as a whole. Quite the contrary, the papers reveal a notable degree of integration across the subdisciplines, particularly in closely allied subdisciplines like motor control, motor learning, motor development, and biomechanics, and a strong desire for collaboration among the subdisciplines. The marginalization of some of the subdisciplines, particularly those connected to the history, philosophy, and sociology of sport may pose a bigger challenge to kinesiology than the presumed lack of integration among the subdisciplines.

Kinesiology has had several areas of specialization since its inception. Following the Big Ten Body-of-Knowledge Symposium Project, six areas of specialization were identifiable by 1966 according to Park (1981). These included the following: exercise physiology, biomechanics, motor learning/sports psychology, sociology and sport education, history and philosophy of physical education and sport, and administrative theory in athletics and physical education. These areas were recognizable in 1981. The Brooks (1981) book had chapters devoted to five broad areas: physiology of exercise (three chapters), biomechanics of sport (two chapters), motor development (four chapters, including one on adapted physical education), motor behavior (three chapters), and sport psychology and sociology (three chapters). These areas and others were recognizable again 16 years later in a widely referenced compilation of chapters edited by Massengale and Swanson (1997) titled, The History of Exercise and Sport Science. The Massengale and Swanson book included a chapter on sport pedagogy, adapted physical activity and education, sport sociology, sport history, philosophy of sport, motor behavior, sport and exercise psychology, biomechanics, and two chapters on exercise physiology.

The current special issue highlights the growth that has occurred in kinesiology since the publication of the Brooks (1981) book. It provides a big-picture view of the current status of the field as a whole and its subdisciplines. We reached out to a diverse coalition of scholars who are known for their seminal and enduring contributions to the knowledge bases in the subdisciplines and their standing in the field. We asked them to write a perspective piece highlighting what changes had occurred in their subdisciplinary specialization over the last 40 years and what those changes might portend for the next 40 years. Some of the specific issues we encouraged authors to consider in their papers were (a) key developments in the field, (b) big questions, (c) hot topics, (d) integration with the other subdisciplines within kinesiology, and (e) future directions (including what the field aspires to be). Each set of authors made the final determination of what to include in their paper.

We organized the papers in the special issue into two broad sections. The first section focuses on the traditional subdisciplines and the second section focuses on areas of professional application. The professional application areas reveal how much kinesiology has shifted away from applying its content in educational contexts and toward applying its content in contexts related to the broad field of allied health. The application areas also reveal kinesiology’s clear shift from a focus on sport to a much broader focus on physical activity. Of course, these shifts began many years ago (e.g., Newell, 1990b, 2017). We do not mean to reify the discipline-profession dualism by organizing the papers into separate sections. Consistent with Bressan’s (1979) reminder about the complementarity of theoretical analysis and practical application, we believe firmly that disciplinary and professional work need not, and should not, be separated. It is clear from the content of the chapters that none of the specializations within kinesiology fit neatly into the subdiscipline category or the professional application category. Rather, duality of purpose is evident in all of the specializations.

The order in which the papers appear in the special issue is arbitrary. The first paper, by Joe Hamill, Kathleen Knutzen, and Tim Derrick, highlights the significant growth in biomechanics and integration with other subdisciplines over the past 40 years. The second paper, by Jane Kent and Kate Hayes, presents emerging research topics, as well as advanced technologies now used by exercise physiologists to study the physiological responses to exercise in health and disease. The third paper, by Mark Dyreson and Jamie Schultz, covers the history of physical activity in the past, present, and future and makes a renewed argument for a “team scholarship” approach to tackle the major questions in the human movement domain. In the fourth paper, Mark Latash characterizes the area of motor control as an established field of study with strong embedding in neuroscience and application to movement disorders and rehabilitation. The fifth paper, by Jane Clark and Jill Whitall, presents an in-depth perspective on the past, present, and future of research in motor development. In the sixth paper, Timothy Lee and Heather Carnahan reflect on developments in the area of motor learning over the past 40 years, noting how the area appears to have risen from the dead and is now flourishing. The seventh paper, by Scott Kretchmar and Cesar Torres, traces the challenges confronted by those who study the philosophy of sport. Kretchmar and Torres end their paper on a hopeful note by suggesting that an embrace of philosophy offers kinesiology a major opportunity for clarifying its purpose and integrating the subdisciplines. In the eight paper, Jay Coakley addresses growth, diversification, and marginalization in the sociology of sport between 1981 and 2021. The ninth paper, by Diane Gill, Erin Reifsteck, and Leilani Madrigal, provides a multigenerational perspective on what has changed in the last 40 years in sport and exercise psychology and makes a strong argument for integration between sport and exercise psychology. The paper by Gill and her colleagues is notable because she is the only author among all of the contributing authors who also contributed a chapter to the Brooks (1981) book (Gill, 1981).

The 10th paper, and first of the application area papers, by Eleni Diakogeorgiou, Richard Ray Jr., Sara Brown, Jay Hertel, and Douglas Casa, covers the development and growth of the profession of athletic training. The 11th paper, by Sarah Keadle, Eduardo Bustamante, and Mathew Buman, covers the emerging area of physical activity and public health and its critical role in addressing obesity and chronic disease epidemics as well as health inequities. In the 12th paper, Melinda Solmon provides a historical overview of research on teaching physical education and sport pedagogy and argues for a broader view of pedagogy that integrates with the discipline of kinesiology at large. The 13th paper, by George Cunningham, Janet Fink, and James Zhang, provides an overview of sport management and the development of the field since the publication of Brooks’s book in 1981. Finally, Karl Newell provides an insightful analysis of the current status of research in kinesiology and its future prospects in a thought-provoking epilogue. Newell is well positioned to provide commentary on kinesiology given his centrality in the field and his appreciable contributions to and influence on the field over the last 50 years.

We are delighted by the contributions to the special issue. The contributions reveal significant growth has occurred in the knowledge base underpinning the subdisciplines over the last 40 years. Although authors noted that kinesiology has been challenged and will continue to be challenged in the future, the mood among the authors about the future of our discipline is clearly positive, as it was in 2007 when Jane Clark assembled 13 Fellows from the National Academy of Kinesiology to discuss the future of kinesiology in the 21st century (see Clark, 2008 for an overview). In short, kinesiology’s prospects look very favorable. Our assessment does not imply the main work of building the discipline has been done or that we do not have challenges and problems with which to contend. Such thinking would be naïve. Kinesiology is an ecosystem of ideas and like any ecosystem it requires wise stewardship if it is to continue to flourish (cf. Hoffman, 2015; Lawson, 2016). The marginalization of those areas of the discipline associated with the history, philosophy, and sociology of sport and physical activity is a conspicuous problem and one that must be addressed (Lawson & Kretchmar, 2017; Torres, 2021; Wiggins, in press). Overspecialization is a problem we must be vigilant to guard against if it threatens to fracture the discipline. However, despite repeated warnings about the potential dangers of overspecialization to the unification of the discipline (Hoffman, 1985; Lawson, 1991; Lawson & Kretchmar, 2017; Park, 1998; Thomas, 1987; Vertinsky, 2003, 2009; Wiggins, in press), the current papers reveal that increasing specialization is not anathema to integration. In fact, the growth of knowledge within the subdisciplines appears to have revealed new avenues for collaboration and integration.

Although we have an optimistic view of the potential for increased integration in the face of increased specialization, we are also mindful of how difficult it is for students who are new to kinesiology and junior colleagues who are relatively new to kinesiology to comprehend the integrated nature of the discipline. A number of leaders within kinesiology have exhorted us to do a better job of acculturating our students, particularly at the graduate level, into the field as a whole (e.g., Wiggins, in press; Wiggins et al., 2017). We echo this call to action and hope this special issue of Kinesiology Review will facilitate the process of acculturation. We also echo the calls made by a number of the authors in the special issue to strengthen our commitment to promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion within kinesiology. This work will be particularly important as social justice and racial justice initiatives gain increasing traction in society at large and as kinesiology continues to grow and seek new and innovative ways to collaborate within and beyond its disciplinary boundaries.

For the student who is new to kinesiology, the current special issue offers a veritable who’s who in the discipline. Many of the discipline’s luminaries have contributed to the special issue. For researchers, teachers, and other practitioners who are curious about what is happening beyond their own subdisciplinary specialization, the special issue offers a convenient-to-access repository of the latest research in the field and cutting-edge applications of new knowledge. There is a smorgasbord of ideas on offer for anyone who is interested in learning more about kinesiology. We hope that readers will enjoy digesting the contents of the special issue as much as we enjoyed assembling them.

References

  • Bressan, E.S. (1979). 2001: The profession is dead—Was it murder or suicide? Quest, 31(1), 7782. https://doi.org/10.1080/00336297.1979.10519925

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Brooks, G.A. (1981). Perspectives on the academic discipline of physical education: A tribute to G. Lawrence Rarick. Human Kinetics.

  • Clark, J.E. (2008). Kinesiology in the 21st century: A preface. Quest, 60(1), 12. https://doi.org/10.1080/00336297.2008.10483563

  • Gill, D.L. (1981). Current research and future prospects in sport psychology. In G.A. Brooks (Ed.), Perspectives on the academic discipline of physical education (pp. 342378). Human Kinetics.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Henry, F.M. (1964). Physical education: An academic discipline. Journal of Health, Physical Education and Recreation, 35(7), 3269. https://doi.org/10.1080/00221473.1964.10621849

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Henry, F.M. (1978). The academic discipline of physical education. Quest, 29(1), 1329. https://doi.org/10.1080/00336297.1978.10519907

  • Hoffman, S.J. (1985). Specialization and fragmentation = extermination: A formula for the demise of graduate education. Journal of Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, 56(6), 1922. https://doi.org/10.1080/07303084.1985.10603786

    • Crossref
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    • Export Citation
  • Hoffman, S.J. (2015). The unfinished business of Kinesiology. Hetherington Award Acceptance Speech. National Academy of Kinesiology Bulletin, 37, 1720.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Kuhn, T. (1962). The structure of scientific revolutions. University of Chicago Press.

  • Lawson, H.A. (1991). Specialization and fragmentation among faculty as endemic features of academic life. Quest, 43(3), 280295. https://doi.org/10.1080/00336297.1991.10484031

    • Crossref
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  • Lawson, H.A. (2016). Stewarding the discipline with crossboundary leadership. Quest, 68(2), 91115. https://doi.org/10.1080/00336297.2016.1151449

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
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  • Lawson, H.A., & Kretchmar, R.S. (2017). A generative synthesis for kinesiology: Lessons from history and visions for the future. Kinesiology Review, 6(2), 195210. https://doi.org/10.1123/kr.2017-0002

    • Crossref
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    • Export Citation
  • Lawson, H.A., & Morford, W.R. (1979). The crossdisciplinary nature of kinesiology and sport studies: Distinctions, implications, and advantages. Quest, 31(2), 222230. https://doi.org/10.1080/00336297.1979.10519939

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Massengale, J.D., & Swanson, R.A. (Eds.). (1997). The history of exercise and sport science. Human Kinetics.

  • Newell, K.M. (1990a). Kinesiology: Activity focus, knowledge types and degree programs. Quest, 42, 243268.

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  • Newell, K.M. (2017). Reflections on kinesiology: Persistent issues and contemporary challenges. Kinesiology Review, 6(2), 211216. https://doi.org/10.1123/kr.2017-0009

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Park, R. (1981). The emergence of the academic discipline of physical education in the United States. In G.A. Brooks (Ed.), Perspectives on the academic discipline of physical education: A tribute to G. Lawrence Rarick (pp. 2045). Human Kinetics.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Park, R. (1998). A house divided. Quest, 50(2), 213224. https://doi.org/10.1080/00336297.1998.10484281

  • Thomas, J.R. (1987). Are we already in pieces, or just falling apart? Quest, 39(2), 114121. https://doi.org/10.1080/00336297.1987.10483863

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Torres, C.R. (2021). Introduction to the special issue on the state of kinesiology: Musings of prominent professionals in the field. Kinesiology Review, 10(2), 109110. https://doi.org/10.1123/kr.2021-0019

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Vertinsky, P. (2003). Roberta J. Park and “the impossible dream”: Keeping it together for physical education and the academy. Journal of Sport History, 30(1), 7399.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Vertinsky, P. (2009). Mind the gap (or mending it): Qualitative research and interdisciplinarity in kinesiology. Quest, 61(1), 3951. https://doi.org/10.1080/00336297.2009.10483599

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Wiggins, D.K. (in press). Looking back at kinesiology’s future: The need for both focused frogs and visionary birds. Kinesiology Review.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Wiggins, D.K., Weiss, M.R., & Kretchmar, R.S. (2017). Reflections on kinesiology: Past, present, and future. Kinesiology Review, 6(2), 137139. https://doi.org/10.1123/kr.2017-0011

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Anderson is with the Marian Wright Edelman Inst. for the Study of Children, Youth and Families, San Francisco State University, San Francisco, CA, USA. van Emmerik is with the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Amherst, MA, USA.

Anderson (danders@sfsu.edu) is corresponding author.
  • Bressan, E.S. (1979). 2001: The profession is dead—Was it murder or suicide? Quest, 31(1), 7782. https://doi.org/10.1080/00336297.1979.10519925

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Brooks, G.A. (1981). Perspectives on the academic discipline of physical education: A tribute to G. Lawrence Rarick. Human Kinetics.

  • Clark, J.E. (2008). Kinesiology in the 21st century: A preface. Quest, 60(1), 12. https://doi.org/10.1080/00336297.2008.10483563

  • Gill, D.L. (1981). Current research and future prospects in sport psychology. In G.A. Brooks (Ed.), Perspectives on the academic discipline of physical education (pp. 342378). Human Kinetics.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Henry, F.M. (1964). Physical education: An academic discipline. Journal of Health, Physical Education and Recreation, 35(7), 3269. https://doi.org/10.1080/00221473.1964.10621849

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Henry, F.M. (1978). The academic discipline of physical education. Quest, 29(1), 1329. https://doi.org/10.1080/00336297.1978.10519907

  • Hoffman, S.J. (1985). Specialization and fragmentation = extermination: A formula for the demise of graduate education. Journal of Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, 56(6), 1922. https://doi.org/10.1080/07303084.1985.10603786

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hoffman, S.J. (2015). The unfinished business of Kinesiology. Hetherington Award Acceptance Speech. National Academy of Kinesiology Bulletin, 37, 1720.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Kuhn, T. (1962). The structure of scientific revolutions. University of Chicago Press.

  • Lawson, H.A. (1991). Specialization and fragmentation among faculty as endemic features of academic life. Quest, 43(3), 280295. https://doi.org/10.1080/00336297.1991.10484031

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Lawson, H.A. (2016). Stewarding the discipline with crossboundary leadership. Quest, 68(2), 91115. https://doi.org/10.1080/00336297.2016.1151449

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Lawson, H.A., & Kretchmar, R.S. (2017). A generative synthesis for kinesiology: Lessons from history and visions for the future. Kinesiology Review, 6(2), 195210. https://doi.org/10.1123/kr.2017-0002

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Lawson, H.A., & Morford, W.R. (1979). The crossdisciplinary nature of kinesiology and sport studies: Distinctions, implications, and advantages. Quest, 31(2), 222230. https://doi.org/10.1080/00336297.1979.10519939

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Massengale, J.D., & Swanson, R.A. (Eds.). (1997). The history of exercise and sport science. Human Kinetics.

  • Newell, K.M. (1990a). Kinesiology: Activity focus, knowledge types and degree programs. Quest, 42, 243268.

  • Newell, K.M. (1990b). Kinesiology: The label for the study of physical activity in higher education. Quest, 42, 279296.

  • Newell, K.M. (1990c). Physical education in higher education: Chaos out of order. Quest, 42, 227242.

  • Newell, K.M. (2007). Kinesiology: Challenges of multiple agendas. Quest, 59(1), 524. https://doi.org/10.1080/00336297.2007.10483532

  • Newell, K.M. (2017). Reflections on kinesiology: Persistent issues and contemporary challenges. Kinesiology Review, 6(2), 211216. https://doi.org/10.1123/kr.2017-0009

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Park, R. (1981). The emergence of the academic discipline of physical education in the United States. In G.A. Brooks (Ed.), Perspectives on the academic discipline of physical education: A tribute to G. Lawrence Rarick (pp. 2045). Human Kinetics.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Park, R. (1998). A house divided. Quest, 50(2), 213224. https://doi.org/10.1080/00336297.1998.10484281

  • Thomas, J.R. (1987). Are we already in pieces, or just falling apart? Quest, 39(2), 114121. https://doi.org/10.1080/00336297.1987.10483863

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Torres, C.R. (2021). Introduction to the special issue on the state of kinesiology: Musings of prominent professionals in the field. Kinesiology Review, 10(2), 109110. https://doi.org/10.1123/kr.2021-0019

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Vertinsky, P. (2003). Roberta J. Park and “the impossible dream”: Keeping it together for physical education and the academy. Journal of Sport History, 30(1), 7399.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Vertinsky, P. (2009). Mind the gap (or mending it): Qualitative research and interdisciplinarity in kinesiology. Quest, 61(1), 3951. https://doi.org/10.1080/00336297.2009.10483599

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Wiggins, D.K. (in press). Looking back at kinesiology’s future: The need for both focused frogs and visionary birds. Kinesiology Review.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Wiggins, D.K., Weiss, M.R., & Kretchmar, R.S. (2017). Reflections on kinesiology: Past, present, and future. Kinesiology Review, 6(2), 137139. https://doi.org/10.1123/kr.2017-0011

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
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