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Introduction

This book aims to enliven our professional and research conversations about difference and inequalities in physical education (PE), youth sport and health. Ultimately it has a modest aim to help teachers and coaches to create more inclusive learning environments for young people in physical activity and health contexts, although we are abundantly aware that education for social justice and democracy is a complex project which requires widespread political support from far beyond the boundaries of our field. The book was conceived on account of our sense of frustration at the ways in which issues of difference and inequality seem to be increasingly marginalized in the field of PE and sports science, as well as an acknowledgement about how difficult it is to gain broad acceptance for ‘different’ ways of knowing. All three of us have experienced the mechanisms of being silenced in an

academy which is once again becoming saturated with ‘male’, neo-liberal notions of ‘what counts’ (Hekman 1995). We have felt the professional melancholy described by Evans and Davies (2008), as the discourses of professional flagellation and the pedagogy of despair engulf us during our work with teachers, coaches, students and young people, when we recognize the persistence of inequities despite rhetorical claims to the contrary. We do not concede the view that ‘what works’ for ‘effective’ PE teaching or sports coaching can best be gleaned from the physical, biological and behavioural sciences, although we are fully aware that knowledge from these fields has long held a hegemonic place in sports science (Evans and Davies 1986; Tinning 2004, 2010). We respect, of course, these disciplines’ contribution to the field of knowledge about the body and human movement, but we believe, like Tinning (2004), that this has regrettably been, and continues to be, at the cost of a focus upon social theory. Young people entering a school gymnasium or a community sports hall are not objects or machines waiting to be tuned, as the commonly used metaphor in the bio-behavioural sciences implies, but they are subjects and their identities need to be acknowledged as central to their learning experience. Teachers and coaches participate in social interaction with their learners, and their actions have social consequences (both intended and unintended); they, therefore, require knowledge about the social body, as well as the bio-behavioural body. Teachers and learners are

enfleshed, emotional and intellectual beings, and they are inevitably located in social matrixes of power in society within and beyond the arena of physical activity. Despite the way in which slogans such as ‘Sport for All’ and ‘Every Child Matters’ readily slip off the tongue, and the long-established idea in the taken-for-granted public consciousness that sport, with its level playing fields, is a social equalizer, statistics and individual experience tell a different story. PE and health classes, and sport, are sites of struggle about competing definitions of what and who counts as worthwhile, where some young people benefit and others lose out because they have the ‘wrong’ body or lack ‘ability’ in relation to the dominant values within a given time and context. Ultimately, what goes on in physical activity contexts is ‘implicated in social and cultural reproduction and the distribution of power and principles of control’ in society at large (Evans and Davies 2004: 4). During the last three decades a considerable body of knowledge has been

developed which can help us to better understand these aspects of ‘learning’ in PE, health and sport, yet we are concerned that too many important insights into the complexities of ‘schooling the body’ remain largely within the domain of theoreticians and only fragmentarily filter down into practice. By making this observation we have no intention to apportion any sense of blame; to do so would deny the ‘social base of the pedagogic relation, its various contingent realisations, the agents and the agencies of its enactments’ (Bernstein 2001: 364, cited in Evans and Davies 2004: 4). Nor do we wish to imply that professionals in the field intend to create inequitable learning environments, because clearly this is preposterous. Moreover, we are complicit in these observations. However, at the same time, we would argue that failure to systematically engage in critical reflection about the values which underpin PE and sport and, in particular, ideas about social difference, can lead to unintended inequitable outcomes. We hope therefore that this book may help to nurture such critical reflection, and via its use of narrative also expand the profession’s ‘toolkit’ for getting to know and better understand ‘difference’. Interest in narrative ways of knowing has grown dramatically in recent

times, across the range of subject disciplines, but in spite of its promise as a way of knowing the social world, it has to date remained a relatively little used research approach within the field of PE and sport. We think this is a pity given that narratives can help to illuminate individual experiences located within broader social and cultural structures, and their potential to facilitate professional self-reflection (Barone 1995; Butt et al. 1992; Clandinin and Connelly 2000; Day 1999a, 1999b; Goodson 1995; Polkinghorne 1995). Research on teachers, and indeed our many years of experience as teachers, tells us that teaching is always very personal. Our teacher selves cannot be separated from self-identities (Goodson 1995). Who we are, as individual subjects and as teachers, is in fact the story (or stories) we tell to ourselves, and to others, about our lives. In other words, the art of storytelling is something we do on a daily basis in the process of making sense of who we are and

what we experience. These self-stories are also a reflection of cultural narratives: about the social spaces we inhabit. Whilst many of us take this aspect of our life for granted – it is just something we do – we suggest we might capitalize upon our skills as storytellers and analysts; it may represent an approach to knowledge which is close to our actual worlds. Like genuine critical reflection in teacher professional development (Day 1999a), a narrative approach to difference in PE and sport is about the past, the present and the future, and it is about ‘problem posing’, as well as ‘problem solving’. It demands a critique of practice and the values implicit in that practice, as described above. Importantly, narratives recognize the role emotions play in how we come to understand our worlds, in addition to cognitive ways of knowing. Few would deny that their enthusiasm, or indeed loathing, for physical activity or sport is linked to strong feelings, yet surprisingly little attention has been paid to how these emotions structure embodied experience in the field of PE, health and sport. By engaging in educational storysharing (Barone 1995), both teachers and students can co-construct knowledge about their social worlds, which can counteract the current tendency to marginalize their voices in the neo-liberal ‘market place of education’ dominated by the discourses of achievement, assessment and accountability. Like Hargreaves (2003), Hargreaves and Shirley (2009), Lingard (2007) and

Sachs (2003), we envisage professionals as people engaged with a broad project of education for social justice and democracy. In a global world increasingly characterized by diversity, mobility and uncertainty, with a rise of xenophobic political climates (e.g. the ‘war on terror’, ‘cracking down’ on illegal immigrants) and world economic crisis, the need to recognize and understand difference has perhaps never been as necessary as in the current moment. This need appears to be accentuated in the case of physical educators in the developed world, who persistently comprise a homogeneous, mainly white group of able-bodied people, unlike the increasing social diversity to be found among their students. The gap between the rich and the poor widens in many countries and discrimination on account of gender, sexuality, ‘race’, religion and/or disability persists despite the passing of many laws of equality. The neo-liberal project of ‘meritocracy’ has gained global purchase, disguising ‘failure’ as the result of the individual rather than the effects of inequitable social structures. When the profession is asked by governments, for example, to increase activity levels or improve eating habits for the purposes of combating the so-called ‘obesity crisis’, or they are requested to teach competitive sport in order to promote the right ‘values’ for increasing the nation’s competitiveness in world markets or for the purposes of re-engaging disaffected youth, inequitable relations will more than likely prevail if educators confine their professional knowledge to simply that of the ‘objective’ performing body. Health behaviours, physical activity patterns and experiences in PE lessons are inevitably linked to structural factors and circulating discourses, and professionals need, therefore, to take account of such factors when making pedagogical decisions about what, and how, and, not least,

why they teach what they do. The same is true if certain activities are prioritized in new legislation, such as dance or outdoor activity was in Norway in recent years. PE teachers need to ask, for example, ‘Why is a focus on dance in PE important, who benefits, who loses out, what and how should it be taught?’ Although it is possible, of course, to limit reflection to the ‘hows’ of technique and ‘effective’ teaching methods, we argue that physical educators need to pitch their critical analytical gaze within a broader socio-political framework; what types of citizens do we want to educate for tomorrow’s society? In Part I of the book, we discuss theoretical debates about difference and

inequality, and provide an overview of narrative research. These chapters aim to discern the contours of the major developments during the past 40 years within these fields so that professionals working in PE, youth sport and health can access ideas about difference and narrative, and moreover use them actively as tools for reflection in their working lives. We hope that the theoretical lenses which we describe can be applied in everyday teaching and learning situations. Clearly it is impossible to explore in depth the many theoretical perspectives that have sought to explain difference and inequality between individuals, such as theory about social class, gender or disability, or to describe in depth the many theoretical discussions about the field of narrative inquiry. By providing illustrative examples, and by referencing some of the major research in the respective areas, we hope of course that readers will be encouraged to pursue in more detail the range of themes we raise. In Part II of the book, we deliberately suspend explicit theoretical debate,

although this is an illusion since we cannot write from ‘nowhere’ and theoretical concepts implicitly inform the texts (Richardson 2000). The section comprises 15 narratives written by leading scholars in the field of PE, youth sport and health about difference and (in)equalities in a range of physical activity contexts. The tales capture lifelike experiences which are partial, ambiguous, sometimes contradictory fragments of what ‘really’ has occurred in the characters’ lives. By adopting a range of literary styles, the researchers wish to invite you into their informants’ social worlds, to reveal the emotions with which these worlds are imbued and, in the process, they hope to ‘touch’ you. Based upon a view that knowledge about difference and (in)equality involves both emotional and cognitive understanding, the authors want the narratives to evoke feelings. To inspire you to cognitively engage with the tales, they provide a short list of recommended reading at the end of each narrative which, in addition to the theories described in Part I, provide a variety of theoretical lenses for interpreting, ‘What’s the story about?’ It is important to realize that theoretical lenses recommended by one scholar may, of course, be relevant for other tales. Due to individuals’ multiple identities, and the inter-subjective process of interpretation, multiple ways of knowing the social worlds of a single tale are possible. The ‘quality’ of any interpretation can only be judged via dialogue (Smith and Deemer 2000), and we hope therefore that the stories provoke much discussion, both in relation to personal and professional experience, and in relation to the application of different

theoretical lenses. By sharing different interpretations, professional learning communities may develop (Day 1999a). It is probably useful to read, interpret and discuss several of the tales at the same time; often we gain new insights through the process of comparing and contrasting experiences. Similarly, when appropriate, it can be a useful learning strategy to read aloud or act out the narratives, not least with regard to the dramatic and poetic representations. Given that a narrative approach is uncommon in sports sciences, in Part III

of the book we provide some exemplars about how theories of difference and inequality may be used to help unpack and interpret the narratives. We locate these within a short discussion about critical reflection and professional development (Apple 2006; Carr and Kemmis 1986; Day 1999a). We envisage that readers have acquainted themselves with the specific tales and the recommended literature (or at least some of the suggested texts) which are discussed in each exemplar, prior to reading our interpretations of the narratives. In this way, we hope readers will be able to have an ongoing dialogue with our viewpoints, as they evolve. At the end of each exemplar we have also included a number of exercises relating to the themes of difference and (in)equality, which we perceive as central to the particular narratives, and these are intended to facilitate ongoing engagement with stories of difference. We aim, among other things, to draw the reader’s attention to the prevalence of storytelling and story-analysis which occurs in our daily lives, and to encourage her/him to be more conscious of this way of knowing and to adapt it for the purposes of continuing professional development. There are exercises which relate to ‘naturally’ occurring stories of difference in our work environments and the organizational structures in which our work is located, and exercises which aim to activate or generate stories, in order to analyse them and better understand how difference and (in)equality pervades teaching and learning. Difference does matter and inequalities persist in societies, despite public

rhetoric constructing images of equality. Research shows that many young people, through no fault of their own, remain on the margins of sport and PE lessons, and that some of them are more likely than others to experience poor health. Although we paint a somewhat bleak picture in this regard, we nevertheless genuinely believe that the reader can make a difference, albeit in relatively modest ways in local contexts. Being a professional educator in today’s society not only means having to develop sound subject knowledge, but it also depends upon acknowledging a moral duty to do what is ‘right’ for the individual and society (Arendt 1958). To this end, we see both narratives and theories of social difference as the professional’s ‘friend’, in that they can provide tools for unravelling the many complexities of inequitable relations. In order to create narratives of equality, we need first of all to recognize and understand narratives of injustice. This book is intended as a small, but nonetheless important, contribution to this major, ongoing project.