“If we were all, like, learning at the same time, we might have, like, the same experience”: an investigation into the development of physical subjectivities in early primary education

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Smee, Cameron (2019) “If we were all, like, learning at the same time, we might have, like, the same experience”: an investigation into the development of physical subjectivities in early primary education. PhD thesis, Victoria University.


There is growing consensus about the importance of physical activity and regular engagement is known to have a number of health and developmental benefits. Accordingly, research across a variety of fields has argued for the importance of laying the foundations for lifelong physical activity engagement in the early years. The school plays a central role in this effort by impacting children’s initial relationships with physical culture. Within the school, PE is often the primary vehicle for the promotion of physical activity. However, the problems with PE and its failure to connect with all children has been widely reported. Concurrently, there has been a significant physical activity dropout rate in adolescence for girls, and some boys. Scholarly attempts to address these concerns have focused mainly on late primary or high school settings, specifically curriculum and pedagogy. To date, very little research has focused on the early (Year One/Two) years of PE, when many children are developing their initial physical subjectivities. Rather than a period which all children enter as a ‘blank slate’, early PE is defined by the differing levels of experience that children bring to class. How these differing levels of embodied experiences are valued mean the children are constantly engaging in a range of stratified interactions. The outcomes of these interactions can have a profound impact on how students engage in physical activity, both in PE and on the playground. To examine how children are embodying and developing their physical subjectivities in these two spaces, a six- month ethnographic project was conducted at a primary school in Victoria. This allowed for the examination of the experiences of a Year 1/2 cohort through the implementation a variety of ethnographic and child-centred methods. Drawing on a theoretical approach, combining Bourdieu (1998) and Collins (2004), this thesis shows how the outcomes of PE activities, impacted the types of activities that children chose to engage in on the playground. Additionally, the findings show how the children play a key role in reproducing the dominant elements of the field (including the ‘naturalized’ gender order inherent in sport/PE) and the hierarchies that contextualized each activity. This research offers an in-depth focus into the complex social processes, in the playground and PE, which continue to usher children along seemingly pre-determined physical paths. This thesis concludes with a call for a critical approach to early PE that incorporates the different experiences of the children to create 2 curricula, with a particular focus on teaching children to be reflective of the impact of their embodied experiences. This also incorporates changes to the playground as a continuation of the PE space.

Item type Thesis (PhD thesis)
URI https://vuir.vu.edu.au/id/eprint/40597
Subjects Historical > FOR Classification > 1302 Curriculum and Pedagogy
Current > Division/Research > Institute for Health and Sport
Current > Division/Research > College of Sports and Exercise Science
Keywords physical activity; physical education; PE; children; physical subjectivities; primary school; Melbourne; Victoria; Australia; playground; curriculum; ethnography; Randall Collins; Interactional Ritual Chains; Bourdieu’s conceptual tools
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