Rethinking the ‘aspirations’ of Chinese girls within and beyond Health and Physical Education and physical activity in Greater Western Sydney

This post summarises my published work Pang, B. and Hill, J. (2016). Rethinking the ‘aspirations’ of Chinese girls within and beyond Health and Physical Education and physical activity in Greater Western Sydney. Sport, Education and Society [iFirst], 1-14. The paper can be found at http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13573322.2016.1217517

Although researchers have attempted to understand why so few Chinese girls participate in physical activity, attempts have not before taken into account girls’ aspirations for sport, education and career and how their aspirations have been shaped. In this paper, we made visible how girls’ engagement in physical activity relates to what is thinkable, desirable and achievable for themselves and in relation to parental expectations. Aspiration is a term that has been co-opted by neoliberal discourse to point blame at those who do not ‘achieve’; it goes along with post-feminist ideas that girls have all options open to them now.

This strengths-based research calls for a rethinking of how aspirations are conceptualised. It does this by bringing a Chinese feminist perspective into physical education and sport pedagogy in order to demonstrate a need to reconsider dominant racialised perspectives on feminism and on physical activity/sport in education. We took inspiration from Raewyn Connell’s writings on Global South feminisms and gender theory, where she raises questions about a Western or white focus that reifies the ‘othering’ of Global South women and girls. Different perspectives are needed to understand their experiences.

Abstract

This paper aims to explore young Chinese girls’ aspirations and ideal
environments for engagement in Health and Physical Education (HPE)
and physical activity (PA) in Greater Western Sydney. Interviews are used
to elicit these girls’ perceptions of their future and ideal environments in
relation to HPEPA. Their data offer insights into key influences regarding
what is thinkable, desirable and achievable in their HPEPA environments.
Results showed dimensions of environments, such as social and
pedagogical aspects, that are conducive to these girls’ aspirations in
HPEPA (e.g. social support from parents, and functional built environment
for HPE). This paper aligns with a strengths-based approach to
understanding and recognising young Chinese girls’ perceived
aspirations within their socio-cultural environment. In doing so, we
discuss how feminism and femininity are positioned from a Chinese
perspective that may provide alternative views to a post-feminist
panorama in promoting advancement of all young girls in HPEPA.
Results invite us to take into account some of the girls’ ambivalence
towards being an ‘autonomous’ and ‘dependent’ modern Chinese young
girl. This paper calls for a rethinking of how aspirations that shape
young people’s future in HPEPA in much of the contemporary Western
world are conceptualised in academic research.

Spring update 2017: recent research activities

Is this thing still on?

Sweeping the dust off and trying to get back into blogging my research and teaching life. Here’s what I’ve been up to lately…

This year I have got involved in a few projects that have led to there being six papers ‘on my desk’ at the moment – metaphorically on my desk, as some of them are still only concepts. So managing my time is a priority at the moment, or even managing my expectations about what I can successfully complete. Getting back into my teaching after maternity leave (updating units to improve them, thinking about long term changes, remembering everything after an academic year off) has taken a lot of my energies this year but as designing and delivering teaching is a never ending task, there comes a time when it must no longer get in the way of my research activities.

My attention is on three main projects:

Social Justice in PETE

Following the creation of over 70 interviews with PETE and PESP faculty across the English speaking world, I have three papers to contribute to:

The knowledge base for social justice and socio-cultural issues in PETE…how do PETE and PESP faculty know what they know or believe to be social justice and socio-cultural issues? What professional development could be offered for teacher educators?

International perspectives on social justice in PETE…what is called social justice in different areas? How does local context affect what we see as social injustices and how to educate for social justice?

Whiteness in the PETE curriculum… prompted by the question generated by a student movement ‘why is my curriculum white?’, we examine the construction of curriculum on two PETE courses.

PE textbooks and children’s colouring books

Data collection and analysis is all complete for both elements (one on PE textbooks, one on colouring books) of this project so it is just (‘just’!) about editing and refining the text of both papers and ensuring sufficient theoretical basis and educational implications. I presented this work at BERA in September 2016 and more in depth in a research seminar at York St John in December 2016.

Student journeys: narratives in student experience

Over two academic years we are collecting interviews with Level 4 and 5 students on their journeys (geographical and metaphorical) to and through university to understand more about their dreams and intentions in coming to university and succeeding. We have carried out some interviews and observations and will be inviting participants to engage collaboratively in developing teaching and learning changes.

Blogging my research: what do we talk about when we talk about social justice?

Word cloud of social justice definitions

We have now completed 19 interviews with PE and Sport academics / teacher educators in universities in England (part of a total of over 50 interviews across the world!). An interesting part of the discussion in these interviews has been around the participants’ definition of social justice and socio-cultural issues. These are the key things we are investigating so they are terms that we need to define with participants in order to be on the same page for the subsequent questions. There’s a diversity of responses in how these terms are understood and used. Below are some notes I made on the responses I got.

Social justice is appreciating and accepting difference and its importance in a diverse society. Achieving potential: students’ potential, society’s potential. Tolerating and understanding difference. Social identity: fitting in, or not fitting in. It affects you as a researcher: you want to know who you students are. It means breaking down inequality and privilege to social identity and biography. It means owning and examining privilege. What might be equal to one person is not another.

Social justice is aspiration, expectation, multiculturalism. It is more than legal equality, fairness and being treated the same: it is about social structure, cultural norms, but not just structure-agency, but things beyond our control, in everyday interactions. There’s a worry that current developments to British culture and politics are showing a fear of difference.

It can also be about moving from integration to inclusion: focusing on how environments can be adapted, not changing students/children/any people. Within physical education and sport courses, we need to look beyond sport to society in order to reach for social justice across the board.

If you are going to be a critical pedagogue, you need to be aware of social justice and socio-cultural issues, you need to be aware of giving voice while also understanding your own position. You can challenge students to find the holes in your perspective, but you need to be careful not to teach in an elite way.

Social justice needs to appear across all modules, to get it across through the back door, but it should also have a stand alone module for focus.

We might be more comfortable with terms like diversity, equality, equity, inclusion. Not everyone understands or uses the notion of social justice. Is it a new term? Why use this one in particular? Does it encompass something more or greater than equity?

I’d be interested to hear your perspective if you would like to add a comment.

Announcing new project: Student Journeys: What is it like being a student?

Scholarship on social justice in education prompts questions concerning the purpose and culture of educational organisations that might (unknowingly) work to exclude some individuals or groups and furthermore that contemporary approaches to student recruitment and course design can result in alienation for students from learning. We propose to consider how we might contribute to creating and maintaining socially just learning environments and experiences for our students, paying attention to how the hidden curriculum within existing structures of teaching and learning, indeed, within the geographical and cultural spaces of higher education, might affect students’ approaches to their learning and their experiences across the campus.

While debating the challenges of engaging and retaining students in their learning, University of Bedfordshire staff were aware that we have limited knowledge of how our increasingly diverse body of students holistically experience and understand University life (both the more ‘formal’ teaching strategies and curriculum executed by the instructor/University and ‘informal’ extra-curricular activities and spaces engaged by students), and the diverse role Higher Education plays in their lives. UoB students in the department of Sport Science and Physical Activity are diverse in terms of ethnicity, socio-economic status and geographical origin. We also recruit a number of ‘non-traditional’ students through widening participation. A number of students choose to remain living at home, commuting daily to the University.  Additionally, some of the sport courses have a heavy weighting towards male students, which can affect the experiences and retention of female students.

Our project therefore is to launch a research programme aimed at exploring, through an innovative ethnographic/qualitative action research approach, a range of our student’s perceptions of, and identification with, their University experiences as understood from their own culturally and socially grounded standpoints.

The research element of the project incorporates multi-method qualitative inquiry among L4 and L5 cohorts and includes insider interviews, focus groups, participant observation and auto-ethnographies to investigate:

  • Student identities: What is it like being a student at UoB?
  • Student journeys: Identify the geographical, cultural and emotional dimensions shaping and defining students ‘Higher Education Journeys’ to, in and around University
  • Student narratives: Understand the holistic role and importance of both ‘formal’ and ‘informal’ University provision in shaping students’ perceptions of, and identification with, their University experiences
  • Teaching and Learning insights: How we can tap into students’ values in order to activate behaviour change toward increased levels of engagement.

Student participants/co-researchers are sought to begin the inquiry and to develop plans for shaping teaching/learning and informal experiences.

If you are a UoB student and would like to be involved, contact: joanne.hill@beds.ac.uk
This project is run by Dr Joanne Hill and Dr Alex Stewart. It is possible thanks to a University of Bedfordshire Teaching and Learning Enhancement Grant.

Blogging my research: deciding how to analyse colouring book images

I recently was able to take some time to start the qualitative analysis on the colouring books project. If creative materials like colouring books differentiate how boys and girls are presented  in active situations, it might affect their imaginations and trajectories through sport, leisure and education. The Let Books Be Books campaign asserts that gender differentiated and stereotyped materials restrict the story lines available to children and can make them feel outcast if they make choices that don’t belong to ‘their gender’.

The quantitative analysis was completed in late 2014 but soon being on maternity leave I was not able to get the second part, where I attempt more of a discourse analysis of some of the images in six colouring books. The focus is on images of human bodies and physical activity, and I am trying to get a sense of how masculinity and femininity are represented in colouring books for children. Are men presented as active and powerful? Are women represented as passive / engaged in domestic activities, and are their poses submissive? The quantitative research (Martínez-Bello and Hill, under review) found that gendered colouring books (books for boys and books for girls) present predominantly characters of the gender the book is aimed at, and found something of a trend towards boys being shown out of doors  and girls indoors more often. This used a quantitative content analysis to describe the images based on certain categories (gender, age of character; space; activity type – e.g. leisure time physical activity, sedentary, active transport). Gillian Rose (2013) in Visual Methodologies identifies that content analysis can provide a thorough representation of the field, but struggles to contribute to a critical visual methodology.

I’m interested in whether there is a double whammy so that girls don’t merely learn what activities are appropriate for girls, but also how to act, dress and behave in a feminine way and in relation to boys (and vice versa with boys, masculinity). This prompts qualitative research because of the need to consider the sense or meaning that can be read in an image and accompanying text that a quantitative content analysis cannot record. Rose notes that a quantitative content analysis finds it difficult to analyse the strength of connections, for instance prompting us to think that a more frequent occurrence is more important than something that is only seen as few times.

However, there are multiple forms of qualitative analysis that can help make sense of the meanings of images, so I will turn to my go-to visual methods guides to help choose an analysis method (Gilliam Rose first!).

 

Girls’ active identities: navigating othering discourses of femininity, bodies and physical education

This post summarises my published work Hill, J. (2015) Girls’ active identities: navigating othering discourses of femininity, bodies and physical education, Gender and Education 27(6), 666-684. You can find the paper at http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/09540253.2015.1078875.

While all of the research and writing I did from my PhD studies tried to challenge the accepted, to complexify what we think we know about young people and their physical activity experiences, one of my favourite things about what my participants told me has made its way into this paper. Here, I talk about girls who are physically active – although they might not think of themselves as active. Girls being physically active is a challenge to the accepted for two reasons: the field talks so much about girls being inactive and disengaged in PE; and what counts as sport and physical activity, as a physically active body, and especially as a feminine appropriate physically active body are narrowly constructed so that girls who don’t ‘fit’ cannot see themselves in the images of ideal fit bodies. Ideal bodies can marginalise and other some girls.

For the girls in this paper, the ideal was not enough to put them off being active (unlike some of their peers who I talked about in other paper). However, they couldn’t entirely get away from discourses of gender that regulated them and a system of penalties and rewards for reinforcing or deviating from gender norms.

For instance, one girl Lucy was highly active in a range of team and individual sports. But she was beginning to moderate the types of activities she did to concentrate on ones that would help her attain a slender body, rather than continuing to develop the muscular body she had. She did this because she claimed that boys at school called her fat. She was punished for gender inappropriate activity and physicality.

Other girls enthusiastically took part in physical activity as long as the environment was right and they were surrounded by similar people, that is, girly-girls. Ayesha liked single sex PE where she could be with ‘just girls’ who ‘understood each other’. She also claimed that they didn’t have to act like tomboys in this setting. While she felt included, the question remains about how excluded tomboys might have felt in a setting that still reproduced gender regulation. Neither single sex or mixed classes intrinsically have the answer.

Girls here were othered by discourses of fatness, whiteness and femininity and I discuss ways of listening to girls’ voices on the struggle to challenge gender norms, call for equality and avoid surveiling/regulating other girls’ bodies. Girls and boys can be supported to identify and make sense of gender boundaries, acceptable gendered and racialised performances, and create discussion out of instances of diversity or regulation.

Abstract

Within physical education and sport, girls must navigate discourses of valued athletic and gendered bodies that marginalise or ‘other’ non-normative performances through systems of surveillance and punishment. The purpose of this paper is to share girls’ perspectives on how these discourses affected their gender performances and activity engagement. Students aged 13–14 in one ethnically diverse UK secondary school were invited to create a photo diary of the physical activities they engaged in. Photo-elicitation interviews in small groups followed. The girls positioned themselves as physically active but had to carefully manage their activity choices and gender performances in a single-sex physical education environment that regulated deviation from the fit, slender, girly-girl. Although the girls demonstrate the difficulty of resisting, they indicate moments of positioning themselves against norms that suggest the possibilities of shifting gendering processes. The paper points out the importance of listening to ‘other’ girls’ narratives in building positive physical education engagements.

Blogging my research: first interviews on PE teacher education and social justice

We are 10 interviews in on the UK element of the project on social justice and socio-cultural issues in PETE. My first thoughts on some commonalities in what has been discussed.

I usually start the interviews by asking, what actually is social justice, how do you define it? For some participants this is tricky to answer. It’s a term we all had heard, but don’t necessarily use. I wonder if social justice is a recent concept, as one that attempts to encompass more than equality and diversity, to consider fairness, activism, progressive policies, doing more to reach and make things better for all types of marginalised communities and individuals. As my last post on this project noted, there is something about caring and dealing with contemporary events such as the Orlando massacre. To bear in mind for analysis, is how the participants defined social justice.

Two key points raised about the impact of teaching social justice or teaching in a socially just way were the issue of occupational socialisation for teachers (once they are in schools) and activism. As PETE, how do we help pre-service teachers to prepare for maintaining their values in the job? And can teaching social justice be considered a form of activism for educators who do not or cannot engage in social activism “out there” – going to marches, donating money, being politically engaged (although of course the meaning of activism and what counts as proper activism or just back seat activism is unclear). For instance, do we have a duty to educate about and for a socially just world?

A big thank you to the participants so far and those scheduled in for July!

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