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.

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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 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. Content analysis cannot analyse what is invisible or missing, differentiate strong or weak examples of a code, or comment on composition and mood (Rose, 2013).

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.

Rose’s Visual Methodologies (3rd ed, Sage) introduces a number of forms of visual analysis and examines how they are done and with what sort of research question and what sort of images you can use them with. There is some element of comparison between the methods although it cannot of course tell me exactly which method I should use! I gravitated towards three of the chapters: on Semiotics, on Discourse Analysis (concerned with texts), on Discourse Analysis (concerned with social institutions).

Semiotics might seem to make sense in analysing images and symbols that create meaning about gender. However, as it is represented by Rose, I found semiotics to be weighed-down by jargon, to focus on case studies that might not be representative.

On the other hand, discourse analysis, in the Foucauldian sense (according to Rose), pays attention to the social construction and consequence of difference. Discourse ‘refers to groups of statements that structure the way a thing is thought, and the way we act on the basis of that thinking’ (Rose, 2013, p. 190). Discourse can be articulated though a variety of means or media, so intertextuality is important – that is, meanings depend on other texts too. By implementing discourse analysis, we could investigate the reproduction of the social institution and practice of gender. Hence, examination is possible of the construction of masculinities and femininities, and how they related to one another, in order to create more nuanced understanding of gender relations, subject positioning and the gendered body.

One lead researcher read through all six books and created written notes of the overt and covert stories told in the images; that is, the discourses reproduced in the images. For instance, characterisation; setting (such as contemporary, historical or imaginary); and juxtaposition of male and female characters were noted for individual images, and further observation of the overall discourses in each book.

 

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!

Listening to ‘during the break’ discussion at conferences

Is what we value about conferences not the scheduled speakers, but the dialogue during question time and in the coffee breaks?

As audience at academic conferences, we sit down to listen to speakers present, we have an opportunity to ask questions, and we have breaks during which we might discuss the presentations. Conferences might audio-visually record speakers for an archive or to share their ideas, and individual audience members might make notes on the presentations for our own use, might discuss what interesting or controversial topics we heard. However, usually nothing of the ‘during the break’ elements of a conference is recorded and the very nature of a conference – the opportunity for dialogue – is not retained as part of the record of the conference.

In the last few years the notion of ‘back channel’ at conferences – sharing content and developing ongoing conversations online, beyond the speakers at the podium – has grown (McCarthy and boyd, 2005; McCarthy et al., 2004), with much of the impetus for this development arising from microblogging and social media sites such as Twitter (Ross et al., 2011). These enquiries have largely emerged in computer science and have aimed to understand the potential of social media to enhance conference experiences and increase speakers’ social networks.

However, this skims over the valuable face-to-face conversations happening during the gaps between presentations on the day: among audience members in the queue for coffee or lunch, and between audience and speakers during the question time following a presentation. Presentations are used to share thoughts and create dialogue. In these spaces, speakers’ presentations prompt insights, additions, reflection and debate among audience members.

I attempted to research the value that ‘during the break’ discussion at conferences can provide, but beyond the social media-based research cited above, it was surprisingly difficult to find writing on the importance of sustaining conversation or learning beyond listening to the speakers. Conferences as an opportunity for collaboration can have significant value in pushing one’s own academic research forward and opening up new avenues. There are academic conversations regarding future research, collaborations and suggestions of reading, but it might be the personal/political conversations that generate so much. The extension and development of speakers’ subject matter by audiences (in dialogue with the speakers) during the breaks is a vital part of conferences, not least for demonstrating the value of multiple voices in creating and shaping dialogue within and beyond academia.

 

McCarthy, J. F. and boyd, d.m. 2005. Digital backchannels in shared physical spaces: experiences at an academic conference. CHI ’05 Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems, April 02-07, 2005, Portland, OR, USA. (pp. 1641-1644).

McCarthy, J. F., McDonald, D. W., Soroczak, S., Nguyen, D. H., and Rashid, A. M. 2004. Augmenting the social space of an academic conference. Proceedings of the 2004 ACM conference on Computer supported cooperative work, November 06-10, 2004, Chicago, Illinois, USA (pp. 39-48).

Ross, C., Terras, M., Warwick, C., and Welsh, A. 2011. Enabled backchannel: Conference Twitter use by digital humanists. Journal of Documentation67(2), 214-237.

 

Social justice in teaching and the value of caring

There are many nice things about doing research with other people but one of the best things about being part of a group is the possibility of reflecting on your progress and sharing the responses you have to what participants tell you.

I was doing just this one evening last week, 16th June 2016, as a member of my research group had shared how her students had responded to her telling them about an incident or a turn in her own life and experiences.

We are researching the place of social justice and socio-cultural issues in Physical Education Teacher Education programmes. I am in my share of the data generation phase in universities mainly in the UK at the moment (it’s an international project covering the USA and NZ as well). I replied to my research group to appreciate the story that had been shared and to express what value there is in doing work on social justice: it can be hard but energising – vital maybe. I said that a recent interview participant of mine had said something on these lines recently: we teach social justice because we just have to … it is about fairness in all aspects of life, not just in sport or physical education but because those fields feed into and from all our social worlds. Because we care and want a better world.

We were reflecting at the time on the aftermath of the Orlando shooting in the USA so our thoughts were geared towards how we can respond to these events and the hate that caused them in our teaching and research about social justice. I had also seen the news that day that MP Jo Cox had been attacked and was in hospital.

It’s not just an abstract concept, social justice; we are dealing with real lives and events, not political correctness. The personal stories make all the difference.

After I sent the email, I looked at the news and learnt that Jo Cox had died as a result of her injuries. The email conversation then seemed to mean so much more to me.

There are not always opportunities to tell our students we care nor might we often demonstrate it (emotional labour being something that might be sidelined in neoliberal academic practice) but one of the elements of teaching social justice and socio-cultural issues must be being a socially just and caring teacher. Addressing the ‘isms’ in education (Dodds, 1993) gets more complex all the time: no longer just sexism, racism and ablism but homophobia, xenophobia, Islamophobia affect teaching and learning in physical education, and then I can’t forget teaching about privilege: class, racial and male privilege, also British citizenship privilege and English speaking privilege seem important now.

I support the things Jo Cox stood for and worked hard for, though I didn’t know of her before 16th June. I am also REMAIN for the EU referendum. I have read so many powerful arguments for remaining over the last few days and cannot articulate it as well, so in brief. We are better as a part of the EU for our environment, our universities, our rights and because being part of something larger – not turning away from others – is important. Being in the EU isn’t just about immigration and refugees, but a lot of the words being expended around the referendum have been about those topics. While anyone’s individual vote to leave might not be xenophobic, that is what the leave campaign has been built on. Leave proposes a Britain that is insular and right wing (also, they aren’t going to spend any saved money on the NHS). I vote remain to say that the type of country I want is one that welcomes, connects, cares and works with other people across difference because this is part of social justice work to me.

Dodds, P. (1993). Removing the ugly ‘isms’ in your gym: Thoughts for teachers on equity. In Evans, J. (ed.) Equality, education and physical education, 28-39. London: Falmer Press

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