Tag Archives: current project

Seeking participants for research: PE teacher educators and social justice teaching

Project aim

We are investigating how physical education teacher educators address and educate their students / pre-service teachers about sociocultural and social justice issues within physical education.


Teaching (and research) staff in physical education in higher education institutions. This includes those teaching on physical education teacher education programmes leading to QTS but also undergraduate and postgraduate physical education and sport programmes.

You do not have to be teaching a specific course/module on sociocultural and/or social justice issues to take part.

What you would need to do

The research involves an interview, sharing course documentation (module handbooks, reading lists, syllabi, assignment instructions) and a demographic questionnaire on your work and education history.

It should take about two hours of your time in total.

Interviews can be done in person (the researcher will visit you at your institution) or over Skype.

How to get in touch

If you would like to take part, please email Dr Joanne Hill at joanne.hill@beds.ac.uk


Body-positivity in dance: the importance of community

For World Ballet Day (1st October 2015), I talk about a recent research project carried out in London-based dance school Irreverent Dance, research that has been published as Hill, J., Sandford, R. and Enright, E. (2015). It has really amazed me what my body can now do’: boundary work and the construction of a body-positive dance community. Sport in Society. You can find the paper at http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/17430437.2015.1073946.

As a scholar of physical education and sport pedagogy, I am often on the look out for good examples of physical activity sites that offer something new for (future) teachers and coaches to learn from. It’s what can help guide developments in the ways physical education, sport and dance are taught. This led me to get in touch with Irreverent Dance, when it was coming up to a year old and offering mainly ballet classes. For me and my co-researchers, Irreverent Dance seemed to offer the sort of positive experiences and environments in physical activity that we were looking to learn from, in its challenging and alternative approaches to dance teaching and practice.

At the risk of starting on a negative point, traditional ballet teaching styles and spaces have often been considered a little exclusionary or marginalising of body sizes and shapes that don’t fit the expected in ballet. Amanda from Irreverent Dance writes here about her perspective on these aspects of ballet and why it is important to challenge them.

While there are many valuable things to say about the teaching styles found in Irreverent Dance, this piece (and the research behind it) concentrates on how the teachers and dancers worked to create a community – in and out of the studio and also online – that supported everyone in that space developing a greater sense of their own body capabilities: that is, how body positivity was encouraged. This idea, body positivity, is highlighted by Irreverent Dance in its promotional material as a central goal. Body positivity is becoming a popular idea that might counter the marginalising of anyone outside the norm. As a goal in sport and physical activity it could be useful alongside well-being, pleasure and other social or personal outcomes. So how does it work in practice? What do teachers or coaches need to do?

We sat in on some Irreverent Dance ballet classes and a showcase, and interviewed dancers and teachers, to find out what body positivity meant to them and how it was developed. Three things stood out to us:

1. Celebrating bodily capability

There was a high level of celebration of what bodies can do. This sense of achievement was expressed both in relation to specific ballet technique and in terms of general physical ability. Irreverent Dancers were able to develop their dancing ability at a pace they were comfortable with, progressing gradually through ballet grades and repeating terms if they wished. Even if the moves were not reproduced in a textbook fashion, the developments that learners had made were much more important. The learners’ reflections suggest that their understandings of the body as ‘not capable’ of doing something might have arisen in previous dance or movement experiences. Learners were instead actively encouraged to think ‘I can’ in Irreverent Dance. As a result, many felt that they could now own the identity of dancer. The community of Irreverent Dance worked hard to create a ‘freeing’ space, with a commitment to inclusion, respect and not judging others. From the first class, learners were asked to treat others and, importantly, themselves, in a positive manner.

2. Committing to gender neutrality

Alongside body positivity, another vital element of Irreverent Dance that appeared to have been built into the environment of the school was gender neutrality. Boundaries of gender in sport and physical activity are usually quite deep seated – separate competitions and classes for men and women, and distinct deals of masculine and feminine appearance or comportment. Irreverent Dance notes that traditional ballet expectations that men and women wear different outfits, different colours, do different dances and take on distinct roles can be quite limiting and normalising. Elements of dance that have typically gendered boundaries were addressed: for example, men were invited to learn to dance en pointe if they wished. Dancers commented that their perception of what their bodies could do developed positively, when heteronormative and cisnormative boundaries (in dance movement and performance) were eliminated.

3. Challenging ballet norms

A central element in the learning and community of ID was deconstructing ballet’s gender boundaries; challenging dominant notions about what gendered ballet bodies look like, what they should do and what progress must be made. Some learners reflected on how they had been looking for a dance class that would suit their ‘uncoordinated’, ‘geeky back of the class loner’ or ‘fat’ bodies. Ballet norms in the sense of technical requirements, language, music and dress styles were recognized but with gender norms being challenged or even removed, this meant that learners who would previously have not had access to ballet could find a space that was safe and positive for them.

Committing to these positions in a dance school might take a lot of work, as dancer habits can be difficult to shake off and the broader culture of ballet still promotes traditional and restrictive movements, clothing, and so on. By working together to ensure a respectful community, learning about having a positive attitude to your own and others’ bodies, identity and physical capabilities has become an integral part of Irreverent Dance, not just learning about ballet itself. In a way, this means that dancers can just learn about ballet, without worrying about how they fit in (or don’t).

My thanks again to the members of Irreverent Dance who shared their experiences.

Theoretically, this paper uses Bourdieu’s ideas of habitus and field to explore how Irreverent Dance and Dancers crossed, transformed or shifted boundaries of physical capability, gender and dance. We developed a methodology based on appreciative inquiry, a strengths-based, as opposed to deficits-based, approach to creating change.


Boundaries around normative embodiments in physical cultures can be exclusionary if one’s embodied identity does not ‘fit’. Normative boundaries are particularly marked in codified forms of dance such as ballet. Moves towards body positivity aim to challenge these normative boundaries by redefining what dancers’ bodies can look like and how they should move. This paper stems from an appreciative inquiry undertaken with one such project, a gender-neutral, LGBTQ friendly adult ballet school in the UK; a subcultural context that marks itself as distinct from broader cultures of dance. Interviews with learners are analysed through a Bourdieuian lens to explore the construction and maintenance of a body-positive subculture. Findings suggest that boundaries of ability were crossed, with celebration of all bodies’ capabilities, and boundaries of normative gender expression were transformed through a commitment to gender-neutrality and LGBTQ-friendly behaviours. However, boundaries around technical and aesthetic norms, while shifted or challenged, ultimately remained in place.

End of term round up, 2015

It’s the end of the 2014-15 academic year, and in the spirit of reflection on successes and opportunities for future years, I here round up my teaching and research goings-on over the last 12 months. (Idea borrowed from Ethan Watrall at Profhacker)


This is the second year that I have delivered the units I look after at Bedfordshire. The introductory unit in sociological and historical developments in sport (Sport and Physical Activity in Society) continues to encourage me to read widely about the sporting world and learn new ways to show how sociology can inform sport, and vice versa. Last year we had a rich range of international sporting events to draw from to help us apply sociological concepts to real-world examples – a winter Olympics and Paralympics, a men’s football World Cup, a Commonwealth Games and Le Tour de France’s trip to England. In 2015, the women’s football World Cup, and the growing concern with FIFA corruption in the early months of the year – that have recently resulted in arrests of many FIFA officials – have captured a lot of our attention. Yet despite me feeling like there’s great connections between the sociology we study and the real world of sport, there are always a few feedback forms that claim not to see any relevance to their degree programme. So a question remaining for next year is how to engage the sociological imagination of all the class.

Other particularly interesting issues for the students appear to have included gender and race equality and discrimination, going by the focus of much of the written work they produced. I have a really diverse range of people taking my unit and always try to find ways to engage them all in understanding and analysing these issues, whether they are from a social group that faces inequalities and discrimination, or whether they are learning about others’ problems for the first time. This is something there’s always room for improvement on, to enable multiple voices to be heard. I also really enjoyed adding in a closer look at commercialisation and globalisation processes throughout sport. Perhaps less successful was my attempt to enthuse students about the sociology of the body – it is my research area after all, and I hoped that a little bit of Bourdieu and Butler would be interesting – I’ll keep working on that one!

In my masters-level research methods class, I encouraged students to delve deeper into a particular aspect of methodology by taking the lead for a class. They usually presented an overview and asked some questions, often setting pre-reading for the others to get up to speed. I was pleased that most students did engage with the reading set by their peers. There were also a lot of videos shown, perhaps to hide the presenter’s nerves, so next year I will try to encourage less reliance on existing resources and more discussion for a fully critical examination of research methods.


I’ve begun two new research projects and seen one reach a sort-of conclusion this year. The new ones first.

Social Justice in Physical Education Teacher Education is an international collaboration (PI: Jennifer Walton-Fisette) aiming to understand the field of teaching social justice and critical pedagogy in PE in higher education to see how pre-service teachers are prepared to (for example) engage with diverse students or inequalities in schools. We have a methodology drafted for a two phase project: firstly with faculty and secondly with students. Phase 1 is ready to pilot over the summer. We are also looking at some grants to pursue.

The Colouring Books project (co-researcher Vladimir Martinez-Bello) was in the early stages in 2014 and this year has developed to see us write up the quantitative side of the research. We examined colouring books explicitly aimed at girls or boys for their equal representation of girl or boy characters, also asking whether they depicted more boys or girls in physical or sedentary activities and in indoor or outdoor settings. This work is under review. We are now starting to follow it up with a qualitative look at how femininities and masculinities are represented in the same colouring books. Ultimately the project seeks to analyse how children encounter representations of physical activity across curricular material, so we will be looking at other types of books too.

The case study in Positive Movement Subcultures, begun in 2013 (co-researchers Rachel Sandford and Eimear Enright), has partially reached a close, as we have seen the successful writing up of the paper that examined how a dance school for adults created a body-positive community. This work is in press. We would be interested in pursuing further case study work with other physical activity communities (movement subcultures) whether in school or community-based for young people or adults. We do strengths-based qualitative research to look at what works in successful movement subcultures – to aim to enhance experiences in that community plus find good practice that might be shared.

As the teaching year winds up, and I also look forward to the arrival of my little one in August, this is a prime time to get some things off my desk or bring projects to a natural place to pause. Predominantly this summer, my attention is on two chapters of an exciting new edition of a textbook – a new writing endeavour for me but one I am really enjoying.

Selecting a journal for a publication in a new-to-you field

One of my current projects has taken me outside of my typical academic fields into new territory (early childhood and colouring books). I love reading in this area and really delving into the topic. I don’t have to worry about getting bogged down into reams of literature, or misrepresenting something I read years ago, or getting bored due to over-familiarity. In a way, my lack of knowledge (or my ignorance!) is good for both my motivation and for the writing I will do: I think that I won’t be trying to show off my depth of knowledge and end up with a 20 page literature review, I’ll be happy with focusing on the specifics. Of course, I may end up trying to reinvent the wheel because I’ve missed something vital, or risk upsetting editors and reviewers who are much more grounded in the field than I am. I’ll try to remain aware of that.

Once the research and the resultant paper(s) are ready to make their way to these editors and reviewers, I need to select the journal(s) where I’ll send them. When I first had this thought, I had to stop and think. What on earth would be a good journal? In my own field, I have a fairly good awareness of the range of journals available. I peer review for many of them, and I have a long term publication strategy that is aiming to send my papers to the journals that are right for each paper and that will establish my name in my field. My working knowledge of each journal, and my relationships with editorial staff, mean that choosing a journal in a field I know is not really too difficult. But now I’m encountering a new field (for the meantime anyway – I’m hoping this project will grow and will be guided back into my own fields), a new set of editors, and really just lots of unknowns.

I had to return to the drawing board to think about journals for this new project.

Which journal has the best metrics?

This sprang to mind as the best way to find the “best” journal, initially. I visited the Scientific Journal Ranking (SJR) site and ran a search on journals containing a keyword related to the area my paper is in, “childhood”. For each of the journals this search returned, I made a note of the SJR number (a measure of how many cites the journal receives in a year against how many articles it published in the last three years), the h index (the journal has h papers that have h citations). Then I visited Google Scholar Metrics and ran a similar search; Scholar keeps slightly different metrics including h5-index (the h-index for articles published in the last 5 complete years; it is the largest number h such that h articles published in 2009-2013 have at least h citations each) and h5-median (the median number of citations for the articles that make up its h5-index). I did this to get as full as picture as possible. As well as enabling me to put some sort of ranking on the journals, I was able to see that some journals appear in SJR but not in Scholar. This raised a few questions for me as I wondered whether this would affect how a reference to this journal would be dealt with on my own Scholar page. Would Scholar struggle to find citations to my paper in the future? Would it not include these citations in my own h-index?

For my search, there was a clear “best” journal that had a h index twice as high as the next journal. However, I couldn’t just take that journal as best for my paper. Firstly, I had noticed that a lot of the journals I had found through the SJR searches were only founded in the last 10 years. They had significantly lower metric scores than the more established journals, suggesting to me that metrics (inadvertently or not) favour long-established journals. That makes sense, but doesn’t give us a full picture of the newer journals – what if they are becoming highly regarded? What if they are being highly cited this year (SJR’s most recent data as of 2015 is for 2013)?

So I turned to other ways to find the best journal.

Which journals have I cited in the paper?

This should also be a key factor in choosing the journal, and in my particular search, led to me dismissing some of the higher ranking journals from my SJR and Scholar searches. If you’re trying to publish in a journal whose work you have not engaged with, this will raise questions around why you thought this was a suitable journal. I once heard a journal editor say that one of the first things they do when they receive a submission is look for their journal in your reference list. You need to be engaging in the previous material in the journal in order to show you’re making a contribution to its debates.

On a related point,

Which journal takes topics like yours?

Murray (2005) states that what is acceptable for a journal is, in a way, what’s already been published there – you should be able to meet their conventions but offer something sufficiently new, a clear contribution. The questions you will need to ask yourself include, what do these conventions and new contributions look like for my target journal(s)? What will the audience know about your subject, and if your paper challenges accepted knowledge, what will the audience assume does not need to be questioned?

The clearest place to look is the journal’s aims. There it will outline the remit of the journal and the sort of topics they are interested in. In my case of “childhood” journals, I was looking for key words such as curriculum, representation, social … and steering away from journals that focused on teacher education, policy, cognitive development.

You could then skim recent topics in the journal to see whether your material suits the subject, methodological or theoretical frameworks commonly or recently used (Murray, 2005). This will give more specifics or context to how those journal aims are actually met in practice.

Who are they published by?

Is the journal published by a big publishing house? Does that put you off or encourage you? Have you published through that publisher before and was it a good experience? Do you know whether they promote their new publications, what their website is like for searching and accessing papers? Is the submission site user-friendly? You might personally be encouraged or put off by smaller, or open access, publishers, or online-only journals.

Where do highly regarded people in the field publish?

Check the websites of top-rated departments, or individuals academics you admire, to see where they publish (Murray, 2005). Of course in a new-to-you field you might not know which are the top-rated departments, but if you put any merit on university league tables that filter by department you can find some sort of rankings there.

Who is on the editorial boards?

Among other tips, Becker and Dencolo (2012) suggest looking at the editorial boards for the journals you’re considering – who is there and do you cite any of them? Do you want to work with any of them in the future? You could also drop a line to the editor introducing your paper and ask them whether they think it would be suitable and would welcome your submission.

Get advice from a knowledgeable friend

Talk to a friend or colleague who does work in the chosen field, who could advise on journal prestige (Becker and Denicolo, 2012). They might know more about recently founded journals, those to whom metrics give low scores simply because they are new and haven’t built up years of citations and impact. They might also know which editorial boards and publishers are easy to work with!

Ultimately, I have used a combination of these to help me find the best journal. The decision is not final yet, as there are three journals I’ve short listed. A little more consideration of the journals’ aims, their recent papers, and the take home message from my paper should help. This exercise in examining the journals in this new field has certainly made the way clearer.

I would love to hear your advice for selecting a journal, in comments!

Becker, L. and Denicolo, P. (2012). Publishing journal articles. London: Sage.

Murray, R. (2005). Writing for academic journals. Maidenhead: Open University Press.

Conference abstract: Girls’ meanings of their physically active bodies at the intersections of gender, race and age

This is the abstract from a conference presentation (presented at the British Educational Research Association Annual Meeting, September 2014). The work is from my PhD research.

Joanne Hill

The physical education (PE) experiences of girls of a South Asian heritage, in the UK, have recently been of some focus in working for inclusive or gender-sensitive PE programmes (e.g. Azzarito and Hill, 2013; Stride, 2013). They are often constructed as inactive, their gendered and racialised bodies rendered invisible against a white feminine norm. The voices of those young people who might be othered are increasingly valuable in working towards relevant and enjoyable learning experiences. This project in part attempts to offer further contextualised research on how girls construct themselves as active as they make sense of their physical selves as they intersect with gender, ethnicity and age.
The focus of this enquiry was to co-produce visual and verbal accounts of girls’ physical activity and embodied selves as they make meaning of physical activity in and out of school.
This research used a visual ethnographic framework. Students aged 13-14 in one school with an ethnically diverse population in the UK were provided with a digital camera and invited to create a two-week long photo set of the physical activities they engage in, where and with whom. Group interviews followed, during which the participant-photographers explained their photos’ meanings to each other and to the researcher (Harper, 2002). This paper concentrates on four girls’ visual narratives.
Theoretically, the paper recalls that we position ourselves in relation to the multiple narratives that are available to us, such that we have multiple embodied selves across different spaces (Cox and Thompson, 2000; Garrett, 2004).
The girls variously constructed themselves as active or able amongst different activities, physical cultures and peers. Notable themes included negotiating gender relations and normalised (South Asian) girlhood; remaining active during transitions from girlhood to young womanhood; reclaiming team games as a choice in PE; and a desire for “free” or unconstrained activity in public spaces. These girls, representing an othered group, used their visual narratives to show themselves as active agents in creating meaning for PE and physical activity. By seeing and listening to these girls’ narratives, teachers and researchers can contribute to positive engagement in PE programmes that take into account their choices and identities.

Research update: Autumn 2014

I’m back from a (unplanned) summer hiatus to give a short update on the research projects I am engaged in currently.

1. Gender in children’s colouring books: with Dr Vladimir Martinez-Bello at the Universidad de Valencia. We are looking at the representation of gender, the body and physical activity in colouring books “for girls” or “for boys”.

2. Positive Movement Subcultures: with Dr Eimear Enright (Queensland) and Dr Rachel Sandford (Loughborough) I am continuing to write about movement subcultures using an appreciative perspective – to understand what works to (re-)engage and provide positive experiences in movement and physical activity. We have one case study in an LGBTQ dance school for adults, and are seeking further case studies to expand the project.

3. Women First Revisited: I am writing on the conference conversations “in the gaps” – that occurred during questions, breaks and lunch at the one-day conference revisiting Sheila Fletcher’s book Women First on the history of the Bedford Physical Training College, for a book featuring contributions from the conference speakers.

4. South Asian girls in PE: some comparative work on South Asian girls’ experiences of PE following up from my PhD research.

5. Social justice in PETE: an international project examining the teaching of social justice in Physical Education Teacher Education across higher education institutions.

Gender in children’s colouring books

Yesterday’s research seminar (from our almost-every-week PESP seminar series here at the University of Bedfordshire) enabled me to put together a few thoughts on a current project on gender in children’s colouring books which my colleague Dr Vladimir Martinez-Bello and I are building. We are concerned with stereotypical gender representations in books aimed at girls or at boys. That is, where a publisher produces two similar books, one for girls and one for boys, with different pictures inside. We have started with three sets of colouring books (six books in total: three aimed at girls and three, from the same publishers, aimed at boys). As a significant part of the market for children’s books, colouring books encourage some creativity and imagining different worlds that children can contribute to (even if only deciding what colour to make everything).

What gender diversity is shown among the characters in the books?
In a quantitative content analysis of the six books, the coding done by our independent (adult) coders showed that books for girls overwhelmingly contain female (girl or woman) main characters. Books for boys contained 100% male main characters.

What age are the characters represented?
Often, male characters are men and female characters are girls. As a similar project in the USA noted,

‘Boys get to envision their grown up selves, whereas girls may infer that they remain young and childlike’ (Fitzpatrick and Macpherson, 2006: p.135)

Where are they shown?
Male characters were shown outside much more than female characters, who tended to be shown indoors. Male characters were more often in static poses and female characters in

Our current thoughts on the direction of the project is to delve into a more qualitative analysis, using Gillian Rose’s outline of Foucauldian discourse analysis. This concerns images’

production by, and their reiteration of, particular institutions and their practices, and their production of particular human subjects’ (Rose, 2001: p.164)

We anticipate that the social construction of gendered bodies in these colouring books will represent body tyoes and patterns of movement and comportment that reflect dominant ideologies concerning girls and boys, and that the types of and spaces for physical activity will also reflect gendered restrictions on movement that result in marginalisation and disengagement. As the project develops I will blog more results and discussion.

After my presentation it was great to listen to the resulting discussion between MA Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy students and Sport Science and Physical Activity staff from the University of Bedfordshire. Here’s my general reflections on the perspectives from the discussion (not my own words but anonymised words from participants in the discussion).

Our project has been so far constructed around adult-published colouring books and adult researcher coding. How do children define and see gender? Does it come from nurture and the relentless difference that is constructed by adults in their organisation of children’s play and education and the selling of toys? Could children’s interpretations alongside or instead of the adult coders progress the project into new areas? How would they /respond to this? Could we co-create a colouring book with children that represents a diversity of moving bodies?

Gendering of children is ubiquitous; from new baby greetings cards to the “river of pink” in the toy shop. Presents bought for a new baby girl, or for her later birthdays, invariably reflect this. Some said that there is a clearly a market for gendered toys (toys that say “for boys” or “for girls” on them), with consumers liking to choose these products (in the fear that they might get it wrong with a gender-neutral toy?) and children, it was said, go for the toy aimed at them every time. In response: that children are hard pushed to choose otherwise given the extent of this social construction of gender. The punishment for children who do not conform is potentially high. There are very few alternatives to the extreme pinkified version of feminine girlhood. A question was asked, is this a problem? In response, another pointed out that the choice to be girly-girl or hyper-feminine needs to be reflected upon – we might consider how this relates to our feminist perspectives – and recognise this as one option for girls (I’d add, and for boys, and anyone else). The solution is not more conformity but less restriction and more options for expressing and accepting diverse gender identities. It was pointed out that as a continuum, gender is much more than the two boxes of pink and blue.

There are two points then: the construction of difference between boys and girls, and the signs or symbols that are used as a result of this difference. In books for boys it is clear that there is little diversity in terms of the characters represented, but encountering a diversity of people should be seen as highly important. By all means, create a colouring book of princesses, and one of trucks and cars, but they don’t need to be labelled as for girls and for boys, respectively. What possibilities are there instead for “green books” (a nod to the pink and blue of many toys and books) – those that represent both (or rather all) interests? As Let Toys Be Toys would say, books are for all children.

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