Tag Archives: teaching

Teaching for and about social justice in sport sociology and physical education (report from BSA Sport Study Group workshop)

On 23rd February 2018 I led a workshop at the BSA Sport Study Group’s teaching sport sociology day at the University of Northampton. My workshop was on teaching for and about social justice in sport sociology. Here’s an overview of some of the things we discussed…

My motivation in presenting this workshop was to continue some of the work my social justice research group has been doing in physical education and sport pedagogy circles, but broadening it out to other areas of sport education, like sport sociology. In this field, it is more common to have a sociocultural perspective than it is in teacher education, purely because that is the main subject content. However, a sociocultural perspective or subject area doesn’t necessarily mean a socially just or critical perspective. So, questions that we have posed in the social justice project with teacher educators, concerning how they came to know about sociocultural issues and how/if they have developed their knowledge, are still relevant in this other field.

I went into the workshop kind of with an assumption: that equity, diversity and justice are generally good things that we should work to further in our higher education environments, for the success of our students and for the people they may work with in the future as teachers, coaches, health practitioners, sport developers, managers.

I asked the group, firstly, how they would define social justice. Here are two (poor!) images of their responses:


There are a range of responses here:

Equality, fairness, inclusion, redistribution, asking questions, challenging inequalities, addressing failures, the process toward achieving change

One is slightly cynical if I may say so:

‘[social justice is] a phrase I hear bandied about’

I would say that is true! It might be a phrase that we hear lots of without fully knowing what it is supposed to refer to. Yet, it does indeed refer to a number of things, depending on the perspective of the writer, and this nebulous meaning has been discussed in the literature and in my research group’s forthcoming paper Hill et al. ‘Conceptualising social justice and sociocultural issues’.

I then asked the group to discuss a couple of questions to understand their previous experiences of learning about social justice, equity or diversity. In my research with physical education teacher educators (forthcoming), three ways of developing knowledge came up: formal education (e.g. learning about equality issues on your degree programme), personal experience (e.g. having experience of being marginalised), and professional experience (e.g. being in a job supporting marginalised students). At this workshop, I asked participants to use Padlet to share their discussion points. Padlet is an online pinboard that allows users to post text or links and then make comments on them. The Padlet is here to view. Some answers to the question concerning how they learnt to teach about social justice issues were:

‘it is rarely discussed in teaching and learning qualifications’

‘…through osmosis…’

‘no formal learning experiences’

‘through trial and error’

These are useful answers to reflect on, because amongst a group of sociologically-trained researchers, education for teaching about social issues and justice seems rare (I think this mirrors concerns across academia that the training for an academic job does not train us for the realities of teaching, project management, service work and so on).

Then participants shared what they need in order to learn more or to be able to include more social justice in their teaching. Again they responded using Padlet and there was a distinct request for case studies, resources or examples of how others have done it. This aligns with the observation above that formal learning opportunities rarely include how to teach about/for social justice. Although most sport sociologists will be aware of and use theoretical frames around equity, justice, social issues and so on in their research, ways to teach these concepts are not learnt, and so we might find ourselves trying something and using reflection to make improvements. Life experiences – whether our own or our students – are an important starting point for bringing social issues to life.

This idea was raised throughout the day by other presenters and attendees. Mark Doidge noted that one reason for running the workshop was to provide a space for sociologists – who may be isolated in sport science departments – to share teaching concerns. Many of us have diverse student groups who will enter diverse sport settings, so there is high relevance for sociological thinking about the situations we face; Ian Jones pointed out that critical thinking about sport’s benefits, and the impact of sporting events on athletes and citizens displaced by stadium building projects, should be vital for sports students. However, sociologists may be contradicting the messages that students get on other parts of their degree and so sociology may be easily invalidated; we should think then about how race, gender, class and other social issues can be embedded across different aspects of the course, not single lectures (reflection made during Kevin Hylton’s presentation).


My research on this area is ongoing and this workshop has been helpful for me in solidifying some ideas about where to go next. Anyone interested in participating in future stages of self-study and action research can email me for details: joanne.hill@beds.ac.uk.

The Padlet remains open access for any further reflections, links or examples to be added.


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

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.

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