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’
‘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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Padlet remains open access for any further reflections, links or examples to be added.