Practice, the body and research on school-based physical education and sport: The analytic tools of Pierre Bourdieu

Year: 2001

Author: Light, Richard

Type of paper: Refereed paper

Driven by recognition of its pivotal role in the social construction of gender by post-structuralist, feminist research, the body has re-emerged in the social science literature over the past two decades. This has seen a significant growth in studies on the construction of gender through the body's engagement in both sport and school-based physical education. It has also encouraged recognition of school-based physical education as a central site for the social and cultural development of young people. The irony of this increasing attention being paid to the body is, however, a lack of studies that deal with actual bodies and corporeality. Much of the writing on the body in sport and physical education is limited to abstract theorising that tends to be disembodied and distanced from day to day experiences of corporeality. Research on the social construction of the body provides valuable insight into how bodies are shaped by relations of power and how they are implicated in the legitimisation of social inequality but tends to treat the body as an 'absent presence'. This paper argues that there is a need for studies on physical education that recognise the corporeality of the body. It suggests that the conceptual tools of French sociologist, Pierre Bourdieu and his focus on practice offer a powerful means of investigating the social dimensions of sport and physical education. Bourdieu's focus on the body is unusual for mainstream sociologists and his set of key concepts offer and ideal framework for analysing the social dimensions of sport and physical education through a focus on corporeal practice. This paper outlines his key analytic concepts and suggests how they might be applied to the analysis of relationships between the body, culture, class and gender. It also draws on research conducted on rugby and soccer in schools to provide examples of how Bourdieu's work can be applied to research on school-based physical education and sport.