Making a difference? Education and 'ability' in Physical Education

Year: 2003

Author: Evans, John

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This paper brings a speculative, sociological perspective to the nature of 'ability' in Physical Education (PE) and asks why this aspect of embodiment, with notable exceptions, has received so little critical attention in the professional discourse of PE and associated research in recent years. It is suggested that thinking about 'ability' has become a taken for granted absent presence in the discursive practices of PE in the UK, yet it variously helps configure attitudes towards the body, a sense of status, value, distinction, inclusion/exclusion and embodied self. Drawing on ideas from the theoretical work of Bernstein and Bourdieu the paper raises a number of issues about the ways in which 'ability' is constructed within the disciplines that feed the various sub-cultures of the PE profession, influencing teaching in schools and teacher education. The paper suggests that unless greater attention is given to 'physical education' rather than the interests of sport and health, the profession is unlikely to make an impact either on the 'abilities' or other cultural differences that children and young people bring to schools.