The concept of community and its social ecology

Year: 2008

Author: O'Connor, Justen

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

We present a case for physical education that situates it within a social ecology of movement connected to community, as opposed to one that is defined by the activities that physical education (and outdoor) traditionally privileges. To be a 'physically educated' member of a 'community' is a confused notion with its performative, socially critical and public health paradigms all competing for territory in physical education discourses.

The term community itself is vague. It refers to a geographically defined social group. Expanded, it accommodates collections of people integrated within a particular social structure, or who share a sense of identity or belonging to a 'group' or 'network' extending beyond geographical boundaries. Physical educators are now being asked to develop understandings of 'wellbeing' that move beyond the focus on the individual and his/her performance and health into a 'post-traditional' climate that will enable future citizens to participate in creating healthy and active 'communities' for selves and others.

Provision exists in various national and international curriculum frameworks for physical education to supplement the dominant performative sports and activity-driven discourse. Physical educators have struggled to find a coherent theoretical frame through which connections can be forged between physical education and community wellbeing. In the same way, emerging socio-ecological models in the discourse of health promotion are now being applied to populations and (macro) 'communities'; they can be 'drilled down' to the (meso-level) school community as a neighbourhood-type version nested within broader populations as well as to the micro and situational level of the home and family.

In schools, in addition to the provision of structured activities like sport education or teaching games for understanding, the Health and Physical Education curriculum now entertains unstructured physical activity, active transport, independent mobility, natural play spaces and community sport, constructed through various community possibilities. In this sense, active communities is a fluid term where education is dispersed from the school and into its extended community and geography and, potentially vice-versa.

In locating the physical education curriculum within social ecological theory, physical educators can extend the role of games, sports, health and fitness discourses while addressing the question of how learning in physical activity occurs in and through our bodies, in various movement experiences, and in relation to different levels of social participation and community engagement.

We outline a case study of how an undergraduate physical education program can more emphatically promote and respond to the experiences of its participants and their engagement in physically active communities while allowing greater opportunities for expanding their own imaginative movement experiences outside of the scheduled class time. By transgressing curriculum areas and viewing the school as a connected community in which movement occurs at a number of levels, a socio-ecological framework can establish physical education as much more than a collection of disaggregated activities.