Fit, healthy and sporty - The disciplining of boys' bodies in physical education

Year: 2012

Author: Gerdin, Göran

Type of paper: Refereed paper


This paper will report on findings from a study that examined boys' performances of gender in Physical Education (PE) at a single-sex secondary school in Auckland, New Zealand. Azzarito (2010) has recently called for the inclusion of research methods, specifically visual methodologies, which "enable young people to "speak" meaningfully about their experiences and ways of knowing about the body in physical activity contexts" (p. 155). Using a participatory visual research approach (Pink, 2001; Prosser, 2007), involving video recordings of boys participating in PE, the boys' representations and interpretations of the visual data were explored during both focus groups and individual interviews. In order to interpret the data I draw on Foucault's work on power and his disciplinary technologies in which he highlights the body as a site of disciplinary, normalising practices. This paper, in particular, employs Foucault's notions of control of activity and organisation of geneses to explore how the use disciplinary practices in PE can be seen as an attempt to turn boys' bodies into docile and functional bodies through various fitness regimes and examinations. The boys' visual representations and interpretations illuminate how this disciplinary mechanism is responsible for simultaneously constructing meanings around the normal versus the abnormal masculine body with significant impact on boys' gendered and bodily experiences in PE. The findings in particular highlight how the disciplinary techniques used in this PE setting are aimed at producing docile and functional boys' bodies which above all are fit, healthy and sporty masculine bodies. In this sense, PE can be seen as a disciplinary machinery which influences how boys inhabit and experience their bodies in different ways which may have long term consequences for how boys perceive their bodies and see themselves as physically educated beings.