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Investigating Situations when Religion, Ethnicity and Gender Have a Function in Physical Education Practice
Örebro University, School of Health Sciences. (ReShape, Research in sport, health and physical education)ORCID iD: 0000-0002-1592-8018
2016 (English)Conference paper, Oral presentation with published abstract (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

This presentation concerns the intersectionality between religion, ethnicity and gender in physical education (PE). Previous research within this area has almost exclusively focused Muslim ethnic-minority girls. There is less research concerning how, and in which specific situations, these categories affect the PE practice. As a response, the purpose of this presentation is to propose a pragmatic framework to, from an intersectional perspective, investigate situations when religion, ethnicity and gender have a function in PE.  

Due to ongoing globalization- and migration processes, several Western European countries have become increasingly multi-ethnic and multi-religious. Naturally, these demographic changes have also caused increasing ethnic and religious diversity in many schools. Research concerning diversity in PE has, though, for a long time mainly focused gender (see Flintoff & Scraton 2006 for an overview in this area). We know less about other variables, such as ethnicity and religion (see e.g. Flintoff 2015, 2014, Benn et al. 2011). Furthermore, Penney (2002) notes that PE research tend to investigate diversity through ‘single issue’ research, i.e. focusing either gender or ethnicity et cetera. Accordingly, several authors within the field call for intersectional approaches (e.g. Benn et al. 2011, Flintoff et al. 2008). However, Flintoff et al. remind us that intersectionality can be a problematic concept, partly because it “raise[s] questions about whether all categories are equally important at all times” (2008 p. 75). More recently, the intersectionality between religion, ethnicity and gender has been recognized as an important research area (e.g. Stride 2014, Walseth 2013, Benn et al. 2011). This research has, though, almost exclusively focused Muslim ethnic-minority girls. Positively, there is a growing knowledge concerning this group. On the other hand, we know little about how, and in which specific situations, these categories affect the PE practice. We also know little about what categories that become important in certain situations (cf. Flintoff et al. 2008). As a response, I propose a pragmatic framework to, from an intersectional perspective, investigate situations when religion, ethnicity and gender have a function in PE.

The presentation draws upon the pragmatic philosophy of John Dewey (for similar approaches in PE research, see e.g. Quennerstedt 2013, Quennerstedt et al. 2011). Dewey (1929/2013) criticizes that divisions/categorizations (e.g. mind-world, subject-object) have been regarded as ontological starting points for human experience. In contrast, he argues that we, in immediate experience, recognizes the world as an “an unanalyzed totality” and that divisions/categorizations are “products discriminated by reflection” (Dewey 1929/2013, p. 8). Following Dewey, there are no metaphysical categories like religion, ethnicity and gender that form the starting point for experience. These are rather ‘products’ of inquiry. Hence, using Dewey’s understanding of experience provides a certain intersectional approach. Furthermore, Dewey rejects that meaning is to be found “out there” in objects, events or categories per se. Rather, he argues that meaning emerges when humans act in the environment, in processes he calls transactions (Dewey & Bentley 1949/1991). Following Dewey, meaning is not the starting point, but an outcome of transaction. By using a transactional understanding of meaning, religion, ethnicity and gender are not regarded as metaphysical starting points, but outcomes of participants (trans)actions. Thus, investigating situations when religion, ethnicity and gender have a function in PE do not concern what these categories Are, but how and when they become relevant in PE as a consequence of participants actions. Since the primary interest is not specific groups or students (e.g. Muslim girls), but situations, it becomes possible to investigate how religion, ethnicity and gender affect the PE practice. Furthermore, for who the categories may have a function is not a starting point, but an empirical question.

Five PE teachers participated in qualitative, semi-structured, interviews (Kvale & Brinkmann 2009). Following the pragmatic framework and, especially, the concept transaction, the interviews intended to explore situations when religion, ethnicity and gender have a function in PE. The teachers were, for example, asked about situations when they had changed, or had thought about to change, their lesson plans, the groupings or the arrangement because of student’s religious beliefs, origins or gender. In comparison with a significant part of previous research, the interviews did not concern specific groups or individuals (e.g. Muslim girls). Rather, the teacher were asked about situations in PE, which leaved for whose sake they, for instance, changed their lesson plans, open for empirical investigation. By reading the transcripts through the ‘analytical lens’ of situations when religion, ethnicity and gender have a function, I explored situations when these categories affect the PE practice. Through this ‘lens’, I also explored the question of in relation to who the categories had a function empirically. Furthermore, in line with Dewey’s understanding of experience, it was not decided in advance which category that may have a function in a certain citations. This was also a matter for empirical investigation. Thus, using Dewey’s understanding of experience made it possible to empirically investigate what categories that had a function in different situations (cf. Flintoff et al. 2008).

The analyzed interviews in this presentation are a part of a larger ongoing research project in which I also, by using tools from the ethnographic tradition, explore the daily PE activities in five different classes at two different schools. During a period of four months, I have visited each class one to three times a week. These occasions have included lesson observations, field notes and “small talk” with teachers and students. Data has also been gathered through interviews with students. During all interviews, the aforementioned occasions have served as a base for questions and ‘themes’. However, the interviews have also concerned activities that were not practiced during my visits (e.g. dance) and elements that I, with reference to ethical considerations, did not observe (swimming, locker room). Based on previous research (e.g. Benn et al. 2011, Dagkas et al. 2011) I nevertheless found it appropriate to include those themes.

The analysis shows several situations when religion, ethnicity and gender have a function in PE practice. All teachers had separated boys and girls at swimming lessons because Muslim girls had requested this. All teachers had also changed the dance lessons (e.g. arranged sex-segregated classes, avoided partner dance) because Muslim students (boys and girls) did not want to dance with the opposite sex. In those situations, religion and gender get clearest function, although the analysis also shows an ethnic boundary between “immigrants” and “swedes”. The teachers had also separated boys and girls at team sports, or applied different sports for the different sexes (e.g. football for boys, volleyball for girls). Although the same PE classes, these groupings/arrangements were not due to religion or ethnicity, but because of the dominance of the male gender in PE (cf. Flintoff & Scraton 2006). This are, thus, situations when gender have a function. Furthermore, by reason of the current refugee situation, all teachers had “newly arrivals” in their classes. At activities with advanced rules (e.g. certain games), there were an ethnic boundary made between “Swedes”, who understood the teachers instructions, and the “newly arrivals” who looked for a while, or got individual instructions from the teacher, before they joined. Those activities are situations when ethnicity get a function. However, the same ethnic boundary was not made in football. In this case, the “newcomers” did not seem to need to look for a while, or get individual instructions, before they joined. 

Discussion/conclusion: Investigating situations when religion, ethnicity and gender have a function in PE shows that these categories affect the PE context and, consequently, become relevant for all students and teachers. Furthermore, the analysis shows examples of situations when different categories have a function (cf. Flintoff et al. 2008).

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
EERA - European Educational Research Association , 2016.
Keywords [en]
Functional intersectionality, religion, ethnicity, gender, physical education
National Category
Sport and Fitness Sciences
Research subject
Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy; Sports Science
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:oru:diva-69876OAI: oai:DiVA.org:oru-69876DiVA, id: diva2:1259171
Conference
European Conference on Educational Research (ECER), Dublin, Ireland, August 22-26, 2016
Available from: 2018-10-28 Created: 2018-10-28 Last updated: 2019-04-02Bibliographically approved

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