A genealogy of the governance of the body in physical education in England from 1902 to 2016.

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Since 1902 physical education has been constituted as a governable problem in England. It is argued in this thesis that there is a close relationship between physical education pedagogy and policy, and the construction and regulation of the body. Key ‘problems’ of public health, moral/social behaviour, class and gender dominate the literature on the governance of physical education. In addressing these ‘problems’, scholars have drawn from two of Foucault’s power triad; governmentality in relation to health aspects of physical education, or discipline in physical education. Through the application of a genealogical approach, this thesis examines how governmentality is a central modality of power across a 114-year timeline (1902-2016), and the ways in which different mentalities of rule are contingent on, and variously constituted through, discipline and sovereignty. My research questions focus on what forms of governing have historically governed bodies in physical education in England, what the effects of these forms of governing have been on the construction of bodies, and how these different forms of governing have intersected with one another and with what implications for the construction of bodies.

Foucauldian-inspired literature on governmentality recognises the complex, contradictory and contingent foundations upon which (body) governance is based. In order to explore the rationalities and discourses through which different forms of governing have been constituted in physical education, historical physical education documents and associated policies, reports and Acts were selected as the forms of evidence. These facilitated a diagnostic methodology, whereby the ‘symptoms’ (singular rationalities and discourses) were able to be isolated, grouped and categorised. In doing so, governmentality was shown to intertwine regularly with discipline and sovereign power. Utilising such mundane texts, which are so often overlooked by physical education scholars, the thesis reveals power forms and their effects at the micro-levels of social practices, along with accidents, surprises, derivations and false assumptions.

The six core findings of this thesis illuminate how the body has been historically governed by various forms of governing (research question 1). Healthism is identified as a form of governing that underpins contemporary physical education with links to national efficiency-focused discursive practices of public health that surfaced during the first half of the twentieth century. Self-regulation and personal responsibility discourses emerged as enduring forms of governing in physical education across the time frame, revealing intimate links with the body and morality. The rationality of competition is found to have increased in significance from the Second World War onwards. National efficiency developed into a core rationality in the first half of the twentieth century, and traces of it are also apparent after this time. The findings challenge class- and gender-based rationalities and discourses in physical education that have been deemed pervasive by leading scholars in the field who employ different methodologies (research question 2). Significantly, implications for the construction of bodies highlight how the rationalities and discourses of healthism, competition, self-regulation and personal responsibility have dominated (research question 3). The findings affirm that a genealogical approach is well placed to challenge the assumed stable foundations through which present forms of governing physical education in England operate, unsettling the ‘taken-for-granted’ in the governance of physical education through non-linear and non-teleological historical approaches. Overall, these findings offer a substantive and theoretical contribution to knowledge in the field of physical education, confirming this school subject to be a technology where governmentality intertwines with discipline and sovereign power to constitute particular ways of corporeal governance.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Charles Sturt University
  • Bridges, Donna, Principal Supervisor
  • Higgins, Vaughan, Co-Supervisor, External person
Place of PublicationAustralia
Publication statusPublished - 2019


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