What does a socio-cultural perspective mean in Health and Physical Education?

Deb Clarke, Jan Wright, Ken Cliff

Research output: Book chapter/Published conference paperChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


While a sociocultural perspective is a relatively recent curriculum change in health and physical education (HPE), it can be seen to have emerged out of curriculum critique and dissatisfaction that began as early as the 1980s and gathered momentum throughout the 1990s. As a perspective through which to interpret HPE content and issues, it has important implications both for the work of HPE teachers and for how these teachers are prepared through preservice teacher education programs. Firstly, because its sociological and cultural studies underpinnings represent a significant departure from the predominantly medico-scientific, biophysical and psychological foundations of HPE, and secondly, because its attention to social and cultural influences on health put it in opposition to notions which locate responsibility for health almost solely in the individual and their decisions.
In this chapter we begin by drawing on the voices of practicing teachers and HPE literature to offer a definition of a sociocultural perspective. We reflect on its emergence and consider the relationship between a sociocultural perspective and associated curriculum changes such as critical pedagogy and critical inquiry. Syllabus documents from Australia and New Zealand are used to highlight the often contested nature of a sociocultural perspective within official curriculum documents. The latter part of the chapter draws on recent research from two classrooms to consider what a sociocultural perspective might look like in practice. While HPE research from the previous two decades suggests a number of likely tensions (for example, because of its status as an apparatus of health promotion within the New Public Health framework, HPE has tended to be privilege discourses of personal responsibility for health, whereas a sociocultural perspective requires consideration of the social and cultural environments and circumstances in which individuals act), there has been little research to date which has explicitly examined a sociocultural perspective as a curriculum change in
practice. In this next section we present findings from recently completed PhD research that sought to address this issue (Cliff 2007). This research was conducted in the Australian State of New South Wales (NSW) and used the
implementation of the newly re-written Personal Development, Health and Physical Education (PDHPE) syllabus for students in years 7-10 (ages 12-16) (Board of Studies 2003) as the setting. While this work draws attention to a
range of discursive and institutional elements that constrain a sociocultural perspective, it also argues that a sociocultural perspective is a curriculum change that can be widely taken up – though it may require a rethinking of the
purposes and pedagogy of HPE.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHealth and Physical Education: Issues for curriculum in Australia and New Zealand
PublisherOxford University Press Australia and New Zealand
Number of pages14
ISBN (Print)978-0-19-556243-9
Publication statusPublished - 2009


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