Boys will be boys? Gendered bodies, spaces and dis/pleasures in Physical Education

University dissertation from The University of Auckland

Abstract: In this thesis I argue that in order to change the social influence of dominant discourses of gender in PE, which have previously been subject to sustained critique, there is a need to examine the discourses that constitute pleasure within PE. Such an examination is justified due to the broad social significance of pleasure but specific absence of empirical investigations within PE. My prime research questions, accordingly, asked: (i) How do boys’ performances of gender in PE articulate with dis/pleasures? (ii) How are spaces and bodies implicated in these performances? These questions were answered via ethnographic data, generated through a participatory visual research approach (Pink, 2007), involving observations, video recordings, focus groups and individuals interviews, with 60 Year 10 (ages 14-15) boys participating in PE at a single-sex boys’ secondary school in Auckland, New Zealand. In order to interpret the visual and verbal data I utilised the works of Michel Foucault and Judith Butler to explore how pleasures work as the productive effect of power (Foucault, 1985). The findings suggest that pleasures are produced in PE when boys perform gender in a way that typically conforms to discourses related to fitness, health, sport and masculinity. Beginning with a spatial analysis, I highlight how the boys derive pleasures from the power articulated in and through the performative spaces (Gregson & Rose, 2000) of PE. This exploration is extended further to a study of the discourses of PE that have co-produced these pleasures. Finally, the thesis demonstrates the materialisation (Butler, 1993) of pleasurable bodies within the discursive practices of boy’s PE. This thesis illustrates how boys’ performances of gender in PE can, correspondingly, be understood as a co-construction of pleasures, spaces and bodies, where each depends on the other so, that they are constituted reciprocally. I argue that this reciprocal constitution can be problematic as the gendered pleasures can ‘lock’ PE into ‘traditional’ forms that legitimate and produce inequitable sets of gendered power relations. That is, the discourses and relations of power in boys’ PE that produce certain pleasures can, at times, also induce dis/pleasures (e.g. as associated with exclusion, humiliation, bullying and homophobia). In sum, this thesis draws attention to pleasures as an educational, productive practice in boys’ PE while at the same time offering a critique of such pleasurable moments within this context. PE teachers need to be aware that they are not only enabling students’ experiences of pleasures, but they are also influential in (re)producing gendered understandings about the dis/pleasures of learning in, through and about movement in PE.

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