Defining Physical Education (Routledge Revivals): The Social Construction of a School Subject in Postwar Britain (Hardback) book cover

Defining Physical Education (Routledge Revivals)

The Social Construction of a School Subject in Postwar Britain

By David Kirk

© 2012 – Routledge

178 pages

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Paperback: 9780415508100
pub: 2011-10-31
Hardback: 9780415508094
pub: 2011-10-31
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First published in 1992, David Kirk’s book analyses the public debate leading up to the 1987 General Election over the place and purpose of physical education in British schools. By locating this debate in a historical context, specifically in the period following the end of the Second World War, it attempts to illustrate how the meaning of school physical education and its aims, content and pedagogy were contested by a number of vying groups. It stresses the influence of the culture of postwar social reconstruction in shaping these groups’ ideas about physical education. Through this analysis, the book attempts to explain how physical education has been socially constructed during the postwar years and, more specifically, to suggest how the subject came to be used as a symbol of subversive, left wing values in the campaign leading to the 1987 election. In more general terms, the book provides a case study of the social construction of school knowledge.

The book takes an original approach to the question of curriculum change in physical education, building on increasing interest in historical research in the field of curriculum studies. It adopts a social constructionist perspective, arguing that change occurs through the active involvement of competing groups in struggles over limited material and ideological (discursive) resources. It also draws on contemporary developments in social and cultural theory, particularly the concepts of discourse and ideological hegemony, to explain how the meaning of physical education has been constructed, and how particular definitions of the subject have become orthodoxes. The book presents new historical evidence from a period which had previously been neglected by researchers, despite the fact that 1945 marked a watershed in the development of the understanding and teaching of physical education in schools.


Defining Physical Education was originally published in twenty years ago, but my impression is that it still has a very high relevance. I think that the book .. is invaluable reading for anyone with an interest in the situation and developments in the sports and health - Håkan Larsson, Nordic Sport Science Forum, 2013

Table of Contents

1. Defining Physical Education: Crisis, Conflict and a Recent Debate 2. Curriculum History and Physical Education as Discourse 3. Politics, Culture and Education in Postwar Britain 4. Gymnastic s and Gender: Contesting the Meaning of Physical Education 5. The Games Ethic, Mass Secondary Schooling and the Consolidation of Traditional Physical Education 6. Health, Fitness and the Rise of Scientific Functionalism 7. The Social construction of Physical Education: Connecting Past, Present and Future

About the Series

Routledge Revivals

Are there elusive titles that you need and have been trying to source for years but thought that you would never be able to find?

Well this may be the end of your quest – here is a fantastic opportunity for you to discover past brilliance and purchase previously out of print and unavailable titles by some of the world’s most eminent academic scholars.

Drawing from over 100 years of innovative, cutting-edge, publishing Routledge Revivals is an exciting new programme whereby key titles from the distinguished and extensive backlist of the many acclaimed imprints associated with Routledge will be re-issued.

The programme draws upon the illustrious backlists of Kegan Paul, Trench & Trubner, Routledge & Kegan Paul, Methuen, Allen & Unwin and Routledge itself.

Routledge Revivals spans the whole of the Humanities and Social Sciences, and includes works by some of the world’s greatest thinkers including Emile Durkheim, Max Weber, Simone Weil, Martin Buber, Karl Jaspers and Max Beloff.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
EDUCATION / Physical Education