[ Back to EurekAlert! ] Public release date: 26-Feb-2013
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Economic & Social Research Council

A picture of health in schools

Feeling comfortable and confident in sport, health, or PE can be very difficult for some young people who can be seen as a 'risk' of becoming obese. Young people from ethnic minorities, especially girls, are more likely to be physically inactive and unhealthy.

This perception needs to be addressed and challenged in school physical education (PE) according to research funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), which shows how school provision could make use of visual approaches in developing young people's critical learning about the body.

When Dr Laura Azzarito served as Senior Lecturer at Loughborough University, she worked with 14 and 15 year olds in multi-cultural urban schools in the Midlands using digital cameras to compile 'visual diaries' of their experiences in health and physical activity.

Parts of the findings have been presented at school-based art exhibitions, community-based arts centres, and the New Walk Museum and Art Gallery, Leicester. These exhibitions included students' own photographs and words that captured their ways of seeing, discussing and reflecting upon the significance of physical activity in their everyday lives.

A key theme that emerged from the research is the ways in which young people saw and talked about themselves as 'sporting bodies'. Typically, one male student selected photographs of himself in which he displayed shooting skills in basketball and ball control in football. Another student provided a technical narrative, with his pictures portraying him performing different tennis strokes as might be found in a training manual or magazine.

By contrast, the diaries of South Asian girls did not tend to include images of themselves participating in sports that were organised, competitive or required highly specialised actions. Instead, their diaries showed how, for example, they move in the world with friends and family, or bond with girlfriends through recreational sport and physical activity.

These accounts highlighted visible gender, race and social class boundaries. All of the South Asian girls saw themselves as recreational, contrary to stereotypically passive or subordinated South Asian ideas of femininity. More generally, the boys and girls taking part in the study saw themselves as 'moving bodies' given the educational and economic resources available to them, rather than the 'bodies at risk' associated with health scares.

Azzarito commented: "Despite calls for a curriculum that encourages greater physical literacy, schools don't provide educational spaces in which young people can think critically about the messages they receive concerning body, health and physical activity. School PE provision could make good use of the visual in developing young people's learning about the body and in their imagining of who they want to become. It could be used by teachers to help young people understand the role of the media on the development of their physicality."

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For further information contact:

Dr Laura Azzarito
Email: azzarito@tc.columbia.edu
Telephone: 00 1 212 870 8601

ESRC Press Office:
Sarah Nichols
Email: sarah.nichols@esrc.ac.uk
Telephone: 01793 413122

Jeanine Woolley
Email: jeanine.woolley@esrc.ac.uk
Telephone: 01793 413119

Notes for editors

1. This release is based on findings from 'Moving in my World: an Investigation into Young People's Embodiment and its Impact on Participation in Physical Activity', funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and carried out by Dr Laura Azzarito when she was a Senior Lecturer at Loughborough University. Currently she is an Associate Professor at Teachers College, Columbia University, USA

2. Images are available upon request.

3. The project contributed to the 'Social Life of Methods: ESRC Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change (CRESC) Conference' at Oxford University through a symposium on the usefulness of visual methods in physical culture studies, the sharing of findings from the project with the academic community and staging of the exhibition.

4. Over 60 student-researchers used digital cameras and created visual diaries in a two year visual participatory ethnography conducted in multicultural, urban schools in the Midlands. Formal interviews were then conducted with each participant using a photo-feedback technique, and parts of the findings were exhibited at the researched schools, school-based art exhibitions, community-based arts centres, and a local museum. Content analysis of the photos included in each diary allowed for patterns (ie gender, social class, and race) to emerge.

5. The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK's largest organisation for funding research on economic and social issues. It supports independent high quality research which has an impact on business, the public sector and the third sector. The ESRC's total budget for 2012/13 is 205 million. At any one time the ESRC supports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and independent research institutes.

6. The ESRC confirms the quality of its funded research by evaluating research projects through a process of peers review. This research has been graded as good.



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