18 SES 04, Political Landscapes in Physical Education and Sports Coaching
Western(ised) societies are characterised by the pervasive influence of consumer culture (Featherstone, 2007). The effects of consumerism are linked to neoliberal and market influences in societies (Featherstone, 2010, 2014), which emphasise certain clothing brands and idealise/normalise particular body types. Consumer culture plays a persuasive role in society, contributing to the idealisation and normalisation of slim, fit, toned and youthful bodies (Schniter & Shields, 2014). Importantly, consumerism, globalisation and the influences of the market have also reached the field of Physical Education (PE) and sports (Fitzclarence, 1990; Kirk, 2004). Research suggests that PE and sports professionals may aim to achieve the ideal body stereotypes that are portrayed in the (social/mass) media and that they may link their professional subjectivities with the sports brands that they wear, raising potential concerns about social justice for professionals who cannot afford to purchase expensive garments from high status brands.
The negative effects of media body images on self-esteem, body satisfaction and confidence have been widely investigated (e.g. Boyce, Kuijer, & Gleaves, 2013; Robinson et al., 2017). However, the impact of these messages on PE teachers’ subjectivities of bodies warrants further examination, given their influential professional roles as teachers of the body and health. While most of the literature investigating consumerism and privatisation in PE has focused on schools outsourcing PE (Evans & Davies, 2004), little research has yet been conducted to examine the influences of the market on PE teachers’ subjectivities of bodies and their professionalism. The aim of this paper is, therefore, to explore how consumerism influences PE teachers’ subjectivities of bodies and their professional practice. The research questions that guided this investigation are: ‘What are the influences of (social/mass) media images and messages on PE teachers?’ and ‘How does consumer and neoliberal culture influence PE teachers practices?’.
Consumerist surveillance: The Panopticon of the market
The principle of the Panopticon (Foucault, 1980), a system of surveillance first introduced into European prisons in the eighteenth century, depicts a powerful mechanism to control the body. Subjects being watched (or who feel they are being watched) internalise the gaze and regulate their behaviours and subjectivities towards a certain norm (Webb & Quennerstedt, 2010). Given the commercialisation and expansion of the contemporary health and fitness industries, the panoptic gaze is present in texts and images of fitness, health and exercise-related (social/mass) media, functioning as an economy of visibility (Duncan, 1994). In a highly visual(ised) society, “not only do the few see the many (Panopticon), but also, the many see the few (Synopticon) … the Panopticon functions to discipline the body, the Synopticon disciplines our consciousness” (Azzarito, 2009, p. 22). In this way, the Synopticon contributes to the internalisation of dominant discourses and the lack of critical reflection.
Texts and images produced by the (social/mass) media reinforce dominant discourses on health and fitness, contributing to an exacerbated gaze towards bodies. These discourses legitimate certain tendencies and practices under ‘manufactured consent’ (Herman & Chomsky, 2002), resulting in a feeling of emptiness that can only be filled with more consumption. This type of control results in an aggravated compulsive consumption of goods and services provided by multinational companies which impose homogeneity as a new form of surveillance (Castro Orellana, 2009). This occurs, of course, within the neoliberal context of apparent autonomy and free choice. Consumer culture is obsessed with the highly visible body (Featherstone, 2010), and significantly, PE teachers operate in a context of magnified embodiment (Webb & Quennerstedt, 2010).
The participants in this study were PE teachers working in primary and secondary schools in Spain. Fifteen teachers volunteered to participate in the study, of whom seven were females and eight males, aged between 28 and 37 at the time of the interviews. All participants held undergraduate and postgraduate degrees related to PE and had a minimum of three years’ working experience. To obtain a teaching degree, PE teachers in Spain must study at the university level for four years. A master’s degree is required to teach in secondary schools, which typically takes one year of full-time study to obtain. Teachers who wish to work in state schools must pass a further exam after obtaining their master’s degree. However, for private schools, this is not required. Ethical clearance was gained through the university and pseudonyms have been used throughout when reporting data to ensure anonymity. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with the participants, each lasting between 60 and 90 minutes. The interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed verbatim. Questions were used to guide the dialog but the interviews were largely conversational in style. Questions relevant to this paper that were asked in the interviews included: ‘Do you think you are influenced by consumerism? If so, in which way/s?’, ‘How do you think consumerism may influence your teaching practices?’, ‘Do you think that students’ perceptions of their PE teacher are influenced by the clothes the teachers wear?’ Data were analysed using a thematic content analysis. Themes and categories were constructed from the data, which are presented in three main categories: 1) Body shape ideals, 2) Sports brands, and 3) The sports supplements imperialism.
The participants of this study were influenced by the body images portrayed in the media in terms of their ideal self-presentation, their decisions regarding the clothing they wore, and their choices regarding sports supplements consumption. While the Spanish secondary school curriculum clearly states that students need to learn how to critically value social habits related to consumption, these teachers were not always capable of being critical consumers themselves. Indeed, some recognised that they may have been transmitting a hidden curriculum to their students via their clothing choices. They constantly faced contradictory and problematic positions regarding what they wore, what and how they taught, and the effects of messages and images promoted by the media. The results of this study suggest that PE teachers’ professional subjectivities may be significantly influenced by dominant social values originated from the market and by the effects of neoliberalism. From this perspective, PE constitutes an instance of consumerist surveillance in contemporary societies. The PE teachers were consciously influenced by consumerist values, while simultaneously supporting consumerism by ‘choosing’ to buy specific brands and sports supplements. Mainly through advertising, society and consumerism have repressive effects associated with the ‘cult of the body’ (Tinning & Glasby, 2002), which affected the participants’ practices and contributed to the construction of a problematic relationship between their professional subjectivities and their subjectivities of bodies.
Azzarito, L. (2009). The Panopticon of physical education: pretty, active and ideally white. Physical Education & Sport Pedagogy, 14(1), 19–39. Boyce, J. A., Kuijer, R. G., & Gleaves, D. H. (2013). Positive fantasies or negative contrasts: the effect of media body ideals on restrained eaters' mood, weight satisfaction, and food intake. Body Image, 10(4), 535–543. Castro Orellana, R. (2009). La ciudad apestada: Neoliberalismo y postpanoptico. Revista de Ciencia Política, 29(1), 165-183. Duncan, M. (1994). The politics of women's body images and practices: Foucault, the panopticon, and shape magazine. Journal of Sport & Social Issues, 18(1), 48–65. Evans, J., & Davies, B. (2004). Pedagogy, symbolic control, identity and health. In J. Evans, B. Davies, & J. Wright (Eds.), Body knowledge and control. Studies in the sociology of physical education and health (pp. 3–18). New York: Routledge. Featherstone, M. (2007). Consumer culture and postmodernism. London: Sage. Featherstone, M. (2010). Body, Image and Affect in Consumer Culture. Body & Society, 16(1), 193–221. Featherstone, M. (2014). Luxury, consumer culture and sumptuary dynamics. Luxury, 1(1), 47–69. Fitzclarence, L. (1990). The body as commodity. In D. Rowe & G. Lawrence (Eds.), Sport and Leisure: Trends in Australian popular culture (pp. 96–108). Sydney: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. Foucault, M. (1980). Power/Knowledge. New York: Pantheon Books. Herman, E. S., & Chomsky, N. (2002). Manufacturing consent. New York: Pantheon. Kirk, D. (2004). Towards a critical history of the body, identity and health: Corporeal power and school practice. In J. Evans, B. Davies, & J. Wright (Eds.), Body knowledge and control. Studies in the sociology of physical education and health (pp. 52–67). New York: Routledge. Robinson, L., Prichard, I., Nikolaidis, A., Drummond, C., Drummond, M., & Tiggemann, M. (2017). Idealised media images: The effect of fitspiration imagery on body satisfaction and exercise behaviour. Body Image, 22, 65–71. Schniter, E., & Shields, T. W. (2014). Ageism, honesty, and trust. Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics, 51, 19–29. Tinning, R., & Glasby, T. (2002). Pedagogical work and the 'Cult of the Body': Considering the role of HPE in the context of the 'New Public Health'. Sport Education and Society, 7(2), 109–119. Webb, L., & Quennerstedt, M. (2010). Risky bodies: health surveillance and teachers’ embodiment of health. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 23(7), 785–802.
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