Can physical education be meaningful: The role of embodied subjectivity in enhancing self and social learning?

Malcolm Thorburn*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

This paper critically considers the pragmatic and phenomenological-informed conceptual possibilities for increasing meaningfulness in physical education via a greater emphasis on embodied subjectivity. The paper begins by considering why greater conceptual clarity is needed in this area and then focuses on why the centrality of lived-body experience in relation to educational planning can benefit from merging the phenomenology of Merleau-Ponty with the reflective awareness component of Dewey’s pragmatism. Merleau-Ponty’s exploration of how the ‘body-subject’ provides a holistic way of conceiving relations between the body and the world. Likewise, Dewey’s writings on habit are reviewed as for Dewey habits are not mere repetitious events but socially shaped predispositions which enable feelings and judgements to be shown in response to settings. The paper then reviews curriculum and pedagogical related arguments which focus on the challenges of developing experience and language concurrently and in so doing reviews some concerning critical matters professionals require to address. The paper concludes by advancing measured claims that if applied concerns could be overtaken there is sufficient theory to practice coherence to argue that a progressive programme which focused on the self and the social could become a plausible basis for arguing that physical education is meaningful.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)53-66
Number of pages15
JournalCurriculum Studies in Health and Physical Education
Issue number1
Early online date11 Nov 2020
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jan 2021

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • embodied subjectivity
  • embodiment
  • learning
  • physical education


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