Towards an activist approach to research and advocacy for girls and physical education

Oliver, Kimberly L. and Kirk, David (2016) Towards an activist approach to research and advocacy for girls and physical education. Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy, 21 (3). ISSN 1740-8989 (

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Background: Much research and practice in the field of physical activity and physical education for girls has been trapped in a reproductive cycle of telling the ‘same old story’ as if it is news over and over again, since at least the 1980s. A thread running through this narrative is that despite all of this research and related interventions, we have yet to find the ‘solution’ to the ‘problem’ of girls and physical education. As a result, little progress appears to have been made in terms of changing things for the better for the majority of girls. Purpose: We offer an activist approach to work with girls in physical education as one possible means of breaking the reproductive cycle of research and media reporting that we suggest has worked against improving the situation for girls. We take a pragmatist stance to ask ‘can we make the situation for girls better than it is currently?’ and ‘how might we go about this task?’ We propose an activist approach not as ‘the solution’ to the ‘problem’ of girls in physical education, but as one worthy of testing in practice. Process: We begin by outlining the broad features of an activist approach to working with girls in physical education. We then overview the findings of a growing body of activist studies in physical education and identify four critical elements that we believe need to be present in order to assist girls to identify, name and negotiate barriers to their engagements with physical education and their participation in physically active lifestyles. We highlight one example of an activist study that shows how the four critical elements interact in their work with girls. Discussion: We argue for the need for a consensus around improving the current situation of girls in physical education, for a scaling up of this activist work as it is tested in practice, and for the coincidental development of a pedagogical model for working with girls in physical education.