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Still feeling like a spare piece of luggage: young disabled people's construction of embodied identities within physical education and sport

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This thesis explores young peoples' experiences of physical education and sport and considers the ways in which these experiences contribute to identity formation and understandings of self.

Ten young disabled people attending two secondary schools in the Midlands of England participated in a series of focus group discussions and completed free-time diaries. In this study, I focus on the insights of young disabled people as much physical education and sports research has failed to account for the insights of these young people. Theoretically, I draw on social and medical model understandings of disability and extend these understandings by employing Pierre Bourdieu's conceptual tools. In particular, these tools bridge the structure/agency dichotomy found within medical and social model understandings of disability.

The data generated from this study reveals multifaceted relations between school, physical education, sport, the family, friends and role models. Within and between these spheres, young disabled people begin to understand themselves and the position and meaning of physical education and sport in relation to their lives. Within a school context, it is evident that a paradigm of normativity prevails and is expressed through informal and formal discursive practices. Indeed, the physical education habitus serves to affirm this normative presence and is manifest through conceptions of ability that recognise and value certain characteristics and competencies more than others. In this context, students measured themselves, and perceived they were measured by others, against a mesomorphic ideal. In addition, masculinity was expressed in a manner that valued competitive and aggressive forms of activity. Within physical education, value was also placed on high levels of motoric competence. For the focus group students, difference is embodied within physical education and serves to reinforce wider practices within school that distinguish disabled students as different from other students. Beyond a school context, this study explores students' understandings of their free-time experiences and, in particular, free-time sport. Although students had different experiences of free time, it is clear that this sphere of life is an important site for understanding and positioning themselves in relation to others. Indeed, there are similarities between free time and school (physical) education in relation to the ways in which normative values associated with the body and conceptions of performance prevail. For a small number of students, it appears that the family habitus has disrupted these normative values and constructed disability and sport positively.

This study also highlights the limited extent to which different sites of participation and mediators interrelate in order to support any kind of continuity or progression in sport. Although the key mediator within multiple sites seem to be parents, their support remained isolated to specific issues within sites rather than providing support between sites. Taken together, these findings reveal a number of substantive issues that have emerged from this study, including the role schools and physical education play in reproducing social inequalities, disability as a fluid and contradictory construct and the notion of complex sporting identities.

This thesis concludes by discussing the implications of this study in relation to researching with young disabled people, the practice of physical education and the provision of disability sport opportunities. This study demonstrates not only the complexities of identity formation but also the fluid position that disability has within this process.



editors comments

Editor's comments -  [ The above is the abstract from an original PhD thesis; the final publication in the study for the author in pursuit of a doctorate; such works result in the author being awarded a PhD and the title of Dr. by an appropriately accedited University. PhD's are the culmination of a number of years work by the author supervised by two (normally PhD or MPhil qualified) academics and, with the addition of a further appropriately qualified academic (not normally from the same University) as part of a viva-voce examination team. Successful research work at PhD level is designed to add to the body of knowledge in the study area at some level.

A PhD thesis often forms the foundation for journal articles for the author and leads to further enquiry in the form of what is called post-doctoral research. These works are characterised by comprehensive literature reviews, sometimes traditional yet multiple (and often mixed) methods, interesting if not ground breaking discussions and always directional signs toward further research; they provide for undergraduates not only a model for the possibilities for further study but a gift in terms of references in any given subject areas.

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APA reference for this document


Reference :   Fitzgerald, H.F. (2008). Still feeling like a spare piece of luggage: young disabled people's construction of embodied identities within physical education and sport. Loughborough: Loughborough University


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Access this URL (, H. PhD Fitzgerald, H.F. (2008). Still feeling like a spare piece of luggage: young disabled people's construction of embodied identities within physical education and sport. Loughborough: Loughborough University
Last Updated on Tuesday, 02 April 2013 15:49