Background: Pleasure is often a key feature of school physical education (PE) and, indeed, a lot of students find pleasure in and through PE while others do not. However, pleasure is rarely considered to be of educational value in the subject (Pringle, 2010). Further, since pleasure is linked to power (Foucault, 1980; Gerdin & Pringle, 2015) it is in fact not entirely straightforward to legitimise the educational value of PE in relation to pleasure.
Purpose: In this paper, we explore how a group of boys derive pleasures from their involvement in PE, but also how these power-induced pleasures are integral to gender normalisation processes. The findings presented are particularly discussed in terms of inclusive/exclusive pedagogical practices related to gender, bodies and pleasures.
Research setting and participants: The research setting was a single-sex, boys’ secondary school in Auckland, New Zealand. Participants in this study were 60 Year 10 (age 14-15) students from two PE classes.
Data collection and analysis: Using a visual ethnographic approach (Pink, 2007) involving observations and video recordings of boys participating in PE, the boys’ representations and interpretations of the visual data were explored during both focus groups and individual interviews. The data was analysed using (a visually oriented) discourse analysis (Foucault, 1998; Rose, 2007).
Findings: By elucidating the discursive practices of PE in this setting and employing Butler’s (1993) concept of ‘materialisation’, we suggest that boy’s bodies materialise as productive and pleasurable or displeasurable bodies through submitting/subjecting to certain bodily regimes, developing embodied mastery when it comes to certain sports, and displaying bodies in particular ways. The analysis indicate that the discursive practices of PE contribute to boys’ bodies materialising as pleasurable or dis-pleasurable and the (re)production of gender in the subject as shaped by discourse and the productive effect of power.
Discussion and conclusions: In line with Gard (2008) we conclude that the focus on certain discursively constructed bodily practices at the same time continues to restrict the production of a diversity of bodily movement pleasures. Hence, traditional gender patterns are reproduced through a selection of particular sports/physical activities that all the students are expected to participate in. We propose that the ongoing constitution of privileged forms of masculinity, masculine bodies and masculine pleasures as related to fitness, health and sport and (certain) boys’ subsequent exercise of power in PE needs further critical examination.