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The socio-ecological perspective and physical education

Physical education students can explore ways to enhance, extend, inform, and critique people's deliberate use of play, exercise, sport, or other physical activity. They can do these things in relation to individuals, groups, or society as a whole. Developing a socio-ecological perspective is an essential element of programmes that aim to encourage students to challenge, question, and evaluate practices in the movement culture. It helps students to develop an understanding of the physical, mental, social, cultural, emotional, political, economic, and environmental reasons for people's involvement in the movement culture.

Developing a socio-ecological perspective enables students to identify factors associated with the movement culture and helps them to learn about the influence of movement, its role in society, and its significance to society and to individuals. This perspective allows students to gain an understanding of why and how people deliberately choose to become involved in exercise, play, games, and sport.

A socio-ecological perspective in physical education can provide a useful philosophical basis or starting point for critical thinking, enabling students to consider and analyse:

  • concepts of power and privilege within the movement culture
  • social structures within the movement culture
  • underlying motivations of groups within the movement culture in fostering or resisting social change
  • competing interests within the movement culture.

Using critical analysis in physical education raises students' consciousness about ways in which they can "actively contribute to their own well-being, to that of other people and society, and to the health of the environment that they live in"

(Health and Physical Education Curriculum Statement, page 33).

Note: This discussion on this page is based on Gillespie and Culpan, 2000; originally from Sparkes, ed. 1992, page 40. (see References).

Movement culture

'Movement culture' is a term used to capture the interrelated aspects of human activities associated with movement. The movement culture consists of the movement experiences that are part of the culture of our society and the groups within it, including customs, rituals, traditions, practices, achievements, and celebrations. People's understanding of, and involvement in, movement is affected by physical, mental, social, cultural, emotional, economic, political, and environmental factors. Such factors determine the place of movement within a society.


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