Threatening space: (physical) education and homophobic body work

Clarke, Gill (2004) Threatening space: (physical) education and homophobic body work. In, Evans, J., Davies, B. and Wright, J. (eds.) Body knowledge and control. Studies in the sociology of physical education and health. London, UK, Routledge, 191-203.


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This chapter explores how space(s) shape pupils’ and teachers’ sexual identities in physical education. In doing so it reveals how spaces are not neutral, but shot through with power such that bodies are schooled along narrow and often homophobic lines. Spaces thus are also gendered, racialized, sexed and (hetero)sexualized such that some locations become hostile places for lesbian women and gay men. Although queer activists have begun to reclaim the largely heterosexual landscape and to extend the boundaries of sexual citizenship, schools in England and Wales largely remain sites of compulsory heterosexuality, where few have dared to cross the (hetero)sexual boundaries.

As Bell and Valentine (1995: 8) comment ‘A whole body of work is emerging in geography that explores the performance of sexual identities and the way that they are inscribed on the body and the landscape.’ With few exceptions this approach has yet to extend into the educative context in general and physical education specifically. This chapter seeks to address this by revealing the significance that space, be it the gymnasium or the locale of the class/staff room, has for the construction and contestation of sexual identities. In particular attention is drawn to the ways in which pupils and teachers learn to negotiate and pass through these different territories. The costs however may be high; accordingly consideration is given to the impact of such strategies on mental health and to an examination of (hetero)sexualized bullying in schools. In seeking to illustrate these claims qualitative data generated from biographical research with lesbian physical education teachers in England is employed.

Item Type: Book Section
ISBNs: 0415306450 (hardback)
Keywords: physical education, sexual identity, gendered spaces, homophobia
Subjects: L Education > L Education (General)
Divisions : University Structure - Pre August 2011 > School of Education > Leadership, School Improvement and Effectiveness
ePrint ID: 21046
Accepted Date and Publication Date:
Date Deposited: 31 Mar 2006
Last Modified: 31 Mar 2016 11:39

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