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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The social construction of gender in a physical education programme Dewar, Alison MacKenzie


This dissertation examines the social reproduction of gender categories in one Canadian university physical education programme. The research was conducted over a ten month period and used three primary data collection techniques; participant observation, ethnographic interviewing, and documentary analysis. The data were analyzed as an ongoing process during the study and themes were modified and developed during the time in the field. The study found that the curriculum in this programme is organized around a distinction between biological and behavioural courses on the one hand, and socio-cultural courses on the other. Each type of course provides students with alternative views of gender. When gender is taught in biological and behavioural courses it is examined as a personal attribute and the focus of attention is on how differences between males and females explain the gap in their performance levels. When gender is taught in socio-cultural courses it is viewed as a social issue, and the focus of attention is upon analyses of the ways in which play, games and sport have been socially constructed to produce and legitimize male hegemony. Despite this diversity in the curriculum students' definitions of important knowledge lead them to view knowledge from biological and behavioural courses as "really useful" and knowledge from socio-cultural courses as peripheral. Students see biological and behavioural explanations of sex differences in performance capabilities as information they can use to improve performance. Information about the social construction of gender issues is seen as peripheral as it does not help them to function within the existing social frameworks. Students negotiate the meanings of gender and develop their gender identities by accommodating to, resisting and accepting traditional definitions of gender. These acts of acceptance, accommodation and resistance are illustrated through the experiences of four different groups of students, labelled the "super jocks", "ordinary jocks", "women jocks" and "non jocks". Each of these groups developed different expressions of their gender identities but all tended to reproduce rather than transform patriarchial gender relations.

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