For almost four decades I have been an advocate for a research agenda in physical education (PE) that embraces the ethics of social justice and the principles of critical theory. Inspired by a sense of criticality (Rizvi, 2011) and the notion of the critical project more broadly (Kenway et al., 1995), I have been a committed worker in the ‘big tent’ of critical pedagogy (Lather, 1998). I have, however, also had doubts as to some of the claims made in the name of critical pedagogy and accordingly consider that it is important to make a distinction between scholarship that argues for critical pedagogy (advocacy) and scholarship that reports on actual attempts to implement critical pedagogy (action).

By means of a personal reflection, this chapter will consider the possible influence that advocacy for critical pedagogy might have had on action, specifically on the lives of young people who engage in PE. As a field of research/scholarship critical pedagogy has grown substantially over the past four decades, but I wonder if zeitgeist of the critical project that originally inspired critical pedagogy is still alive or whether it has been captured and tamed by neoliberal and other contemporary discourses in education. I will argue that, although the theorizing about/in critical pedagogy has developed in sophistication, unfortunately there is little evidence that this has been matched by transformative personal and social action.