I have already made reference in Chapter 1 to ‘the idea of the idea’ of physical education which, for the sake of brevity, we will call the id2. This notion is pivotal to the argument of the book and so requires some explanation. The id2 builds on earlier historical work published in Deﬁning Physical Education (Kirk, 1992a) and Schooling Bodies (Kirk, 1998a). In these studies I argued that physical education is socially constructed in the sense that it is a human invention rather than an occurrence in nature. More than this, and following Goodson’s (1997) lead, I proposed that this process of social construction involves struggles over resources between vying groups. Building on insights from ‘new directions’ sociology of education (Young, 1971; Evans, 1986), which was itself a reaction to a particular approach to the philosophy of education fashionable in the 1960s and 1970s, this work sought to show the importance of human action within particular local and, increasingly, global contexts in determining the form and content of physical education. Demonstrating that physical education was socially constructed, however,
admitted the possibility of relativism. In contrast to one version of analytical philosophy of education in which key concepts were considered to possess essential, transcendental characteristics, or to be constituent of ‘the rational mind’, relativism suggests instead that concepts have multiple meanings that are context bound. As Chanan and Gilchrist (1974) note, construction of ‘the past’ is a selection from possible other ‘pasts’ and is thus value laden. In an extreme form of relativism, there is no basis on which to diﬀerentiate among this multiplicity of meaning. If knowledge is socially constructed, physical education can be whatever I decide. No-one’s deﬁnition is better than anyone else’s; in other words, anything goes (Whitty, 1985). While a social constructionist perspective on physical education may admit
to the possibility of relativism, it does not endorse this extreme perspective as inevitable or desirable. It does create a challenge for social epistemology,
though, a challenge that needs to be acknowledged and wrestled with, if not completely resolved. If, as I will argue in this chapter, physical education has no essential, transcendental characteristics since the historical record shows it has changed over time, how then are we to avoid the position at the other extreme, that it has no meaning at all or, at least, only the meaning we arbitrarily select and choose to give it? From a social epistemological perspective, we might point out that something called ‘physical education’ is practised in particular locales at speciﬁc times. What physical education ‘means’ is embedded in and expressed through the interactions of the participants; the teachers and students, the designers of lessons and programmes, the builders of facilities, and the creators and suppliers of equipment, just to name a few. If physical education has no essence, no features which transcend time and space, how can we recognise its occurrence in these context-bound instantiations of interactions of teachers and students around subject matter, using equipment in spaces such as gyms and playing ﬁelds? This is the question this chapter seeks to answer, at least to a level that can
satisfactorily permit this study of physical education futures to be undertaken. The purpose of this chapter is to outline how the id2 is to be deployed in this study, how it is intended to be understood, as a means of dealing with the tension between essentialist and relativist perspectives. An obvious issue that needs to be examined ﬁrst of all is why the statement of a deﬁnition of physical education does not seem to resolve the matter of what physical education means, particularly when, according to Laker (2003), Penney and Chandler (2000), Locke (1992) among many others, deﬁnitions abound. I then go on to provide a context within social epistemology and curriculum history to develop the id2 from the work of Rothblatt (1997), with support from Bernstein’s (2000) theory of the social construction of pedagogic discourse. The chapter concludes with a short discussion of four relational issues for the id2 of physical education, each of which is developed more fully in Chapter 6.