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Using Critical Social Theory as Professional Learning to Develop Scholar—Practitioners in Physical Education: The Example of Bourdieu’s Theory of Practice

Cardiff School of Sport and Health Sciences, Cardiff Metropolitan University, Cardiff CF23 6XD, UK
Cardiff School of Education and Social Policy, Cardiff Metropolitan University, Cardiff CF23 6XD, UK
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Educ. Sci. 2024, 14(2), 160;
Submission received: 16 December 2023 / Revised: 24 January 2024 / Accepted: 30 January 2024 / Published: 3 February 2024


In this conceptual article, we present the idea that the physical education (PE) teacher is, out of professional necessity, a scholar—practitioner. To substantiate and evolve this idea, we develop a Deweyian pragmatist view of the scholar—practitioner which also embraces criticality. This stance collapses the binary notion of theory and practice and instead embraces theory and practice as a duality. We add a critical dimension to this duality through recognising that scholar—practitioners (especially leaders) require criticality and cultural awareness to raise questions over knowledge conventions and the mitigations of contextual factors their learners may face. We then turn to the critical and practical sociology of Pierre Bourdieu to illustrate how the use of theory may help PE scholar—practitioners enhance their criticality and cultural awareness. More specifically, we draw on Bourdieu’s primary concepts of field, capital and habitus to show how the application of this theory can help PE scholar—practitioners position themselves in relation to their profession and how they might know their field; be aware of their, and their students’, capital worth in relation to that field; and know themselves (their personal—professional habitus). In conclusion, we suggest that for PE scholar—practitioners, theory-based learning and its applied use might be considered a form of professional learning and not be limited to Bourdieu’s theory but extended to include a range of other aspects of critical social theory. We finish by suggesting that this approach to the PE scholar—practitioner is even more pertinent due to the field of PE becoming increasingly a third space—something which requires additional research and analysis.

1. Introduction: Towards a Pragmatist Conception of the Scholar—Practitioner

The scholar—practitioner is differentially defined, and lived, by those with an interest in the term. Some time ago, Menges [1] referred to the scholar—practitioner as a ‘dilemma’, a divide needing to be managed between competing roles of higher education staff members needing to be academic knowledge producers, on the one hand, and effective educators, on the other (raising questions of scholastic third spaces). Others see the idea of the scholar—practitioner as a manifestation of a more pragmatist philosophy, which is lived, not as a binary, rather like Mendes’ notion of a dilemma might imply, but rather as what we might, following Giddens [2], think of as a duality. For example, Bailey [3], builds upon Horn’s [4] definition of scholar—practitioners as those who “engage in the interplay between theory and practice” (Horn [4], cited in Bailey [3]). Bailey [3] reasons that such a definition is not merely an abstraction but rather represents the emergence of purposeful engagement with problem solving in the pursuit of the amelioration of the lives of the people practising their professions, as in the case of PE teachers and their students:
the scholar-practitioner is commonly viewed as one who blends theory and practice, but … such blending is not always possible. The scholar-practitioner is in a position of acting in ways that immediately and powerfully affect the lives of people. Taking such actions must be informed by knowledge of the system and those within it.
These considerations, the blending of theory and practice, the transformative raison d’être of the scholar—practitioner, and understanding the system (read: context) of one’s professional actions are particularly pertinent in education and, we want to argue, in PE. These concerns, therefore, form the focus of this conceptual paper. The more specific pragmatist underpinnings identified by Bailey are also relevant to developing our argument for a particular type/view of the scholar—practitioner in PE. We further concur with Bailey that the theory—practice binary is more helpfully seen as two dimensions of the same entity or, as we term it, as a duality. This proposition leads us to a Deweyian stance which sees “knowing (thinking) and doing as indivisible aspects of the same, essentially constructivist, process” [3]. Therefore, by application, practitioners in the field of PE are, consciously or otherwise, scholar—practitioners because they are constantly involved in “taking a piece of acquired knowledge into a new situation” and allowing “that knowledge to be reformed and made ready to carry over into the next encounter”. Finally, we also concur that “knowledge is not some mental copy of an external reality, but rather, a means or instrument of successful action” [3]. Consequently, if, for Goffman, life is a stage on which we act out and manage our identities, then, for Dewey, perhaps life might be seen as a series of problem-solving actions we must continually engage in in order to allow those identities to flourish. Bailey [3] concludes that:
If Dewey’s notion that knowing and doing are inseparable, then it follows that learning and doing are also indivisible aspects of the same thing, for knowledge is procured only through learning. For scholar-practitioners, learning is a continuous, life-long, transformative process through which the meaning of everyday life is made.
Consequently, the theory—practice binary collapses into a duality and becomes a central dynamic of action and thus agency. The question that emerges is where the various fragments of knowledge might come from in such a process and which purposes they are deployed to fulfil? Beginning with purposes, in Democracy and Education [5], Dewey was clear that overly specific, technical vocational knowledge delivered in isolation was disempowering for the learner, and ultimately for society, as it does not help the learner to evolve as an autonomous person or fully share in the benefits of the deployment of their technical training (usually labour) which they will go on to utilise in employment. Dewey [5] elucidates that “now in many cases—too many cases—the activity of the immature human being is simply played upon to secure habits which are useful. He [sic] is trained like an animal rather than educated like a human being”. Rather, there need to be some broader principles underpinning vocationalised learning to make it education. This is because, according to Dewey [5]:
Knowledge is humanistic in quality not because it is about human products in the past, but because of what it does in liberating human intelligence and human sympathy. Any subject matter which accomplishes this result is humane, and any subject matter which does not accomplish it is not even educational.
Subsequently, learning how to be(come) social citizens also had a powerful place in Dewey’s pragmatist educational philosophy and such a type of learning requires teachers rather than technicians and fully active learners rather than passive recipients of unquestioned knowledge. A simple example in the context of PE might demonstrate the significance of the point, lest we lose sight of why this matters: Learning how to perform exercise might be a useful outcome for PE curricula (education ‘of’ the physical); however, learning why and when we need to exercise (education ‘through’ and ‘about’ the physical) is equally critical if the learner is to be empowered to adapt and reuse the knowledge about exercising they have learnt for benefit in their own lives or in the lives of others they may come to be responsible for in the future. Therefore, as Bailey argues, the scholar—practitioner PE teacher must be someone “with a pragmatic flair, an individual motivated to achieve the best possible solutions, but cognisant of all mitigating circumstances and the personal, social, and historical factors which limit those solutions” [3]. After all, learning why we need to exercise is inherently reliant on contextualisation and the mitigations and adaptions needed to make exercise happen in our complicated and often unideal everyday lives. This is, of course, why physical activity promotion in a sedentary society is about so much more than merely skill learning or ‘thinking’ then doing; it is all about mitigating pernicious contextual and individual factors [6]. These considerations lead us to the question of where the knowledge comes from? Pragmatically speaking, any knowledge is deemed potentially relevant if it solves a problem of action that learners (and all citizens) are likely to face in their lives. An important ingredient in the active construction of knowledge is a priori knowledge. A priori knowledge involves blended combinations of abstracted theory and acquired practical knowledge. Seen in this way, there can be little doubt that forms of abstracted theory (in the sense of abstract from the learner’s immediate experience—but informed by others’ prior empirical experience) have a role to play. For example, contemporary research into sport, health, physical education and society is robust, multi-disciplinary and continually being added to and updated, but (how) does such rapidly updated knowledge continually and incrementally inform PE teachers’ (practitioners) practices after an initial (quite brief) period of teacher education? This question becomes especially pertinent if we consider, as Giroux [7] does, that scholar—practitioners, especially in leadership positions, have obligations, such as opening “a space for disputing conventional academic boarders and raising the questions’” ([7], cited in [8]). It is difficult to see how this can occur without regular engagement with research knowledge and the reflective/reflexive application of this knowledge in the practical context of the school and the PE classroom environment. Therefore, we concur not only with Bailey [3] on the pragmatist orientation of the scholar—practitioner, but also with Bailey and Gautam [8] that there is a need for “criticality and cultural awareness as foundational blocks scholar—practitioner leadership”. Such a stance as we have argued for here, leads us to the principal focus of the paper, which is how this can be achieved, in part, through placing critical social theory in the scholar—practitioner’s pragmatic toolkit.
Critical social science theory, in general, challenges paradigmatic assumptions and questions epistemological considerations that teachers, students, school administrators and policymakers perhaps do not realise that they have or hold. As Bourdieu and Thompson [9] contend, “the difficulty, in sociology, is to manage to think in a completely astonished and disconcerted way about things you thought you had always understood”. Bourdieu and Thompson capture an important aspect of the challenge and also highlight the purpose of using sociological knowledge as scholar—practitioners in any field of human activity, especially highly social activities, such as teaching PE. As Thompson [10] puts it, there is a level of reflexivity required when trying to “stand back from society a little-watching, recording measuring, evaluating and interpreting what is going on, and trying to explain how and why so many of the things we take for granted about society come to be as they are”. However, for many practitioners, reflexive activities such as standing back all too often appear as a rarely afforded opportunity to reflect on the professional worlds they inhabit, shape and are shaped by. Nevertheless, as scholar—practitioners, that is precisely what we must attempt to do. We would add that we fully acknowledge that it is not just the preserve of the critical social sciences to open up such avenues of critical questioning and expanded awareness of what PE is and might be. Indeed, and of course, philosophy and history are also particularly well placed to provide such a theoretical platform for the scholar—practitioner. In fact, on this aspect, we agree with the philosopher Kretchmar [11], who suggests that “historians, sociologists, and philosophers need to work together and learn from one another”, and, furthermore, like Kretchmar, we would “add anthropologists, biologists, geneticists, and others to the list”. Therefore, while we proceed with our argument from a critical sociological perspective and argue for its usefulness, we would encourage readers from other disciplines to consider how their theories can be used to perform this pragmatic scholarly function for the scholar—practitioner also.
Subject to the caveat above, we present an argument that the role of sociological theory is essential to make sense of the seemingly impenetrable flow of ‘tacit’ knowledge into events in daily and professional life. More specifically, in what follows, first, we position ourselves as authors in relation to the dual fields we did/do inhabit, those of physical education and higher education, respectively. Next, we draw on elements of critical social theory to illustrate how the theory—practice ‘divide’ might be looked at more productively as a symbiotic relationship which allows scholar—practitioners to draw and develop more powerfully explanatory insights into their physical education practice and their roles as scholar—practitioners. To perform this function this, we draw on Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of practice in an illustrative capacity to show how the use of theory can help practitioners view their professional worlds in new ways and better understand the context and broader processes within which our educative actions take place. We do not embark on lengthy discussions of Bourdieu’s body of sociological work, provide lengthy introductions to his concepts, or even provide long advocations of its relevance and significance in the field of education, as this has all been done expertly and extensively elsewhere [12,13]. Rather, we apply the concepts of field, capital, habitus and dispositions, informed by our combined experience of both practising and researching physical education to reveal the critical vista it affords. In conducting this analysis, we also draw on the term third space. Bhabha [14] (p. 312) conceptualises a third space as a cultural space, a third, in-between, sometimes liminal space, arguing that “the non- synchronous temporality of global and national cultures opens up a cultural space—a third space—where the negotiation of incommensurable differences creates a tension peculiar to borderline existences”. Many scholars have taken this idea and applied it to cultural phenomena that appear to have the qualities Bhabha highlights but which occur beyond the original national, colonial and global cultural focus. For example, drawing on Bhabha [14] and Soja’s [15] ideas, Whitchurch [16] contends that sectors of the economy, with one of these being higher education, are becoming third-space higher education working environments.
These spaces are characterised as having activity creep in where multiple roles and areas of focus are becoming blended, hybridized and, to an extent, increasingly personalised. Its professionals are becoming what Whitchurch [16] terms third-space professionals. Professionals are third space because of their intermingling of academic and applied work and the uprating of forms of capital associated with this blending. As Streitwieser and Ogden [17] highlight, higher education-based “Third-space professionals are increasingly required to have scholarly credentials, conduct research and evaluation, and even engage in various forms of teaching and service”. However, to the best of our knowledge, this idea has yet to be considered in the field of PE and less so generally in the scholastic as opposed to higher education environment.
In our conclusions, we call for the use of critical social science theory in the professional learning of PE teachers to enhance their scholar—practitioner understandings. We also call for the reinvigoration of investigation into the PE scholar—practitioner to understand the evolution of what we refer to as the emerging third-space hybrid field of PE.

2. Author Positioning: Practitioners and Scholars of PE Background

Both authors have experience of working in what Williams [18] refers to as “the so-called ‘third space’ between schools and universities”. David graduated with a BA Ed Hons in Physical Education and French with qualified teacher status in 1993. His openness to the idea of being a scholar—practitioner began as an undergraduate student when he discovered an interest in the sociology of education and completed his undergraduate dissertation in France on the topic of the marginal status of physical education in the French education system through the eyes of PE practitioners there. Drawing on conceptual notions of power, ideology, identity, gender and occupational socialisation, he began to shape his understanding of his future profession. David subsequently studied for an MPhil in Education whilst teaching PE in a variety of English schools, including state comprehensive, state grammar and private schools. He was exposed to a wide variety of cultures, practices and dispositions towards PE, school sport and physical culture. It was also at this time that he encountered additional critical social theory, including Bourdieu’s theory of practice and the notion of the practice—habitus—capital relation, while studying the transformation of identity undergone by male body builders as their physiques increased in size. This thesis and the experiences he had at the time in the PE classroom and on the sports field would be formative, allowing him to develop a way of looking at PE, its practice and values which ‘made the familiar’ strange and also, importantly, located himself as an agent in the process of both shaping and being shaped through the immediacy and urgency of everyday practices. Following the successful completion of his MPhil, he gained a post as a teaching assistant in PE at Loughborough University, where he completed a PhD in the sociology of physical education. Subsequently, he has worked as a researcher with a focus on the body, identity, culture and change in the area of sport, physical education and physical culture.
Rhys graduated with a BSc (Hons) Sport and Physical Education and, following a successful PGCE, became a PE teacher in 2003. He worked in a large comprehensive school for 17 years, where, in the words of Green [19], he, like many others, ‘simply did PE’. Through embracing both curriculum opportunities and extra-curricular activities, he gained a wealth of experiences on a local, national and international level. During his time teaching, he also held whole-school leadership roles and returned to university to further his knowledge and understanding by studying for an MA in Education Leadership and Management. As a postgraduate student, his interests changed somewhat, and in his final year as a PE teacher, he began his PhD. The first phase of his career as an educator within the secondary school system allowed him to have a privileged position where he gained an intricate knowledge of the life of a PE teacher. He still feels as though he is treated as ‘one of them’ by those in the PE community whilst also being able to spend time critically reflecting on the profession through his chosen discipline of sociology. This somewhat unique role within physical education in Wales has enabled him to develop new and existing professional relationships to help further his understanding. Through his studies to date, he has developed his knowledge of Bourdieu’s theoretical framework and thinking tools, which have been instrumental in helping him to make sense of his experiences in physical education and, in doing so, understand his own paradigmatic views and reflective approach and challenge his own worldview. With his role as a scholar—practitioner in the field of physical education changing, he took the opportunity to begin a new phase of his career and is now a senior lecturer within both physical education and initial teacher education (ITE).

3. Scholar—Practitioners Must Know Their Field: Unpacking the Illusio of the Field of PE

We would argue that one of the first ‘obligations’ of the scholar—practitioner is to ‘know their field’ socially, culturally, politically and historically. Our experience of the PE profession and its context was elucidated by learning and applying Bourdieu’s idea of field and our place within it, along with the various assumptions this entails, and led to our having an interest in this field. Bourdieu saw the social world as “accumulated history” [20], comprising a mosaic of a number of overlapping and dynamic social spaces that he referred to as social fields, each with its own interrelated histories and logics. To begin with, we might adapt Bourdieu’s definition of the sporting field, according to which PE is “the system of institutions and agents directly or indirectly linked to the existence of sporting [read PE] activities” [21]. Moreover, Bourdieu encourages scholars to begin by viewing a field as historically located, asking “how this terrain constituted, with its specific logic, as a site of quite specific social practices, which can have defined themselves in the course of a specific history and can only be understood in terms of that history” [21]. The utility of this view is that it lays bare the various interests and processes of power and influence that comprise the field of PE. Scholar—practitioners will begin to see the field of PE as only quasi-autonomous, with its own unique ‘rules’ or practical logics and shaped by its own history, almost all of these being framed in relation to other powerful interests from connected social fields. Fields are therefore arenas of conflict and consensus “within which struggles or manoeuvres take place over specific resources or access to such resources” [22]. Rather like sport, the field of PE
is itself part of a larger field of struggles over the definition of the legitimate body and the legitimate uses of the body, struggles which, in addition to trainers, managers, gymnastics masters and all the purveyors of sporting goods and services, involves moralists and especially the clergy, doctors … educators in the broadest sense.
More specifically, the historical and contemporary research literature on the UK field of PE (see, for example, [23,24,25]) strongly supports the idea of contested interests in PE (and school sport) from other fields, in particular, those of (certain) competitive sports, education, politics, the military, religion, industry, medicine and the media. As both Hargreaves’ [23] and Kirk’s [24] work illustrates in detail, the representation of these ongoing interests remains manifest through legacy discourses and practices in the PE curriculum as the product of over a century of struggle over the legitimacy of the types of body and the uses of the body that the subject of PE, and thereby schools, should be producing and promoting. Within this, observable elements include the rational recreational ethic, athleticism (and fragments of muscular Christianity), therapeutic practices, functional fitness (for work/military purposes), health-related fitness/exercise, elite sport and sport as national heritage—the latter two having an emphasis on games.
Getting to know our ‘field’ with the use of Bourdieu’s concept helped us to more fully interpret our own experiences of working in and with the field of PE and ultimately helped to establish some “criticality and cultural awareness as foundational blocks,” to reiterate Bailey and Gautam’s [8] point. The day-to-day working lives of PE teachers in England and Wales are strewn with artefacts created by the history of struggles over the purpose of PE and its legitimate ‘bodywork’ [26,27]. It is, therefore, important for scholar—practitioners in PE to appreciate that “PE deploys quite an elaborate technology, drawn from athleticist, fitness-and-exercise, recreational and movement technology; and is also one of the most ritualised aspects of the school curriculum” [23]. To this day, this ritual forms part of the illusio of British physical and sporting culture that PE is (partly) charged with reproducing and preserving by government and other interested influential parties, such as sporting and leisure organisations.
The ‘games’ (the social games) to which Bourdieu referred were quite deliberately analogous to sporting ones with respect to the way in which they exemplify illusio: “that is what I meant in speaking of interest: games which matter to you are important and interesting because they have been imposed and introduced in your mind, in your body, in form called the feel for the game” [28]. Indeed, very often the PE ritual creates illusio not just metaphorically but literally through games. Experiences through games such as rugby, football, cricket, netball, hockey, lacrosse, tennis and badminton, to name a few, alongside activities like swimming, gymnastics, orienteering, cross country and athletics have long since formed the bedrock of ‘traditional’ physical education curricula’s content, practice and organisation. We might refer to this as doxa, which Bourdieu [29] describes as “… a quasi-perfect correspondence between the objective order and the subjective principles of organisation (as in ancient societies) the natural and social world appears as self-evident”. This doxa has, on occasion, been challenged by scholars, practitioners and incumbents outside of the PE field with influence over it (such as politicians, business leaders and medical professionals, to name a few). Other sports (for example, table tennis, rounders, ultimate frisbee, handball and water polo), non-sporting physical cultural activities (such as aerobics, yoga, martial arts, climbing, gym work, skateboarding, surfing, BMX cycling, free running, etc.) and other concepts of Physical Education (progressive ideas, such as physical literacy, teaching games for understanding, sport education, and, most recently, health-based physical education with an additional, more recent, focus on wellbeing) have each attempted to wrest some space on the curriculum and thereby create an alternative ritualised illusio and provide something more heterodox. However, the various interests (including class culture heritage, political and industrial pressures) have proven difficult to dislodge and their hegemony broadly remains. This is because these activities (as with all activities) act as veneers or containers for the important underpinning ideologies; their ‘traditional’ practical formulations are designed to inculcate ideology at the visceral, embodied level, which we shall later refer to as dispositions. Unpacking the illusio a little more, we see clearly these ideological discourses to be turned into dispositions by the doxic PE ritual to include those of meritocratic individualism and, more recently, neoliberalism [30], healthism [31], vocationalism [32], scientific functionalism and cultural conservatism [33]. The use of theory in this illuminative way therefore prepares the scholar—practitioner to return to the question of what it means to be physically educated in and through contemporary PE and whether, as professionals, the answer is something we would consider to be for the benefit of those (our students) whose lives our work as educators seeks to ameliorate? The alternative can be somewhat uncomfortable: what if we are merely technicians incorporating others’ ideological formulations into our students—formulations which we ourselves, perhaps, upon understanding these elements, might not be as comfortable inculcating? We therefore consider it an obligation for scholar—practitioners in PE (at all levels of the classroom, those with school leadership roles, PGCE educators and researchers of PE) to attempt to unpack the PE illusio they have an interest in, to make their own assessment of whether the illusio is appropriate in their professional judgement, and, if they decide it is not, to have the critical cultural awareness to challenge and change that illusio in practical ways. We consider that this is what it means to be a professional PE scholar—practitioner and the real purpose of PE teachers ‘knowing their field’.
With all this said, it is also important to be mindful that an increasing critical cultural awareness will expose hidden-from-view tensions both individually and perhaps also professionally. It lays bare how the field of PE continues to produce a curriculum that is contested and stands for historically powerful and privileged social, cultural, ethnic, gendered vested interests, but, in spite of this, the intended illusio of British sporting cultural heritage often and, perhaps increasingly, fails to ‘impress’ contemporary generations of pupils wanting a more contemporary and diverse physical culture [34,35,36,37,38]. By contrast, it is also important to recognise that there are many for whom the illusio has performed and continues to perform its magic. These individuals may buy into the illusio of the PE ritual they have been successfully inculcated into through the ritual of school PE and sport and whose dispositional orientations they have absorbed, largely through their ability to perform within the field and accede to its logics and embed these in their habitus. These individuals can be said to have ‘capital’ in relation to the field and are likely to be best aligned in becoming established in that field and, in so doing, contribute to reproducing the dominant logics and practices therein. Of course, some of these become PE teachers—which leads us to our next aspect for consideration.
Before this, it is worth highlighting here that with the increasing recognition of third space theory within scholastic and academic contexts (see, for example, [39,40,41]), the scholar—practitioner is inhabiting a field which is itself becoming more permeable at its boundaries. Zeichner [42] (p. 92) refers to this emergent third space as a hybrid space, further commenting that working in such a hybrid third space
involve[s] a rejection of binaries such as practitioner and academic knowledge and theory and practice, and involve[s] the integration of what are often seen as competing discourses in new ways—an either/or perspective is transformed into a both/ also point of view.
In this way, the space between higher education sports and teacher education departments, school PE departments, and also the sports and leisure industries is evolving the field of PE itself to the extent that we might begin to consider the notion of the field of PE as becoming what Pedrini, Brown and Aimini [43] have referred to (in the context of sports coaching) as a hybrid field involving evolving forms of practice, habitus, dispositions and capital.

4. PE Scholar—Practitioners Must Know Their ‘Worth’ in Relation to the Field: The Forms of Capital in PE Teaching

Having identified a range of vested interests, logics constructing the illusio in the field of PE, it is possible to talk in terms of capital, which Bourdieu understood as “accumulated labour” [20]. The concept of capital that Bourdieu developed from Marx’s economic use of the term is a powerful relational concept allowing us to understand the various ways ‘value’ is economically, socially, culturally and symbolically distributed and transferred and how this process of distribution serves as a way of reproducing (and also changing) field relations across time and space. In this way, capital “is a vis insita, a force inscribed in objective or subjective structures, but it is also a lex insita, the principle underlying the immanent regularities of the social world” [20]. Continuing his society-as-a-game analogy, capital is also a phenomenon that “makes games of society” [20]. Bourdieu elucidated this as follows:
“Capital, which, in its objectified or embodied forms, takes time to accumulate and … the structure of the distribution of the different types and subtypes of capital at a given moment in time represents the immanent structure of the social world, i.e., the set of constraints, inscribed in the very reality of that world, which govern its functioning in a durable way, determining the chances of success for practices”.
Subsequently, Bourdieu identified a number of ‘forms of capital’, each of which can help PE scholar—practitioners assess their ‘worth’ in relation to their professional field (and, importantly, the worth of their pupils and others). As mentioned above, these are identified as economic capital, social capital, cultural capital and, finally, a composite, emergent form, symbolic capital. These forms can lever an understanding of the relative value placed on knowledge, dispositions and practices in PE. We consider these important because they help us to fulfil our obligation to become more critically aware of how the labour practitioner supply aids the reproduction or change of the fields they inhabit and, perhaps more pragmatically important, how the skills and dispositions they inculcate to students through their practices as physical educators position the students in ways which empower or disempower them in relation to the prevailing social order (the field itself and the potential for converting capital acquired beyond it for pupils). Knowing their ‘worth’, then, is potentially liberating for both scholar—practitioner and student alike.
It takes practice over time to develop the skills and dispositions necessary to be a ‘good’ PE teacher and to be a good student also. However, becoming a PE teacher who is valued means that those skills must be valued within the field of PE and specific sectors of it (being popular with the students will be unlikely to secure tenure). For example, schools will vary according to their particular focus at a practical and more ideological level. Therefore, teacher capital is always capital in relation. By extension, our capital is usually only directly valued in relation to the context or field in which it is produced, but under certain circumstances that capital can be converted beyond this. It is this relational and thus dynamic quality which is of particular use to scholar—practitioners in the field. The dynamic relationality of capital drives capital conversion within a field, between the various forms of capital available and, sometimes, conversion into valid forms of capital in other fields as well. Indeed, one of the main purposes of education is to develop and convert forms of capital learnt in school and then convert them beyond school in the world of work, as values displayed through practising acceptable forms of citizenship, national identity, sociocultural identity, certification of subject competency, subject knowledge, and so on. In what follows, we identify some of the forms of capital operating in PE and illustrate its typical types of conversion that have emerged through our ongoing experiences and research into this field.

4.1. Economic Capital Conversion in PE

Bourdieu [20] describes economic capital as that “which is immediately and directly convertible into money and may be institutionalised in the form of property rights”. Although not a new idea itself, we might acknowledge that even the most committed PE scholar—practitioners are paid employees with financial needs to be met. The process of economic capital conversion in PE is important for PE scholar—practitioners to keep in mind. Following Brown [44], the development of capital in PE teaching can be traced to future teachers’ time as pupils and centres around embodied, incorporated or, as Shilling [45] terms it, physical capital, in addition to cultural capital through the attainment of relevant qualifications. In the UK, this capital becomes incrementally converted and ends with pupils becoming students of PE or sport programmes and then eventually becoming qualified teachers through PGCE PE programmes, with incrementally developed forms of incorporated capital in relevant sports and physical cultural activities combining with institutionalised forms of capital, such as the degree qualification and PGCE qualification. These may be augmented with coaching qualifications, health and safety qualifications, and possibly also things like first aid qualifications, culminating in the arrival at a point where the individual is qualified and eligible to apply for a job as a PE teacher in a state or private school. Only at this point can the acquired cultural capital (in the above forms) be converted into economic capital. It should be noted, though it is beyond the focus of this paper, that forms of social capital and symbolic capital may also play a significant part in this process of capital conversion (into economic capital).
Once in post, this process of conversion (and its necessity) helps remind us of the many pressures PE teachers face and the choices and areas of focus they may select as a consequence. Salaries in PE departments in schools are tied to years of service and in-post roles. All too quickly, the PE teacher reaches the top of their scale and needs to change something to continue receiving salary increments. At this point, the logic of the field, its position in relation to other fields, and the available forms of convertibility of capital begin to become consequential. Rising to become a head of department, GCSE and A-Level examination paper marking and moderation work, external sports coaching, tutoring, and mentoring of apprentice PE students all provide avenues for enhancing the conversion of cultural capital to economic capital by selling their labour as PE professionals. Lastly, PE scholar—practitioners might seek to move into further or higher education and become part of the ‘delimited’ field of PE teacher education [44] or another subject altogether, such as a sports science specialism. Increasingly, some qualified teachers look to enhance their economic capital by creating small companies and offering specialist services to schools (such as teaching specialist PE subjects or providing multi-sport provision, coaching, etc.). Beyond these elements, teachers have looked to convert their capital outside of the direct field of PE and looked towards promotion to positions of school management (such as pastoral roles or whole-school leadership) or possibly move out of the environment altogether. One of the ironies with such staff movements (and a feature shared by so many professionals who move into school leadership and management) is that they involve effectively leaving the PE teaching space (or reducing participation in that space) and therefore no longer contributing to its direct reproduction or change in the same way. The final element to highlight here is that PE scholar—practitioners might also be in a position to guide their students in the process of capital conversion in PE by illuminating what skills and dispositions have value for conversion in other fields. For example, dispositions such as teamwork, cooperation, discipline, creativity, and so on, might be isolated as occurring in PE practice and then highlighted as valued components of the dispositions inculcated through this subject.

4.2. Social Capital

Social capital is the aggregate of the actual or potential resources which are linked to possession of a durable network of more or less institutionalised relationships of mutual acquaintance and recognition, or in other words, to membership in a group-which provides each of its members with the backing of the collectivity-owned capital, a ‘credential’ which entitles them to credit, in the various senses of the word.
The English phrase “it’s not what you know, but who you know” sums up the idea of social capital (in Bourdieu’s use of the term) rather well. PE scholar—practitioners usually form intra- and inter-school networks to help them perform their duties, especially extra-curricular ones, but this PE teacher network also serves to establish social capital. It is a relatively unique feature in teaching disciplines arising because of the inherent practical logic that schools engage in facilitating inter-school sporting events and with its being PE teachers who primarily facilitate these. These “more or less institutionalised relationships of mutual acquaintance and recognition” [20] not only function to help inter-school sports events to occur but also facilitate the running of leagues, cups and other annual competitions, as well as PE assessment and moderation. They help the school PE departments and individual teachers acquire enhanced social visibility and standing (capital) as a consequence. This is another unique feature of the physical education and sport subjects within schools, where schools and PE departments can become ‘known’ for producing excellent pupils in certain sports or activities, or students who perform well in their examined PE subject, and so on. These forms of social capital can help student recruitment, which is a heavily prioritised and marketed feature in some private schools [46] and also in some state-funded schools with a ‘reputation’ for particular sports. In a similar vein, PE scholar—practitioners can harness the idea of social capital to help students understand how their physical cultural activities can help them build a network of productive and supportive relationships outside of school, which will help them access many of the things that are important in transitioning to adult life, such as enduring friendship networks through sport and physical activity. This particular ‘use’ of social capital moves closer to Putnam’s notion of social capital and its potential for community bridging and bonding [47]. Similarly, the idea can be used to render explicit to students that they might become ‘known’ in school for their standing vis-a-vis PE and sporting practice, for example, by becoming the captain of a school team, or gain recognition through competing regionally, nationally or internationally, and how this creates a kind of social capital which can become converted into cultural capital, as we shall see below.

4.3. Cultural Capital

This is the most complex type of capital introduced by Bourdieu, which simultaneously extended the Marxian concept of (economic) capital but harnessed evolving thinking about culture, for example, Adorno and Horkheimer’s critical theoretical exploration of culture [48]. Arguably, cultural capital is the singular theoretical innovation for which Bourdieu is most widely known (beyond sociology). He defines this as follows:
Cultural capital can exist in three forms: in the embodied state, i.e., in the form of long-lasting dispositions of the mind and body; in the objectified state, in the form of cultural goods (pictures, books, dictionaries, instruments, machines, etc.), which are the trace or realisation of theories or critiques of these theories, problematics, etc.; and in the institutionalised state, a form of objectification which must be set apart because, as will be seen in the case of educational qualifications, it confers entirely original properties on the cultural capital which it is presumed to guarantee.
Incorporated (embodied/physical) cultural capital is readily apparent in how PE teachers incorporate the physical and how they learn about the physical, of the physical and through the physical. This notion captures how practical, theoretical and moral knowledge is incorporated into the bodies and minds of PE teachers. As discussed above, this embodied knowing involves understanding ‘relevant’ sports and other activities, discourses and practices that comprise a typical physical education. Incorporated cultural capital elements include orientations/dispositions towards teaching mundane practical things (such as tying football boot laces, along with the idea that it is a good idea for them to be tied in the first place!), complex fine and gross motor coordination activities (such as performing a triple jump and bowling a cricket ball) and dispositions towards classroom control (how to structure social order in the classroom and when to intervene to maintain it, etc.). There may also be dispositions towards the wearing of ‘correct’ PE kit amongst students (a clean kit, the right socks, the right colours, school-only logos, and so on) and, along with these, the ‘belief’ or ‘illusio’ that such aspects of the PE ritual really matter (as opposed to their being culturally arbitrary). Such elements ‘incorporated’ into the secondary, institutionalised habitus [49] are realised as forms of incorporated cultural capital in relation to the field of PE. The final and most obvious, but often overlooked, form of incorporated cultural capital is the PE teacher’s body [50], which is in every case the result of (usually) a lifetime of engagement in sport and physical activity. This engagement tends to make the PE teacher’s body stand out as different from other teachers. It does not have to, of course, as other teachers may be just as adept in the sporting field, but in practice it often does. Often fit, agile and skilled and sometimes possessing more muscled and toned athletic bodies, the PE caricatures are at one and the same time stereotypical and archetypal, or, as Weber [51] would have it, ideal typical of the PE teacher’s embodied identity. From a practical theory perspective, actually, a significant element of this incorporated physical capital is the product of years of accumulated physical labour on the body (or bodywork). It is actually quite important for a PE teacher to be able to demonstrate their capital in relation to this field which demands a degree of first-hand physical fitness and skill. Finally, the PE teacher’s body can be a powerful source of symbolic capital, combining as it does the incorporated, institutionalised and objectified forms of cultural capital. The socialised PE body as a manifestation of the PE teacher profession and role does powerful symbolic work in ideally typifying how the physically educated body should look and move and what it should know.
Institutionalised cultural capital is best illustrated by the degree that PE teachers have to acquire in order for them to qualify to apply to study for the PE PGCE, which they are required to have to be allowed to teach in state schools in Wales, Northern Ireland, Scotland and England. (The PE Post Graduate Certificate of Education (PGCE) is the main way PE teachers become qualified in the UK, which involves first obtaining a relevant degree and then completing the one-year course. However, there are alternative routes into the profession in the UK via apprenticeship schemes.) This is a prima facie example of capital conversion and the value of such forms of institutional cultural capital in relation. However, what is often overlooked are the steps that teachers must take and the capital they must acquire to find their way to the degree. In Northern Ireland, England and Wales, subjects like GCSE and A-Level PE and BTECs in Sport or Fitness and Coaching (Scotland has a different suite of qualifications (for further information, see the QAA [52])) are certified forms of institutionalised cultural capital that serve to demonstrate one’s interest (illusio) in, and relative value in relation to, the field of PE. Moreover, these are also convertible in that they open access to the next step of study in academic and industrial sectors of the field of sport and PE: university-based sport and PE degrees, such as Sport Science, PE, Sports Coaching, Sports Conditioning, Sports Management, Sports Performance Analysis, and so on. These, in turn, become forms of institutionalised capital to be converted into eligibility to apply for the PGCE, as already mentioned. As Brown [44] highlights, the culmination of this process is the eventual conversion of this institutionalised cultural capital into economic capital, when, upon appointment to a first school teaching post, the PE teacher receives their first pay check. Therefore, the notion of capital is about understanding the forms of value in a field and how that value is generated through practice, confirmed through certification and exchanged/converted incrementally to open up access to other spaces in the field. In addition to these main examples of institutionalised cultural capital in PE, there are other important examples, such as competency certificates for teaching/performing in a range of sports that are typically given central value in PE, such as rugby, football, cricket, netball, hockey, swimming and gymnastics, or certificates in coaching and other areas, such as lifesaving, health and safety, and first aid. Each of these can aid the process of capital conversion in an increasingly competitive field (of gaining employment). Of course, it is a worthwhile reminder here that institutionalised cultural capital is really only an externalised and coordinated attempt to validate the presence of incorporated cultural capital. Nevertheless, as scholar—practitioners’ understanding theirs and others’ value in relation to the field is an important part of raising awareness of the sociocultural mechanisms at play in our lives, awareness of such mechanisms may encourage the knower to act accordingly or differently, but it always emancipates them to act knowingly.
This is particularly the case when the PE scholar—practitioner shares this information with their students, helping them to begin to understand their own worth as capital and how this value is judged, developed and converted. There is a great opportunity here not just to inform students of their capital but also to seek out opportunities to value the students’ capital, whether it is incorporated, objectified or institutionalised. A good example of this is where there are clusters of students who excel in high-profile sports from certain schools and this is realised and converted as institutionalised cultural capital [53]. Teachers may also start to reflect on what forms of incorporated cultural capital might be present in the student body. A few obvious examples will illustrate the point. There are many physical cultures and subcultures that develop forms of incorporated capital which are not really recognised in physical education, though they could be. Teachers can, with this awareness, introduce pedagogic practices that try to enhance such valorisation. For example, a student who is a competent skateboarder could be encouraged to bring in their board and showcase their skills to the class, introduce the class to the board, and show them what a good board looks like, how to buy or build and repair one, and of course how to use it. In addition, the student might be able to instruct the class on where to skate (safely) and what competitions are available locally that are worth attending. In so doing, the pedagogy can highlight and valorise other forms of cultural capital in the sporting/physical cultural world of the student cohort and, importantly, show their validation within PE. While this might disrupt the ‘doxa of the PE ritual’ to an extent by highlighting and valorising other forms of physical culture that would potentially challenge the taken-for-grantedness of activities represented in the traditional curriculum, it might perform other beneficial work in raising student awareness of the wider cultural universe of physical cultural activities that can be beneficial for both health and social wellbeing, as well as provide avenues for positive identification in physical exercise beyond the school. Another example might be to highlight a student who holds a black belt in a martial art (or any belt, for that matter). A belt is an exemplary form of institutionalised cultural capital which symbolises the incorporated capital that the student has been judged to have obtained and, along with that, the objectified cultural capital of the belt itself—which serves to symbolise such value in relation to that particular sub-/delimited field of martial arts. But since the belt also symbolises learning, it is also converted to a form of educational attainment which has, or should have, obvious capital value in the field of PE as well. This latter example illustrates objectified cultural capital, which we discuss next.
Objectified cultural capital is omni- and powerfully present, but less typically apparent in the field of PE, unless we enter the world of ‘Barthesian’ signs and significations to read and decode its mythologising purposes and processes. In many ways, to objectify cultural capital in a literal sense is to make a symbolic statement. Many objects are forms of symbolic distinctions economically, socially and cultural unavailable to other people in a field or even beyond it. Perhaps the gateway into this world of signs and significations is through the pieces of kit PE teachers tend to wear which highlight their previous/present state of incorporated cultural capital in the field of sport. They wear the badge or the kit of a high-profile university or sports club. Students and other members of staff, parents, governors and (in England) trust senior managers (salaried administrators in the “marketized” UK education system who now represent the majority governance structure of UK schools) will pick up on this instantiation of objectified and symbolic cultural capital. Once we are initiated through this lens into the realm of the symbolic, the objectified and symbolic capital in the field of PE comes into focus in many forms for teachers, students and schools alike: the captain’s armband, the ‘caps’ of school, county or country representation, the bodily imprints of the sporting ‘battle’-field (and all their viscerally glorifying masculine suggestions, including proudly worn cauliflower ears and broken noses, amongst other kinds of sporting scars), the certificates of successful completion of degrees and continuing professional development courses, and, as already mentioned, the PE teacher’s body, honed for its professional purpose. Within schools, objectified cultural capital is readily in evidence through the range of physical and intellectual resources available, including modern sports halls, 4G pitches, exercise gyms, indoor heated swimming pools, athletic tracks, cricket pitches, strength and conditioning coaches, fitness and health testing equipment, and so on. Each of these resources signifies the capital of the department and the capital of PE (and school sport) in relation to the school and, increasingly, in a marketized sector, the schools in direct competition for students.
One example is worth pointing out more specifically, as scholar—practitioner PE teachers might like to unpack the objectified symbolism it contains for their students to benefit from having awareness about it. Many schools in England and Wales run schemes, such as school colours and participation badges, which are a form of objective cultural capital recognition of the student’s value, which is actually a triple form of conversion—that of objectified cultural capital from social capital from incorporated capital. The glass trophy cabinet in the school or PE department foyer (if it has one) is a powerful token of objective cultural capital in the field of PE. The array of gold, silver and bronze medals, cups, statuettes, and pennants all depict something greater than their singular worth (and, of course, their face-value worth)—that of sporting endeavour enacted on behalf of the school and the achievements thereby secured. They symbolise the value of the school’s sporting practices and ethos and, most importantly, their status in relation to the localised (and sometimes national or even international) field of school sports and its hierarchy—they are objectified, institutionalised cultural capital and also, by their amalgamation, symbolic capital. They are testimony to the implicit message of what is valued about PE, even if what is valued is occasionally (and sometimes not) much broader than this. Lastly, Bourdieu’s forms of capitals might be complimented by other conceptions of social value, such as Putnam’s [47] notions of bridging and bonding social capital to develop a progressive analysis of the potential capitals that could emerge in this third-space hybrid field of PE for physical educators and students alike.

5. Temet Nosce: PE Scholar—Practitioners Must Get to Know Themselves (Their PE Teaching Habitus)

Finally, scholar—practitioner PE teachers might benefit from heeding the Delphic Maxim temet nosceknow thyself—and by this we mean, in our theoretical sense, know thy habitus. According to Reay [54], habitus is the concept at the very core of Bourdieu’s sociological framework and refers to the learned set of principles by which individuals navigate social structures through their own individuality. While originally developed to articulate childhood and family upbringing (primary habitus), this ongoing process is both durable and transposable [21] and also applicable to better understand what we acquire through our occupational identities and orientations (secondary habitus). Bourdieu [55] defines habitus as “[an] open system of dispositions that is constantly subjected to experiences, and therefore constantly affected by them in a way that either reinforces or modifies its structures”. As habitus interacts with field and capital, the practices we engage in (often without conscious awareness) gradually shape dispositions towards the social worlds we inhabit, which in turn begin to influence our actions, decisions and behaviours across a variety of social settings in a recursive process of embodied socialisation. As Bourdieu [28] clarifies the relational dynamic of the theory, “… its corner stone is the two-way relationship between objective structures (those of social fields) and incorporated structures (those of habitus).” Therefore, getting to know thy professional self is really about coming to appreciate the way our embedment in our professional environments means those environments also becoming embedded in us. The ‘structured and structuring’ effects and affects of practice constitute the PE teacher habitus, and, in particular, the secondary, or as Çelik [49] describes it, the institutional habitus.
The strength of the concept of habitus, therefore, is not that it facilitates endless regression into sociocultural particularity; rather, by contrast, it is intended to facilitate the reverse. To follow a Bachelardian principle applied by Bourdieu, “systematically to interrogate the particular case by constituting it as a “particular instance of the possible” is the aim, as Bachelard [56] put it [57]. In other words, we examine the common socially structured roots of our seeming particularities—taking the view that we are (as inhabitants of shared fields, such as PE, sport, education, etc.) all similarly different in socialisation terms. The workforce of physical educators is predominantly recruited from the previously identified subgroup of PE student successes and subsequently trained and hired to perform the expected roles and reproduce the field’s logics through reproducing the field’s practices. As Bourdieu [57] puts it, the habitus is a “repository for the most precious values”. Therefore, it should come as little surprise that the field of PE continues as it does by managing the alignment of skills and dispositions in the corpus of teachers by predisposing them to effectively deliver traditional sports with traditional pedagogies for traditional purposes, thereby reconstructing a version (never an exact copy) of the normative PE illusio. Larsson, Linnér and Schenker [58] concur with previous research when they report that PE teachers in physical education teacher education (PETE) are strongly influenced by previous experiences of sport and that the sporting habitus is thus formed (see, also, Evans et al. [59], Brown [44], and Brown, Morgan and Aldous [60]). Members of the field hold capital in variables such as performance and athletic body shape which is then legitimised, passed on and practiced [61]. In this way, the dominant ‘incorporated’ sporting habitus (which also carries many dominant masculine features) within the field of PE highlights, as Shilling [27] puts it, that the body becomes the means for social reproduction (and potentially change, too).
In his 1996 discussion, Bourdieu [62] makes it clear that bringing our own habitus to our conscious attention is a prerequisite to understanding ourselves as people and professionals and raises at least four important purposes of such awareness that are important for PE scholar—practitioners if they are to acquire “criticality and cultural awareness as foundational blocks [of] scholar—practitioner leadership” [8]. First, such awareness permits reflective scholar—practitioners to appreciate how their habitus will predispose them to teach certain contents and use certain pedagogies to deliver those contents. Second, understanding their habitus (as an amalgam of their primary and secondary habitus) means they will come to appreciate how this contributes to restructuring the current field of PE and its capitalised practices (containing ideological discourses). Third, it is only by identifying what their habitus is that they might begin to think about changing it and, more importantly, which elements would benefit from such change and for what purpose. A fourth, and in many ways the ultimate, purpose is that all of this understanding should ultimately be put to the service of helping PE scholar—practitioners execute their principle professional duty, which is to facilitate the constructing of desirable components of the primary/secondary and institutional habitus in their students.
In order to better, or further, understand this analysis of our socialised selves, it is helpful to draw again from Bourdieu’s theory and, more specifically, the concept of dispositions which lies at the heart of his idea of habitus. Bourdieu [63] elucidates this notion as follows:
the word ‘disposition’ seems particularly suited to express what is covered by the concept of habitus (defined as a scheme of dispositions). It expresses first the ‘result of an organising action’, with a meaning close to that of words such as structure; it also designates ‘a way of being’, a ‘habitual state’ (especially of the body) and, in particular, a ‘predisposition, tendency, propensity’, or ‘inclination’.
Therefore, thinking about schemes of dispositions as schemes of habitual states/ways of being/inclinations, etc., can be particularly helpful in helping PE scholar—practitioners understand their professional identities. We can connect quite specific inclinations towards engaging with the world as emerging—although not deterministically so—from their own experiences of pedagogic practices (acquired as a student or learned during PETE, practiced as a teacher, or learned from other teachers). In each case, Lortie’s [63] apprenticeship of observation concept is helpful. For example, a traditional set of curriculum practices might quite closely mirror those of a competitive sporting habitus and include the routine inculcation of such dispositions/habitual states/inclinations as feeling positive towards sporting competitiveness, enjoyment of physical contact, coded displays of emotions related to aggression or winning and losing (such as triumphalism in victory and stoicism in defeat), particular orientations towards tolerating pain and discomfort in sporting (and exercise) endeavour, viewing the performing body as an object/machine, and the preparedness to control space and one’s own and other bodies within that space. As already mentioned, it is no coincidence that these are also strongly masculine coded dispositions through their historic entanglement with traditional British sporting practices which were created by men for men [64]. (It is important to qualify, lest it be misunderstood, that these are not essentially masculine dispositions but rather socially coded as essentially masculine—a process referred to by Bourdieu as anamnesis of the hidden constants [65,66].) It is also no coincidence that these sports were practical representations and manifestations of many of the culturally celebrated ways of being a man in Victorian Britain and were in many ways the antitheses of the kinds of sports and physical cultural activities that Victorian Britain expected women to engage in. (It has long been argued by feminists that modern sport is underpinned by these embodied values and that in order to succeed many sportswomen have to adopted masculine practices and dispositions which can be problematic and represent a double bind for their selves and social identities outside of sport (see, for example, [67,68])). These patriarchal anachronisms are kept alive, in their visceral, phenomenological form through to their practical transmission between bodies across time and social space and celebrated as symbolic capital in their sporting practical forms as ‘British’ cultural heritage (with ‘British’ of course serving as a proxy term for the invisible hegemonic ruling class of white, upper-middle class, heterosexual, Christian males). That said, there are other competing practices and dispositions beside the sporting ones, and we might expect these to be part of the PE habitus too in greater or lesser degrees. For example, if we include practical exposure to forms of gymnastics, health-/wellbeing-/fitness-related exercise, dance and outdoor educational activities, then we can begin to map these and also establish primary practices that inculcate dispositional responses through engagement in these practices. While it is beyond the scope of this paper to map such dispositions more exhaustively, these would seem to include positive inclinations towards hygienist discourses and the valorising of various forms of health, fitness and wellbeing. These valorisations would include, in particular, ranges of body shape and weight that go beyond those problematically normalised and idealised associations identified by researchers such as Gil Madrona [69] (which, through the discursive lens of meritocratic individualism, healthism and shapism, typically lean towards mesomorphism and posit these corporeal socialisations as an individual responsibility). Additionally, we might explore the dispositional inclination towards regular physical activity for health purposes as being ‘necessary’ for life in society and for work (functional fitness/functionalism). Furthermore, dispositions from dance might include an aesthetic proclivity for the body in movement, although it is possible that this may be positioned on the periphery of the PE habitus across the world (see Gard [70] and Mattsson and Lundvall [71] for further discussions). Indeed, the removal of Dance from the Health and Well-being AoLE and the placing of it in the Expressive Arts AoLE in the recently revised Curriculum for Wales suggests that the dance aesthetic, while valued in education, may be less valued in the field of PE (and this has formed part of the struggle in this field since its inclusion in the early 1990s). Indeed, all of these elements may be foregrounded or backgrounded depending on the particular configuration of the scheme of dispositions for the individual PE teacher—this is the point of our call for temet nosce.
Lastly, as in our previous sections, it is worth highlighting the interaction between an analysis of habitus in the field of PE, the emergence of a third-space hybrid field of PE and the implications for what kind of habitus might emerge from such a hybrid field. Following Bourdieu’s idea of hysteresis of habitus, which Tomlinson [72] (p. 82) succinctly defines as “delays in the realignment of habitus and field that result from change at the field level,” we may begin to appreciate the level of challenge and opportunity that new knowledge and practice ushered in by structural change in the field might bring for individuals at the level of habitus.

6. Concluding Comments: Reflexive Theory as Professional Learning and the Example of Bourdieu’s Critical Theory of Practice PE

In this conceptual article, we have presented the idea that the physical education teacher is, out of professional necessity, a scholar—practitioner. To substantiate and evolve this point, we have developed a view of the scholar—practitioner from a Deweyian pragmatist stance which also embraces a critical viewpoint. This leads us to suggest that the scholar—practitioner collapses the binary notion of theory and practice, instead embracing theory and practice as a duality. In so doing, we add a critical dimension to this duality with the recognition that scholar—practitioners—especially leaders at all levels—require criticality and cultural awareness to raise questions over knowledge conventions and the mitigations of contextual factors their learners may face. We then turn to the practical sociology of Pierre Bourdieu to illustrate how the use of critical social theory can help PE scholar—practitioners to enhance their criticality and cultural awareness. In so doing, we draw on Bourdieu’s primary concepts of field, capital and habitus to show how the application of this theory can help the PE scholar—practitioner to know their field, be aware of their capital worth in relation to that field and, finally, to know themselves (their personal—professional habitus). We put forward the view that this understanding is an essential prerequisite for being able to develop a criticality and cultural awareness of PE, its position in the world, its teachers, curriculum and students.
It is important to clarify at this point that our argument has deliberately not promoted any particular vision for PE. Rather, it has highlighted the need for critical pragmatic PE scholar—practitioners to use social theory to become more informed as to the often non-/unconscious and unintended consequences of pedagogic action they deploy as an outcome of their professional identity. Without this level of criticality and ability to reflexively position themselves, PE professionals become agents of the field, reconstructing its logics and traditions uncritically. It is for the PE scholar—practitioner to undertake this theoretically aided work and then decide what aspects of change (if any) are required. The processes of undertaking change from Bourdieu’s perspective of the field, capital and habitus is a topic that goes beyond the scope of this paper and which requires further analysis, analytical tools and critical intent, involving concepts including hybrid fields [73], reflexive habitus [74], hysteresis of habitus [75], and crisis and creativity [45,76]. It also requires an additional element, a ‘nudge’, to redirect the movement of individual agency to work toward change instead of reproduction, where this is identified as helpful for students. For us, at least, this nudge is provided by Dewey’s [5] affectively compelling philosophical stance that students might be “educated like a human being rather than” rather than “trained like an animal”—an appropriate call to action in our view.
However, as we have maintained, Bourdieu’s theoretical approach is just one of many possible critical social theoretical approaches available to enhance PE scholar—practitioner awareness and criticality. We would like to also reaffirm one of our opening caveats, namely, that the critical scholar—practitioner may be aligned with a range of disciplines other than sociology, so the theoretical input might just as reasonably come from philosophy, history, anthropology, or, for that matter, any other discipline offering a critical vista of the practice. As such, we see the use of theory not only as an inextricable part of the theory—practice duality but also as a particularly powerful part of the continuing professional development of the PE scholar—practitioner in the form of critical—cultural reflexive awareness education. Exposure to these ideas while in professional settings is more likely to give rise to the emergence of localised, contextualised practical solutions to the issues raised at the level of conscious awareness.
These points about theory and critical—cultural reflexive awareness education prompt us to return to Bailey’s pragmatist conception of the scholar—practitioner and the nature of the theory—practice relationship as a duality:
Importantly, what the scholar-practitioner actually does is found at the hyphen that joins the two words, where the two aspects of the same individual conjoin, where actions are guided by theory and theory is tempered by actions. Scholar-practitioners make meaning, create practice, and generate understanding at that hyphen, the place which Kincheloe and Steinberg call the “the frontier where the information of the disciplines intersects with the understandings and experiences that individuals carry with them” (p. 61). How they do this—their means, their actions—should be of great interest to aspiring scholar-practitioners.
Finally, in this paper, we have highlighted a few instances where we feel there is a case to be made that PE in schools is also becoming a third-space hybrid field environment such that its teachers increasingly may be viewed as third-space professionals. We consider that this aspect warrants further conceptual analysis and empirical research specific to the PE field, especially given the potential of examining third-space ideas alongside similar notions, such as Merleau-Ponty’s interspaces (already used by Bourdieu) and Victor Turner’s concept of liminality [77]. Notwithstanding this need, it seems reasonable to suggest that such contextual/role developments make it even more important to understand the notion of the scholar—practitioner PE teacher more fully—what it was, is and is becoming. It is likely, as Bailey and Gautman [8] contend, that it will become even more important that the scholar—practitioner “is a sort of intellectual handyman, able to bring a variety of viewpoints, reflections, understandings, and ways of knowing to each problem. These tools enable the scholar—practitioner to accomplish all jobs successfully, combining theory with practice to direct purposive action”. In conclusion, our hope is that this article has prompted some reflection on the often used but less often interrogated notion of the scholar—practitioner in PE. While we feel this notion has always had special relevance to the profession of PE (given the physical practicality involved in being a professional), perhaps at this juncture more than any other in the profession’s history, these considerations warrant revisiting and re-evaluating.

Author Contributions

Conceptualization, R.G.L. and D.H.K.B.; writing—original draft preparation, R.G.L. and D.H.K.B.; writing—review and editing, R.G.L. and D.H.K.B.; project administration, R.G.L. All authors have read and agreed to the published version of the manuscript.


This research received no external funding.

Data Availability Statement

No new data were created or analyzed in this study. Data sharing is not applicable to this article.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


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Brown, D.H.K.; Lloyd, R.G. Using Critical Social Theory as Professional Learning to Develop Scholar—Practitioners in Physical Education: The Example of Bourdieu’s Theory of Practice. Educ. Sci. 2024, 14, 160.

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Brown DHK, Lloyd RG. Using Critical Social Theory as Professional Learning to Develop Scholar—Practitioners in Physical Education: The Example of Bourdieu’s Theory of Practice. Education Sciences. 2024; 14(2):160.

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Brown, David H. K., and Rhys G. Lloyd. 2024. "Using Critical Social Theory as Professional Learning to Develop Scholar—Practitioners in Physical Education: The Example of Bourdieu’s Theory of Practice" Education Sciences 14, no. 2: 160.

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