(L)earning their Right to Belong: Emplacing, enacting and embodying health policy in schools

Laura De Pian

Research output: Chapter or section in a book/report/conference proceedingChapter in a published conference proceeding


This paper stems from a doctoral thesis which explores the ‘emplacement', ‘enactment' and ‘embodiment' of government health policy in three schools located in the Midlands region of England. The paper draws on descriptive quantitative and detailed qualitative data collected via interviews with health and physical educators and questionnaires and interviews with pupils to document the complexity of the policy process, its uncertainty, and intended and unintended affects and effects on the lives and bodies of young people. More specifically, it examines the multiple ways in which health policy relating to obesity, diet and exercise is recontextualised and mediated by teachers as specific pedagogic practice, highlighting in particular how, through an uncritical acceptance of dominant health and obesity discourses, health and physical educators are unwittingly inviting their pupils to (l)earn their right to belong and, in the process, become particular ‘classed subjects' (O'Flynn, 2010). The analyses therefore focus specifically on the class and cultural mediations of health pedagogies in each setting and the various ways these can affect a young person's developing sense of self and belonging. Whilst highlighting the deleterious and indeed ubiquitous effects of some health education programmes on some young people's relationships with their weight/size, key findings presented in this paper offer nuance and complexity to the notion of "the neoliberal body" through exploration of the ways in which contemporary health imperatives also have potential to privilege and empower some young people. Particular attention is therefore paid to the voices of young people, whom by way of embodying the pedagogies found in their schools become ‘troubled', ‘emboldened' or ‘insouciant' bodies, as such pedagogies intersect with their various subjectivities. In its cultivation of the performative body (Rich and Evans, 2009), the neoliberal ‘healthy' ideal circulating across these schools and affecting pupils' relationships with their own bodies, has contributed to the reproduction of extant social hierarchies. Young people are therefore considered to be ‘body subjects' (Blackman, 2012) whose embodiments are variously assembled, performed and enacted in situ. The narratives presented in this paper point to a knowledge-deficit among policy makers and health educators, regarding young people's (in)ability to enact and embody the health knowledge disseminated through their school. The paper concludes with a discussion of the implications of these findings for policy makers, educators and researchers whose work concerns young people's health and well-being.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Joint Australian Association for Research in Education and New Zealand Association for Research in Education 2014 Conference
Subtitle of host publicationSpeaking back through research
Place of PublicationQueensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia
Publication statusPublished - 3 Dec 2014


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