Participation in health and physical education: norm circles and the influence of peers

Gareth Wiltshire, Jessica Lee, John Evans

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractpeer-review


In recent years, numerous health promotion initiatives have targeted young people and, in particular, health and physical education (HPE) has been positioned as a key site for action. While many young people engage with the available educational and practical opportunities designed to support healthy lifestyles, it is clear that large groups of young people do not. Although studies highlighting socio-economic, gender, and ethnic differences between HPE engagement are helpful, there have been calls to better accommodate intersectional understandings of lived experience. This study offers the framework provided by Elder-Vass' (2010) 'norm-circles' to help theorise and unpack the various ways that young people's engagement in HPE might be socially influenced. This paper draws on data from a 6-month bricolage-based study with pupils (N=29, aged 13-14) across four schools in England. Multiple qualitative methods were deployed to enhance methodological rigor with a what is often a challenging age group for research. Findings highlight that peer groups play a crucial role in influencing whether/how a young person engages in HPE. Individual pupils are the site of a number of intersecting social norms, with each 'norm' being endorsed and enforced by different 'norm circles'. Theorising the social process in this way reveals that beneath a pupil’s decision to take part in physically active behaviours – such as playing football in the playground, or going to the gym – there exists a wide range of intersecting social norms which must be endorsed or rejected in the moment of acting.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2016
EventAustralian Association for Research in Education: Transforming Educational Research - Melbourne Cricket Ground, Melbourne, Australia
Duration: 27 Nov 20161 Dec 2016


ConferenceAustralian Association for Research in Education
Abbreviated titleAARE


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