Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Faculty of Education


This thesis examines, from a Foucauldian perspective, the complex ways fourteen young women managed their subject positions and subjectivities in relation to health and physical activity discourses. It also explores how the young womens different school contexts impacted on this process. Foucauldian, post-structural conceptualisations of the self, as constituted through power/knowledge relations, and, in particular, Foucaults analytics of the technologies of the self, provided a useful tool for examining the complex ways the young women were actively involved in their own self-formation. Epidemiological research, and other physical activity participation literature, predominately characterise young womens physical activity participation in terms of individual choice and in terms of their lack of participation. This thesis attempts to challenge these characterisations by developing an understanding of the discursive and material resources available for the young women to construct the place and meaning of health and physical activity in their lives. A particular focus is placed on examining the influence of the young womens school contexts on this process. This thesis also extends critical health and physical activity literature by providing an understanding of the complex ways young women are involved in their self-constitution, and an understanding of the complex ways different young women engage with particular discursive regimes of health, physical activity, and femininity. The study reported in this thesis primarily draws on semi-structured interviews collected as a part of a longitudinal, qualitative research project. The fourteen young women were involved in the study for two years, during which they participated in approximately eight to ten interviews. The young women were initially recruited through two different schools, Bloomsbury Girls Private School: a prestigious, religious, girls school located in the metropolitan area of an Australian city, and Sunnydale High School: a co-education, government school, located in the outer suburbs of the same Australian city. An analysis of the schools websites and their physical and health education and school sport policies was conducted to gain an understanding of the discursive and material resources made available to the young women through their schooling. An analysis of the young womens interviews indicated that their meanings of health and physical activity were regulated by the intersections of dominant health, physical activity, and femininity discourses. These discourses were informative of the ways the young women engaged with their bodies and selves, and emphasised an engagement with the self based on self-monitoring and self-altering practices in relation to a normalised, slim, toned, healthy body. In terms of the young womens physical activity participation, traditional notions of femininity shaped and influenced the young womens choices to participate in particular physical activities and their embodied engagements in physical activity participation. Whilst dominant notions of femininity, health, and physical activity provided a pervasive resource on which the young women drew to constitute their subjectivities, there was diversity in the ways they engaged with these discourses. The specificity of the young womens lives, and their own engagement with the discourses, influenced how health and femininity discourses were manifested in their daily lives and constitution of selves. Finally, the results of this study highlighted the ways the young womens schools made available a particular set of cultural resources around health and physical activity, which were implicated in the production of particular gendered and classed subjectivities. The schools thus made available particular meanings of health and physical activity that had constitutive effects, and in particular, provided possibilities for the young women to think about their health and physical activity participation, and to regulate their lives and futures in gender and class specific ways. This study thus points to the need for physical and health educators to recognise, and reflect on, how they are implicated in reproducing both classed and gendered subjectivities, and dominant health, physical activity, and femininity discourses. Both of which hold consequences for shaping the ways young women (and, it could be argued, young men) think about their bodies, selves, futures, and importantly, their lives.

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