Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Faculty of Education


This thesis engages poststructural theory, drawing from the work of Michel Foucault, to explore how discourses of health and the body manifest in Pre-service Primary Generalist Teachers’ (PPGT) constructions of self and others. Multiple methodological tools have been utilised to describe the participants’ knowledge, beliefs and values in relation to health and the body, including biographical narratives, poetic vignettes, discourse positions and descriptive statistics. The empirical material of this study comprises 136 surveys and 23 interviews with both bachelor and postgraduate students enrolled in the final year(s) of a primary teacher education degree from two universities in Australia, as well as interviews with five H-PE teacher educators. While PPGTs are the principal subjects of this study, it is somewhat problematic to situate them as a discrete group. Thus, the interviews and surveys are augmented with web-based texts, policy documents and popular media articles and images. These are utilised to describe the ‘socialscape’ of heath; what I have termed, ‘contemporary healthscapes’.

In recent years there has been a mounting body of work mapping ‘educational’ initiatives and policies concerned with health imperatives and obesity discourse (Evans, 2006; Evans, Davies, & Rich, 2008; Gard & Wright, 2005; Harwood, 2009; Leahy, 2009; Leow, 2011; Rich, 2010; Wright, 2009; Wright & Harwood, 2009). These scholars have each pointed to the wider biopolitical agenda of social governance and mediation of ‘health’ that are storied into existence in children and young peoples’ lives. Characterised as ‘regulative’ and ‘surveillant’, health promotion practices and policies emergent in schools over the past decade are consequential to the ways children come to know themselves as ‘fat’/‘thin’, or ‘un/healthy’ (Leahy, 2009). Thus children’s sense of self and embodiment are tied up in prevailing messages about an ethic of duty to oneself, often enveloped in their responsibility for exercise and diet as a means to be ‘healthy’, ‘thin’ or ‘sculpted’. In this climate, teachers and schools are central to the types of ‘biopedagogical’ work available to children - not only through enactments of H-PE curriculum, but also through informal messages embedded in school practices and initiatives, such as ‘healthy’ canteens.

From the analysis, three discourse positions emerged in relation to PPGTs’ meanings of health and the body. These encompass positions of ‘agreement’, ‘disagreement’ and ‘negotiation’. The analysis demonstrates how many of the PPGTs in this study had investments in health as a corporeal project of minimising risk and eating less and exercising more. In doing so, these participants underplayed the complexity and diversity of social, historical and political aspects of health and the body, and instead associated health with individual responsibility, scientificity and medical risk. However, not all of the participants subscribed to health imperatives in essentialist ways. Some drew on alternative knowledge/s in their constructions of health and others negotiated different knowledge, yet these instances were few and far between. This thesis also offers a viewpoint for understanding how PPGTs arrive at particular discourse positions in relation to health and the body. It was found that the circulation of truths through engagements with family and friends, media and schooling experiences shaped the ways the participants framed ‘health’ and the body. Often what was considered trustworthy, or authoritative, across these various social relationships were accounts of health based in a doctrine and anxieties about individual responsibility for health and the body.

Contributing to contemporary literature in the dynamic field of health, from a sociology of education perspective, this thesis demonstrates how some becoming teachers’ preexisting content knowledge that they bring with them to teacher education, is often met with a similar way of ‘knowing’ from coursework. For the most part, teacher education barely featured in participant responses as a source of health knowledge but tended to align with what they already ‘knew’. With limited time in primary teacher education specifically dedicated to H-PE related coursework, there is little space for challenging taken for granted truths about health and the body and differentiating educative as distinct from promotional/ risk-based approaches to teaching health. The analysis demonstrates how ‘alternative’ meanings of health are likely to be subjugated beneath the surface of the ‘sayable’ and ‘doable’. It is likely that dominant discourses, such as the ‘obesity epidemic’ will discursively shape these PPGTs’ pedagogical intentions in educational spaces. By tracing these patterns of subjectivity, I prompt the need for the field of H-PE to consider future lines of flight in generalist teacher training, and perhaps more importantly, consider future developments in primary school health education curriculum, initiatives and resources. In particular, as a field, we need to find ways to support alternative forms of pedagogical work and resources that encourage PPGTs and children to explore meanings of health beyond those heavily imbued with risk based discourses and ‘health’ aesthetics.