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Understanding the reproduction of health inequalities: physical activity, social class and Bourdieu’s habitus

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journal contribution
posted on 11.11.2019, 14:44 by Gareth WiltshireGareth Wiltshire, Jessica Lee, Oli Williams
Health inequalities continue to exist in advanced capitalist economies and so-called lifestyle behaviours (e.g. smoking, alcohol consumption, diet and physical (in)activity) play a role in their persistence. Interventionist responses to health inequalities are often posed in terms of either individual agency or social structure–the former being criticised for its shaming/responsibilising effects and the latter for inadequately conceptualising behavioural differences within socio-economic groups. In this paper, we attempt to reconcile these two positions by drawing on Bourdieu’s concept of habitus, arguing that health enhancing behaviours are better understood as practices constrained and enabled within social class contexts. As many interventionist health policies target young people in schools, we take the example of physical education and youth sport to illustrate how young people’s dispositions towards health practices are part of an emerging class habitus. We draw on data from a sociological study of young people’s physical activity and health in which twenty-nine participants (aged 13–14) from four socio-economically diverse school settings took part. The data presented here are selected from 60 focus group transcripts, ethnographic fieldnotes from 6 months of school visits and visual data from participants. Our data indicate that class differences exist in both the kinds of activities practiced by pupils and ways in which they are practiced. We argue that class-based differences are, at least partially, matters of embodied inclinations and dispositions that are already evident at the age of 13/14. Consequently, we demonstrate how school-focused health promotion through physical education and youth sport may contribute to health inequalities as a result of being more or less accessible and appealing to pupils with a different classed-habitus within different educational fields. This paper questions the on-going interventionist policies that position schools as sites for health promotion without adequately accounting for the influence of class cultures.

Funding

Loughborough University

National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care West (CLAHRC West) at University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust

History

School

  • Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences

Published in

Sport, Education and Society

Volume

24

Issue

3

Pages

226 - 240

Publisher

Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group

Version

AM (Accepted Manuscript)

Rights holder

© Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group

Publisher statement

This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Sport, Education and Society on 28 August 2017, available online: http://www.tandfonline.com/10.1080/13573322.2017.1367657.

Acceptance date

11/08/2017

Publication date

2017-08-28

Copyright date

2017

ISSN

1357-3322

eISSN

1470-1243

Language

en

Depositor

Mr Gareth Wiltshire. Deposit date: 11 November 2019

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