Cardiff Metropolitan University
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The problematization of the (im)possible subject: an analysis of Health and Physical Education policy from Australia, USA and Wales

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journal contribution
posted on 2022-02-01, 14:50 authored by Laura AlfreyLaura Alfrey, Karen LambertKaren Lambert, David Aldous, Risto Marttinen
Policy classifies and shapes people/subjects in particular kinds of ways. Focusing on the context of Health and Physical Education (HPE), this paper analyses policy documents from Australia, the United States of America (USA) and Wales. We pay particular attention to how learners are represented within and across the three policy documents, and we apply Bacchi’s ‘What’s the Problem Represented to be?’ approach to guide the analysis. For us, problematization is a fruitful and positive process that enables educators to engage with a critical dialogue regarding the policies they are expected to enact. Our analysis highlighted that common across the policies were overlapping discourses of idealism, neoliberalism, healthism, and individualism, which serve to reinforce deficit language and a focus on what learners ‘lack’. The problem of ‘learner as lacking’ is represented within the policies via at least three subject positions: ‘the sedentary learner’, ‘the un-educated learner’ and ‘the naïve learner’. The findings suggest that the three policies were producing an ideal and perhaps impossible learner (subject) whilst at the same time representing the learner as a problem that the policy could ‘fix’. This paper is important because it: (i) demonstrates how certain discourses and voices are amplified and silenced within curriculum policy documents and policy work more broadly; (ii) makes educational and health politics visible; and (iii) creates space for the profession to develop greater critical consciousness related to policy. In terms of future directions, we urge curriculum policy writers and other stakeholders to carefully consider how learners are categorised, represented and governed in and through policy. If curriculum policies, by their very nature, need to produce problems – in this case, the (im)possible subject - we invite educators to engage in critical conversations regarding the policies they are expected to enact.


Published in

Sport, Education and Society


Taylor & Francis


  • AM (Accepted Manuscript)


Alfrey, L., Lambert, K., Aldous, D. and Marttinen, R. (2021) 'The problematization of the (im) possible subject: an analysis of Health and Physical Education policy from Australia, USA and Wales', Sport, Education and Society, pp.1-16. DOI: 10.1080/13573322.2021.2016682

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Cardiff Met Affiliation

  • Cardiff School of Sport and Health Sciences

Cardiff Met Authors

David Aldous

Cardiff Met Research Centre/Group

  • Physical Health Education for Lifelong Learning

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  • © The Publisher


  • en

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