A critical stance for approaching research in Japanese Physical Education:
the politics of method as a determinant of experience

-Assistant Teacher at Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil
from September 1989 to August 1990.
-Physical Education Teacher at the Pan American School, Porto Alegre
-Part-time Portuguese Instructor at Nihon Fukushi University,
Lifelong Education Center from April, 1999 to date, Handa, Japan.

Marcelo Olivera Cavalli

    Physical education (PE) in Japan is characterized by the chiefly observance of values, practices and assumptions of a single mode of inquiry for approaching research. As a consequence, this imbalance in the paradigmatic orientation has caused the discipline to possess a unilateral body of knowledge guided by a positivist approach to knowledge and methodology. The debate embraced in this investigative work is significant in terms of disturbing the silence that has prevailed within the discipline in Japan regarding educational and sociopolitical implications derived from and influenced by the methodological orientation for conducting research. Limitations and inadequacies of a positivist mode of inquiry are discussed in relation to social and educational meanings for such preference. The politics of method are also taken into consideration as PE constitutes a meaningful political agency responsible for providing people with skills and tools for approaching reality and for constructing knowledge and wisdom to form people’s experience.

http://www.efdeportes.com/ Revista Digital - Buenos Aires - Año 6 - N° 29 - Enero de 2001

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The Formation of Human Experience

    The main agencies for human beings to experience the world are the sensorial systems that we genetically inherit from our parents -- unless one suffers from any congenital impairment. It is through the senses that the child starts making sense of the world and starts building his or her own process for learning the skills to experience the world. Although the senses are genetically inherited, Eisner (1988) states that the skills to negotiate the world have to be learned. He insists that “The qualities of the world are there for those who have the skills to take them” (p. 15). With the course of life, the skills -- sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch -- will develop and become much more refined. Through mastering these skills, the child will be better equipped to manage the world. Experience, indeed, plays a major role in this whole process. Yet, as Eisner (1988) points out, “The kind of experience we have depends on a host of factors, but two that are central are the qualities themselves and the conceptual structures we bring to them” (p. 15). Therefore, in order for the child to perceive the qualitative world around us, it is necessary for him or her to acquire conceptual tools. These tools, Eisner (1988) states, consist of language, intention and schema. He asserts further that “language functions not only as a means for conveying our ideas to others, but also as an agency that shapes what we see” (p. 15).

    Drawing on studies regarding child ecology to construct the sociocultural environment to which children is born into, I borrow from Kobayashi (1993) a classification of children’s ecosystems. He has differentiated and classified the ecosystem of children into four smaller ecosystems, which are hereunder outlined: “The micro-ecosystem is the space or the world which a child can assess or grasp through the sensory system and through interactive processes with other human beings. This is the human network immediately surrounding the child. In the case of a fetus, the micro-system is the uterine space of the mother, while in that of an infant, it consists of interactive personal relationships mainly with the parents, and later, of course, with siblings and such other persons as grandparents and those in the extended family. The mini-ecosystem is the family, home and house as a basic unit in the community and society. It includes not only such software as human relations and culture, but also such hardware as housing structure and sanitation. Outside the mini-ecosystem there is the macro-ecosystem, which is the community and society. Between the macro-ecosystem and the mini-ecosystem, the meso-ecosystem functions as a connecting link, which includes kindergartens, nurseries and schools, all of importance for children. This system supports the transition of children from the family into society as they grow and develop.”

    If we accept Eisner’s (1988) statement -- that we must have skills and tools to experience the qualities of the world -- to be true, teachers and researchers must then admit that we need to prepare our students by providing them with the tools and developing their skills in order for them to create their own experience. If we consider the developmental structure of child ecology described by Kobayashi (1993), we have to bear in mind the utter importance that school and the education system have in the proper nurturing of the young. And if we contemplate what I contend elsewhere (Cavalli, in press) “regarding the nurturing of children and the responsibility of school to provide them with rich, meaningful experience opportunities as well as of developing critical and creative thinking, the methods used to achieve such undertakings are of extreme importance. The skills to comprehend the world and the tools with which to negotiate the world around us have to be instilled in children via a continuous process of trial and error, investigation and experiment from an early age-what is known as education. Hence, instruction should be as rich and comprehensive as possible.”

    Considering the paradigmatic orientation for approaching and researching reality and the impact it has on dictating theoretical and practical postulates, on influencing people’s experiences, and on the scientific production of knowledge, teachers, researchers, and students must be prepared to develop and accept broader lines of thinking and be open to more holistic approaches to research, education and the world at large. As the discipline of physical education (PE) shares the responsibility for the nurturing and education of human beings, professionals in the field must take into consideration that the foregoing precepts also apply to PE. Accordingly, the paradigmatic choices made to represent the body of knowledge within the discipline have immediate implications on guiding and determining particular values, practices and assumptions.

Research Paradigms for Scholarly Inquiry in PE

    A number of scholars in North America (Harris, 1983; Schempp, 1987; Bain, 1989; Sage, 1989; Locke, 1989; Smith, 1992; Whitson & Macintosh, 1990), in the UK (Sparkes, 1986, 1991, 1992a, 1992b and 1994; Maguire, 1991) and in Australia (McKay, Gore & Kirk, 1990; Colquhoun, 1992), has indicated that research in PE has been going through a series of structural changes. These changes are mostly due to an ongoing debate about paradigmatic orientation for conducting research within the discipline of PE. Lincoln (1989, in Sparkes 1991) has conducted an extensive review on the paradigm debate and has commented that “a similar debate has been taking place in other areas of study, ranging from business administration and organizational theory to occupational therapy, that for her is indicative of a paradigm revolution in the academic disciplines” (p. 103). Sparkes (1992b) draws on studies by Gage (1989) to comment on the “paradigm wars” that was at full blast in the 1980’s and had their climax by the end of that decade. Sage (1989) contends that a research movement incorporating alternative methodologies “has been gaining momentum in sport and physical education over the past 10 years” (p. 25). In other disciplines -- e.g., Health Based PE (Colquhoun, 1992) and Pedagogy (Eisner, 1988; Guba, 1981; Soltis, 1984) -- the paradigm debate has also required a need for pluralistic tolerance in regards to paradigmatic perspectives for conducting research. According to Sparkes (1992a; 1992b; 1994), the three most frequently utilized paradigms for guiding research inquiry in contemporary PE are the positivist paradigm, the interpretive paradigm and the critical paradigm.

    As argued elsewhere (Cavalli & Fujiwara, 2001, p. 5), the terms positivism, interpretive and critical should be understood as “paradigms for inquiry, not methods (Guba, 1981) for conducting research. Paradigms are ‘basic belief systems’ (Guba & Lincoln, 1989) that offer a ‘particular set of lenses for seeing the world, and making sense of it, in different ways’ (Sparkes, 1994). ‘Any given paradigm provides a ‘disciplinary matrix’ (Kuhn, 1970) that contains within it a set of embedded assumptions...’ (Sparkes, 1994) and these assumptions ‘tell us what is important, legitimate, and reasonable. Paradigms are also normative, telling the practitioner what to do without the necessity of long existential or epistemological consideration’ (Patton, 1978).”

    In general terms, positivism has been and still is the dominant mode for scholarly inquiry in PE (Sage, 1989; Schempp, 1987; Sparkes, 1992a; 1994). McKay, Gore & Kirk (1990) “argue that one strategy that increasingly has been used to enhance the academic credibility and security of physical education has been to emulate empirical-analytical science and deemphasize hermeneutic and critical issues” (p. 53). In Japan, the work of Cavalli & Fujiwara (2001) demonstrate that research in Japanese PE follows this same paradigmatic trend observed by scholars in western countries.

The Situation of Research in Japanese PE

    Although the paradigm debate has been widely discussed and alternative paradigms have been employed at a greater scale in research work developed in western countries, Cavalli & Fujiwara (2001) have pointed out that research developed in the discipline of PE in Japan does not follow that trend as it may be assumed. Having their paradigmatic investigation of research trends in Japanese PE as the base of their argument, they pointed out that “The paradigm debate that took place overseas in the 1980’s did not influence the final outcome of scholarly inquiry in Japanese PE. The paradigmatic orientation for conducting research in Japanese PE did not seem to follow the trend in the 1990’s. There is a tacit agreement in the Japanese research community to perpetrate a style which meets the current trend in the field of PE rather than consider different or alternative approaches, and this is in spite of the great amount of research and studies that are being conducted overseas on paradigmatic methodologies” (p. 13). This has led to a certain stagnation on the production of knowledge. I do not mean to affirm that research using positivist methodologies are producing meaningless results neither that productivity has been affected. What I mean to assert is that the production of research through only one perspective has fragmented knowledge; only parts of a whole are being studied and, what is worse, these parts are being taken for the total. The other slices of the pie are being left blank, as if there was nothing else to be investigated.

    Values, practices, and assumptions of research in contemporary Japanese PE are chiefly guided by positivist modes of inquiry (Cavalli & Fujiwara, 2001). As a consequence, PE professionals and students have their beliefs and lines of inquiry shaped by the natural science paradigm, and the inherent commitment prevent them from being exposed to and from experiencing other paradigmatic theories. That means that their own experiences are limited and, in turn, limiting in scope. Cavalli & Fujiwara (2001) comment that the Japanese PE research community turned a blind eye to alternative perspectives for scholarly inquiry. Therefore, they are not fully experiencing the potentialities and possibilities of the discipline; they are having an unilateral approach and are assuming a fractional knowledge as the totality.

    Research in PE in Japan can indeed be considered as tracking behind in terms of innovations and theories regarding the paradigm debate for conducting scholarly inquiry. I can make such a statement based on the great magnitude of research produced in western countries that approach the paradigm debate and the contrasting insignificant amount and depth of those produced in Japan. A large number of western scholars are focusing their research inquiries on the elaboration and discussion of new theories and perspectives for approaching research in PE, while their Japanese counterparts, with a few exceptions, are still striving to provide massive data and information guided by the positivist paradigm.

    As argued elsewhere (Cavalli & Fujiwara, 2001), the amount of research in PE in Japan demonstrates that the discipline is quite prolific. However, as indicated by Cavalli (in press), the body of knowledge produced in the research of the discipline does not stand for neither portray the society PE is supposed to represent nor effectively carries out PE’s pedagogical mission. As Cavalli & Fujiwara (2001) assert, most of the research conducted over the past decade in Japanese PE-97.56% to be more precise-followed a quantitative methodology. As a corollary of this, Japanese PE does not possess adequate knowledge about its society, education or PE itself guided by alternative modes of inquiry. Research in PE not only fails to subject the discipline to critical scrutiny but falls behind western countries regarding the social purpose and significance of PE to society. In the case of research in Japanese PE evidence shows that it is necessary for the research community to develop research approaching teaching and scholarly inquiry from qualitative perspectives. Cavalli & Fujiwara (2001) have determined that only 2.44% of the research in Japanese PE observes qualitative methodologies. As an aftermath, the approach proposed to teaching and researching PE could not be other than the quantitative approach offered by positivism.

    The problem with having a discipline’s production of knowledge based solely on one paradigmatic orientation is that only bits of a whole are investigated. In addition, the paradigmatic imbalance presents serious ideological implications to the discipline, to its professionals and to society at large. Those with a secure or uncritical approach to PE may have had their minds and research stances shaped by the unwritten rules of academia and by scientistic postulates produced through the usage of the paradigmatic mode of inquiry in question.

    If we take into account that research in Japanese PE is chiefly guided by values, practices and assumptions inherent in the positivist mode of inquiry and consider the premises proposed in the research of Kageyama et al. (1993) and Kageyama (1995) regarding the undisputed state of affairs of Japanese PE, we can without any hesitation extrapolate and infer that the discipline of PE in general is also guided by positivist values, practices and assumptions.

A Critique of Research in Japanese PE

    Regarding the high percentage of positivist research in contemporary Japanese PE, it is important to state here that the number of publications and the observance of the investigations’ paradigmatic orientation alone are not sufficient to embody the whole development of the discipline of PE. Yet they do give us an idea of research tendencies and standpoints from which the discipline constructs its own body of knowledge, and how the discipline approaches the larger society it represents.

    As positivist research approaches do not aim to explain the meanings of human interaction neither to critically examine and instigate changes to sociopolitical or educational settings, positivist methodologies maintain traditional stances through positivism’s conservative discourses and assumptions. When specifically referring to Japanese PE, Kageyama (1995) asserts that “The conservative characteristic of PE is caused in part by the conservative quality of such central discourses in present-day PE.” He calls for the scrutiny of the social meanings behind the concepts of ‘Health,’ Physical fitness’ and ‘Sports.’ In order to overcome such conservatism and lack of scrutiny, Kageyama insists on the need for promoting a critical examination of the components of conservative Japanese education -- which he calls “Control-oriented education” -- as well as of the functions and discourse of PE. Drawing on the studies of Kageyama et al. (1993), Kageyama (1995), Cavalli (in press) and Cavalli & Fujiwara (2001), I can indeed affirm that most of the research being produced in Japanese PE nowadays does not challenge the taken-for-grantedness of values, concepts and assumptions disseminated in the discipline of PE neither investigate the correlations or implications of such discourses to the wider social sphere. This is to say that we partly know ‘what is happening’ in Japanese PE and ‘with what frequency.’ Yet we do not know ‘what is behind what is happening’ and ‘why’.

    Looking from a critical perspective, research in PE in Japan cannot be considered as a creative theoretical field as new, alternative theories usually come from abroad. The apparent difficulty of a considerable number of Japanese researchers and graduate students to fluently understand and assimilate scientific work written in foreign languages contributes to an increase in the funnelling of scholarly perspectives. The field of sociology of sport in Japan, as it happens in western countries, should be the one regarded and responsible for promoting trendsetting research employing qualitative modes of inquiry. However, Cavalli & Fujiwara (2001) have pointed out that the Japan Journal of Sport Sociology, a publication of the Japan Society of Sport Sociology, since its first issuance in 1993, has published only five articles that observed qualitative methodologies, and only two articles that approached the paradigm debate-however, these two articles were written by foreign scholars and refer to their respective countries. Accordingly, based on the findings of Cavalli & Fujiwara (2001) and Cavalli (in press), we have to consider that the knowledge about people, society and education that is produced by Japanese PE is inaccurate in that research in Japanese PE does not possess a comprehensive body of knowledge orientated by qualitative perspectives. The overdependence on one mode of inquiry causes a shortsightedness “harbored in the assumptions accepted for operationalizing only a single perspective in studying the phenomenon” (Schempp, 1987). Another good reason for the engagement in qualitative research is the possibility of critically examining contemporary society and an opportunity for scrutinizing the current models for producing knowledge. Accordingly, as Kelly et al. (2000) observe, “postmodernist and poststructuralist discourses have, in the process of problematizing what intellectual work looks like, opened up new spaces in which an examination of the processes of knowledge production in PE can be located” (p. 285). The paradigmatic orientation of a field is crucial in determining social and educational precepts as well as responsible for the dissemination and institutionalization of a society’s values, practices and assumptions.

    Schempp (1987) stresses that “Kuhn (1970) pointed out that researchers tend to follow the traditions in which they were schooled.” Considering Kuhn’s statement, we must admit then that there is indeed a pressing need to expose students to alternative modes of inquiry in order for them to become more experienced teachers or researchers with an extensive range or scope for approaching teaching and researching in PE. This process of following traditions and unwittingly complying with the unwritten rules of academia has implications not only to the stagnation of the development of new paradigmatic perspectives within a field of study but to the development of society at large. Locke (1977, in Schempp, 1987) has predicted that the “establishment of research traditions in university graduate programs has led to systematic productivity by the students of those programs” (p. 119). Whitson & Macintosh (1990) argue that “it is important to understand how these new sport professionals have themselves been shaped by the discourses they have learned in their undergraduate and graduate training...” (p. 41).

    In accordance with what was mentioned so far, the language of the discourses employed in the training of new professionals and in the representation of the knowledge within the discipline reflects developments within PE itself. The corollaries of these implications on society are the way society comes to approach and judge PE and the ways PE’s values, practices and assumptions become diffuse within society or even come to represent those of society. The language of science and the inaccurate widespread belief that science and progress are connected provide an erroneous assumption that scientifically proven claims are founded in and working toward absolute, progressive knowledge. Kelly et al. (2000) contend that “... a particular version of truth is explicated when the assumptions and methods of the scientific paradigm are adopted as the intellectual process for pursuing truth. Importantly, the modernist constructs of objectivity and neutrality work powerfully to enable these (scientific) discourses to function as timeless, asocial, and apolitical regimes of truth (Foucault 1980) to appear as natural, self-evident, and necessary” (p. 286).

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