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

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

2 / 3

    My own studies have offered repeated confirmation that Japanese graduate students and researchers conducting scholarly inquiry within the scope of quantitative modes of inquiry simply take it for granted that the task of investigation in the discipline of PE is to systematically produce knowledge describing PE/sport situations or assessing human performance-oriented faculties. “As Jenny Hargreaves (1982a) puts it: ‘the sport science paradigm has implicitly validated dominant attitudes about the social character and values of sport’ (p. 2)” (Hollands, 1984, p. 73). A problem with all these is that concepts and assumptions become reified, “no longer subject to serious reexamination from the inside and increasingly difficult for outsiders to challenge effectively” (Whitson & Macintosh, 1990). Whitson & Macintosh (1990) provide further insight with respect to the discourses of quantitative PE. They argue that the discourses “construct the nature of the sport professional’s pursuit of knowledge in highly specific and narrowly task-oriented ways” (p. 45). They also call into attention the discursive shifts that have placed sport scientists against the traditional PE educators who have a concern of physical activity as a means to develop the person (Demers, 1988; Lawson, 1985; in Whitson & Macintosh, 1990). Yet Whitson & Macintosh insightfully observe: “The sport scientists and ‘performance technocrats’ (Sparks, p. 4) promote a positivist, technically oriented knowledge structure that seeks to map the way to increased levels of achievement in high performance sport.” This results in an emphasis on technical and performance enhancing skills and a correspondent deemphasis on alternative modes for questioning and scrutinizing social and educational contexts germane to the discipline of PE. As Ingham (1985, in Whitson & Macintosh, 1990) suggests, “The result is the structural silences of an approach to scholarship... ‘that favours the analysis of personal factors and discourages the analysis of social factors.’”

    According to Cavalli (in press), “Research in PE in Japan shows no intention of interpreting or instigating change to people’s values, practices and assumptions nor in educating them about the actual meaning of the events happening around them. In addition to a unilateral approach to methodological orientation, the indifference of research in PE toward social agenda is a reflection of the current widespread social phenomenon in Japan, and it has rather weakened voices critical of the present state of affairs of the discipline of PE and in society as a whole.” Soltis (1984) argues that for a full better understanding of the educational state of affairs, positivist (causal), interpretive (meaningful) and critical (normative) dimensions have to be emphasized. In the discipline of PE too, Cavalli (in press) and Cavalli & Fujiwara (2001) contend that there is a need for a more holistic approach to teaching and researching in PE. Social implications derived from a unilateral approach to PE are enormous. Research in PE in Japan seems to have forgotten what PE is all about. PE is about people and their physical, educational and sociocultural manifestations through or toward physical activity. Sports are just a fraction of this whole picture. As argued elsewhere (Cavalli, in press), “ I am not at all against sport as a recreational, educative, or even as a competitive activity. What I quarrel with is the way sport is taught, researched, approached, used, worshipped and institutionalized by many professionals within the discipline of PE; and the way society, as an aftermath of the social ramifications of sport and PE, comes to judge sport.”

    What I have attempted to state here is not that positivism is obsolete, but that, as it is the case with all methodologies, positivism has its limitations and is inadequate to appropriately approach sociocultural, political and educational issues. If the Japanese government, through the Ministry of Education and its professionals, and teachers and researchers of PE want to bring Japanese PE into better standards for the social upbringing of its citizens, I truly believe that we all have to do our utmost to approach PE, education and society from alternative perspectives as well.

Limitations and Inadequacies of a Positivist Approach

    As the reader could perceive through the information implicitly contained in the previous sections, the positivist paradigm presents a series of limitations and is inadequate when dealing with educational or social subject matters. The scientific discourse of the current dominant paradigm for conducting scholarly inquiry, as affirmed by Atkinson (1987, in Sparkes, 1991), is “inappropriate for the representation of complex and multiple social realities” (p. 123). To which, Sage (1989) adds that “Perhaps the most persuasive objection to standards of methodology developed by the natural sciences for use in the social sciences is based on the obvious fact that humans are different from the typical objects of study in the natural sciences” (p. 25). Knowledge accumulated through the usage of positivist modes of inquiry employ a ‘God’s eye view’ of the world, and, therefore, qualitative methodologies tend to fault positivism as “excessively narrow and increasingly sterile” (Sage, 1989, p. 25).

    Positivism does not make possible the usage of personal knowledge and insight gained in social interaction. Therefore, asserts Eisner (1988), “A language that does not permit us to see or to say what such matters mean to us is a language so limited in scope that it cannot, in principle, yield the kind of understanding needed to deal adequately with educational matters” (p. 17). Sparkes (1992a) contends that “we cannot hope to see the world outside of our place in it-all that we can ever have are various points of view that reflect the interests, values and purposes of various groups of people” (p. 35). Therefore, we must make use of other research tools -- participant observation, ethnography or critical instances, for example -- to understand social organization and behavior. The reasoning for the usage of various approaches to assess and accumulate knowledge is: “the core of social reality is viewed as the active human being trying to make sense out of social situations” (Sage, 1989, p. 25). As Eisner (1988) reminds us, “...one version of the world is one version still.” Goodman (1978) complements: “‘There may be one world, but there are many versions of it.’ And, as he says elsewhere, there are as many versions as there are languages to describe them” (Eisner, 1988, p. 18). Sage (1989) comments that “The congeries of qualitative methodologies which are employed in the social sciences and humanities evolved from those who reject a natural science and positivistic vision of knowledge accumulation for study of human beings in their social settings” (p. 25). Indeed, humans, human interaction and social relations cannot be efficiently approached and investigated from a quantitative perspective. Data can be gathered and knowledge can be generated, however, the intrinsic and complex characteristics and meanings of social and educational exchanges cannot be properly assessed this way. Therefore, as Schempp (1987) puts it: “In spite of the major contributions made in the engagement of the natural science model, the subscription to a dominant mode of inquiry holds serious consequences in the development of any body of knowledge. The underlying assumptions of a paradigm pose limits to the knowledge to which one has assess” (p. 111). He goes further to argument about two limitations of the natural science paradigm: (1) “research generated under such a paradigm may be unresponsive to the problems and issues confronting those living in the social site of the investigation due to the silent and objectified role the teacher plays in the natural science research process”; and (2) “the influences of culture, history, and the sociopolitical climate on the observed behavior cannot be determined. The behavior observed, manipulated, and analyzed from a natural science perspective runs the risk of having little meaning for teachers, as the behavior is disconnected from the culture giving it meaning, the political system dictating its status, and the historical origins giving it perspective” (p. 115). These are some of the main reasons why a collective effort by the Japanese PE research community is needed in order for them to investigate and also make use of qualitative methodologies for approaching PE if they are to stay abreast of research in the field.

    Each paradigmatic orientation presents inherent sets of values that differentiate one paradigm from another. They also have different ontologies (nature of social reality), distinct epistemological approaches and assumptions about social reality (see Sparkes (1992a, 1994) who presents a detailed figure on the assumptions underlying each paradigm). Sparkes contends that paradigms possibilitate seeing and making sense of the world in particular ways. This is to say that approaching a setting or social/educational situation using different ‘pairs of glasses’ will render a different perception of the setting itself and the relations inherent to it. Cavalli & Fujiwara (2001) demonstrate their agreement by asserting that “The language, intention and methodology of each paradigm function not only to convey ideas, but also to demonstrate how the world is perceived. In other words, choosing a paradigm for conducting research is like making a statement about one’s positioning toward the world” (p. 12).

    Conducting research using only the positivist mode of inquiry fragments the notion of a whole. Terms and methodology employed by each paradigm “slice the pie in different ways and harbor their own assumptions” (Eisner, 1988, p. 15). Each paradigmatic theory assumes and depicts a different world. Therefore, it is crucial to produce knowledge from different perspectives if we want to have a larger and hopefully better view of the discipline in Japan. As research in PE in Japan is chiefly conducted through only one perspective, an assertion by Eisner (1988) can contribute to reinforce the arguments about the fractional situation of Japanese PE. He states that “All methods and all forms of representation are partial and because they are partial, they limit, as well as illuminate what through them we are able to experience” (p. 19, italics added). To conclude this argument, I would like to state that theoretical vitality and methodological diversity enhances the body of knowledge of any discipline. If the discourse of one paradigm chiefly dominates research in a field, then scholars within this field end up speaking just to themselves. Sparkes (1991) contends that “This can lead to a form of tunnel vision whereby some problems are explored exhaustively while others are not even perceived” (p. 124). So, this aim of mine of casting light upon this ideological tunnel present in Japanese PE is to demonstrate where the language spoken by those conducting research and by those responsible for providing people with experience leads to. I am interested in the theoretical reasons for the practical effects of things; I think of them as causes or means.

Discourse of Language

    Language-the terms employed and the inherent discourse-should be considered not only as a tool to express one’s ideas, but as a means to convey how one perceives and conceives the world. Language is indeed influenced by and, concurrently, influences experience. Eisner (1988) contends that “What we experienced was shaped by the theoretical language through which we became professionally socialized. To this day, theories of nature and of culture provide powerful agents for guiding our perception. These theories are, in the sciences, propositional languages about how the world is and what is worth attending to” (p. 16). In addition, the terms employed to conduct and report research work tell us much more than what is contained in the investigation itself. They tells us how the researcher approaches the researched and how he or she perceives the world-be it the natural, social or physical world. The discourse implicit in the language used tells us of the researcher’s beliefs and how his or her mind has been methodologically shaped.

    I do not intend to impart robotic features to the researcher-to eschew the researcher’s humanity, feelings or capacity to think-but instead to stress what Eisner (1988) calls the “politics of method” and the dangers of being unaware of the political power of a discourse or of indiscriminately applying methodologies without pondering the essence of the implicit discourse. Eisner (1988) perceptively stresses the ultimate politics of method: “Aside from the politics of status, control, and power located in our forms of professional socialization, our social work structures, and our reward systems, the ultimate politics of method is its impact on our view of reality. Neither technique nor technology, whether technology of a physical type or a technology of mind, is epistemologically neutral. The categories we are taught, the sources of evidence that we believe count, the language that we learn to use govern our world-views. How we come to see the world, what we think it means, and eventually what we believe we can do about that world are intimately related to the technologies of mind that we have acquired” (p. 19). Hence, when Eisner addresses the issue of politics of method he makes it very clear that he does not “simply mean matters of position, authority, or professional socialization in the narrow sense, but rather the ways in which the mind is shaped and beliefs are fostered. The politics of method ultimately has to do with the politics of experience. Method influences how we think and what we are permitted to feel.” The debate on the neutrality of approaches to the world-the language, methodology and discourse we use, for example-has already been widely conducted by a number of scholars in various fields of research. The conclusion that most of them get to is that all approaches are value-laden. Eisner states that “There is no such thing as a value-neutral approach to the world; language itself, whether the language of the arts or the sciences, is value-laden” (p. 19). Sparkes (1991) points to the danger of many researchers ending up “believing in the myth of value neutrality and see their work as an apolitical technical process” (p. 124). Gergen (1990 in Sparkes, 1991, p. 124) contends that “All scientific practices-metatheoretical, theoretical, and methodological-have consequences, for good or for ill for some cherished way of life.” Sparkes (1992a) claims that “Since social reality is mind-dependent, there can be no data that are free from interpretation, there can be no ‘brute data’ out there on which to found knowledge or verify our positions. As Smith (1988) argues, ‘Methods themselves, including statistical procedures, are not and cannot be interpretation-free. And if this is so, then the knowledge claims supported by methods cannot be interpretation-free’” (p. 35).

Alternative Strategy Proposals for Japanese PE

    After having demonstrated the core issues regarding the limitations of the positivist mode of inquiry and briefly describing the significance of language in the development of research, I strongly urge the Japanese PE research community to approach the world and explore research from alternative methodological perspectives as well. One of the reasons is because we know much more than we can express or prove through words. Eisner (1988) contends that “Knowledge need not-and I would say should not-be restricted to what one can claim”. The research language that has chiefly dominated scholarly inquiry in Japanese PE has inadvertently suppressed other theories, practices and modes of inquiry. Therefore, the liberate-minded educator or the critical researcher’s counterargument to such assertions should be that we “should not be limited to the schemata, theories, or methods that a propositional conception of knowledge requires. If the schemata shapes experience, should we not become versatile in the schemata we can use?” (Eisner, 1988). To what Cavalli (in press) replies and reinforces Eisner’s reasoning: “The emulation of only one paradigmatic mode provide people with a limited scope of choices that are, inevitably, in accordance with the doctrine prescribed and taken for granted by those engaged in approaching the world from this same dominant perspective. These affirmations have imparted the importance of the role attributed to teachers and those involved in the educational process. Researchers are in the main responsible for institutionalizing a system of codes -- language, object, schema -- for conducting research. Therefore, researchers are, to a great extent, implicated not only in the institutionalization, dissemination and safekeeping of a paradigmatic mode of inquiry but responsible for the way their scientific claims affect the construction of knowledge and, as a consequence of that, for the way such claims shape society’s values, practices and assumptions.” In addition, Kelly et al. (2000) reply: “PE teachers can, in a post traditional form of social ordering, be thought of as experts who are charged with providing the educational experiences that can meet the needs of their students in a constantly changing information landscape” (p. 289). The rationale behind these assertions bring us to the initial argumentation of this study: the provision of diverse opportunities and exposure to alternative ways of thinking in order to have children better equipped to perceive and manage the world. The educational choices we make as teachers or researchers have a deep impact on shaping the minds of those under our tutelage or investigation. As a means to contribute to the nurturing of children and formation of society, research in PE should also be regarded responsible for the paradigmatic choices made to approach the teaching and researching of the subject matter of our discipline. Having as a base the studies of Giddens’ (1991; 1994), Kelly et al. (2000) make assertions regarding a more reflexive modernity. They all refer to a “post traditional social order in which questions such as ‘How should I live?’ or, indeed, ‘How should I teach?’ assume both a novel significance, and indeed, become highly consequential to the ‘outcomes’ of this reflexive project of the self” (p. 290). All these will affect the formation of people’s experience. We have, however, to be cautions against the danger of perpetuating a certain kind of research methodology that has had a long history in orientating research in PE. We should avoid the possibility of this research trend to become a contributor to nonproductive research, which Schutz (1989) recognizes as “the type of intellectual inquiry which only propagates more bricks” in a chaotic brickyard.

    Researchers who believe in the development of a higher profile PE should seek amelioration of the state and status of the PE domain through the adoption of an overall strategic approach involving at the very outset the strategy of conducting scholarly research through other modes of inquiry. Hereunder are some alternative strategy proposals that could be adopted to provoke more debate within the field of PE in Japan.

  1. In addition to disseminating information on other modes of inquiry in PE, Japanese journals of PE should further the cause of interpretive and critical paradigms for approaching and conducting research in PE by encouraging articles in the genre.

  2. Journals should be encouraged to include sections for articles utilizing interpretive or critical methodologies in order to heighten local and national awareness of our discipline.

  3. Promotion of open debate on alternative modes of inquiry in order to make more conservative scholars familiar with other paradigmatic perspectives; bring into attention the need for developing research from different standpoints and assumptions; and produce a more holistic body of knowledge of the field.

  4. Creation of a forum -- the internet may be an excellent tool -- for dissemination of ideas and research, discussion of common problems, exchange of views and experience, and for developing collaborative projects.

  5. Give graduate students more freedom to conduct research from a perspective different than that of his or her academic advisor.

  6. Possibilitate undergraduate and graduate students with the opportunity to approach the research in the field of PE from a more generalistic standpoint before getting them embedded into a highly specialized area of study.

  7. Use universities’ seminars or study meetings as opportunities to debate, critique and question research not only in terms of originality or validity but also regarding to educational or social meanings.

  8. Make scientific gatherings more of an educational forum rather than an occasion for the theoretical dissemination and production of conservative knowledge.

  9. “In all of this, the reader too must play a part: which is to say all of us who wish to be involved in the research enterprise. No combination of author, editor, and reviewer, taken alone, can create what is needed most-the vigorous, public critique of research by peers. To play a role in that essential process, readers must take some investment in learning the rudiments of qualitative inquiry, identifying the issues of consequence, and thinking through their own conclusions” (Locke, 1989).

Lecturas: Educación Física y Deportes · http://www.efdeportes.com · Año 6 · Nº 29   sigue Ü