The (un)learning of whiteness and its relationship with being-white and developing social justice projects in Physical Education

Research output: Thesis (awarded by external institution)Doctoral Thesis


Research has shown that the whitewashed Physical Education (PE) curriculum’s primary mode of teaching through social interaction is systemically racialised, which, in turn, racially constrains access to the profession. My Thesis uses a critically informed qualitative approach to map and explore a terrain of whiteness across the domain of PE-an interdisciplinary study of whitely thinking’s role in racialising a segment of the PE professional pathway. The theoretical framework builds on the literature that most white people conceive an essentialist view of racism. In contrast, people who experience racism see it as structural and systemic, which creates a differential perception of its consequences. The critical approach uses a notion of widening the application of racisms and is defined as all the ways that racism is delivered to racialise a social interaction. Racisms support the noetic and cognitively established theorising, cultural schemas, racial frames, and whiteness ideologies. The expression of racisms, underpinned by whitely thinking, produces layers of racialisation, resulting in mental trauma and precarious life courses for those it discriminates against. The term constrained inclusion is introduced to further the role of individuals in racialising social interactions. Using data from semi-structured interviews with white PE students and their academic course leaders at English universities, the Thesis maps experiences of engaging with social justice projects regarding their racial knowledge and empathy. It presents evidence that students arrive at their university with a whitely way of thinking, speaking and decision-making. By combining the perspectives of students and course leaders, the Thesis demonstrates that social justice-informed teaching is broadly present within the curriculum. However, its orientation in engaging students to develop passive non-racism is limited, with implications for the persistence of the PE profession recognised as being-white. An active and actionable anti-racism strategy is needed.
Moreover, although the participants say they do not see race, the analysis shows they continue to think in whitely ways. The participants cognitively adopting a “cloaking” of whitely thinking to hide their engagement with racism(s). Furthermore, the social justice curriculum projects gave these students increased social awareness that aided them in cloaking their whiteness perspectives.
The Thesis expands on research that shows white university students resist equality initiatives they perceive as endangering their entitlements introducing the concept of constrained inclusion. The Thesis supports observations that students employ racialised tropes in class conversations. However, whitely thinking goes beyond the university modules and teaching sessions. The findings confirm that critical education on racism is not a priority for HE's PE degrees. Frequently, the teaching content of PE courses aligns with the course team's preferences, reflecting both an issue of staff (lack of) diversity and those housed within the confines of being-white usually do not examine the costs of a racialised society. My Thesis proposes to disrupt the profession's self-perpetuating dominant whiteness, and a series of recommendations are made. I present my research agenda to follow this Thesis for developing social justice projects around active and actionable anti-racism.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • University of Worcester
Award date2 Nov 2022
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2022


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