HPE teachers’ negotiation of environmental health spaces: discursive positions, embodiment and materialism
A National Curriculum in Health and Physical Education (HPE) has recently been developed in Australia. This new curriculum reflects, among other educational priorities, both environmental sensitivities and a commitment to the enhancement of young people’s health and wellbeing. HPE is one of the key sites in the curriculum where a focused consideration of the relationship between the environment and health is possible. However, to date no research has considered the ways that HPE teachers might recognise and negotiate these spaces. The research described in this paper addresses this gap through an analysis of semi-structured interviews with generalist primary and specialist secondary HPE teachers, drawing on a ‘narrative ethnography’ approach derived from cultural geography. This analysis highlights the consequences of the absence of a knowledge tradition that explicitly links the fields of the environment and health in HPE. Participants who were able to conceptualise environmental health almost exclusively drew on dominant neoliberal and risk discourses. At the same time, teachers’ embodied histories and affective encounters with non-human nature helped them to rupture or challenge dominant assumptions about environmental health. We argue that corporeal knowledge developed through embodied experiences has the potential to assist teachers in formulating environmental health in ways that highlight how interactions with the environment might enhance health and wellbeing.