Valuable introduction to qualitative research methods for sport and physical culture

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Anne Tjønndal
Nord university


Pirkko Markula & Michael Silk Qualitative Research for Physical Culture 252 pages, paperback. Basingstoke, Hamps.: Palgrave Macmillan 2011 ISBN 978-0-230-23024-8

Pirkko Markula & Michael Silk
Qualitative Research for Physical Culture
252 pages, paperback.
Basingstoke, Hamps.: Palgrave Macmillan 2011
ISBN 978-0-230-23024-8

Qualitative Research for Physical Culture by Pirkko Markula (Professor of Socio-Cultural Studies of Sport and Physical Activity at the University of Alberta, Canada) and Michael Silk (Professor of Sport in the Faculty of Management, Bournemouth University, UK) is a practical guide to qualitative research methods for physical culture. In their introduction, the authors clarify that they view ‘physical culture’ as a field that “includes several scholarly disciplines, such as adaptive physical activity, dance studies, leisure studies, outdoor education, physical culture studies, physical education, recreation, sport development, sport history, sport management, sport pedagogy, sport philosophy, sport policy, sport and exercise psychology, and the sociology of sport” (pp. x). Furthermore, the authors state that the purpose of the book is to aid qualitative researchers in negotiating understandings of what counts as good qualitative research as they go through the research process.

This book is an exciting and innovative contribution to the literature on research methodology for scientists and students working with sport, physical activity, physical education, or physical culture in other contexts. Throughout the book, the authors demonstrate how well-known qualitative methods can be applied to studies of sport and physical culture. Markula and Silk skillfully utilize empirical examples which students of sport and physical culture studies will find both relevant and interesting. Among the examples used in the book is a study of injured male ice-hockey players and a study of social physique anxiety in physically active female university students.

The most significant contribution Markula and Silk makes with this book is that they provide a clear and well-written step-by-step approach to conducting qualitative research projects in studies of sport, physical activity and physical culture. The authors do this by identifying what they call the “7Ps” of qualitative research; purpose, paradigms, process, practices, politics of interpretation, presentation and the promise. Purpose deals with the question of why the researcher should engage in qualitative research. Paradigms discusses the different parameters the qualitative researcher chooses for the research project (post-positivist, humanist or poststructuralist/modern). Process includes the structure of the research project, its introduction, literature review, methods, analysis and conclusion. The authors have chosen to combine practices and politics of interpretation together in a set of chapters (4-7) where they outline the most common methodological practices and ways to interpret empirical material in qualitative studies of sport and physical culture. Presentation includes a number of different ways of writing up and presenting results from qualitative research. The last ‘P’, the promise, is about what constitutes good quality in qualitative research.

…they provide a clear and well-written step-by-step approach to conducting qualitative research projects in studies of sport, physical activity and physical culture.

Markula and Silk further divide these ‘7Ps’ into three main areas: 1) Design (purpose, paradigms and process), 2) Doing (practices and politics of interpretation) and 3) Dissemination (presentation and the promise). These three areas also make up the structure of the book. “Part I: Design”, includes chapters 1 through 3, in which each of the ‘Ps’ are given a chapter of their own. “Part II: Doing” (chapters 4-7), are structured in a way where the authors discuss ‘the practice and the politics of interpretation’ of interviewing (chapter 4), textual analysis (chapter 5), narrative analysis (chapter 6) and field methods (chapter 7). The final part, “Part III: Dissemination” includes chapter 8 (presentation) and chapter 9 (the promise).

Three chapters that are particularly unique, valuable and useful in this book is chapter 2 on “Paradigmatic Approaches to Physical Culture” (pp. 24-56), chapter 8 on “Presentation (and Representation)” (pp. 177-195) and chapter 9 about “The Promise” (pp. 196-225). In my experience, books on qualitative research methodology are often mainly concerned with designing and conducting qualitative research projects, what Markula and Silk here refer to as “design” and “doing”. However, the significance scientific paradigms hold for the researcher, the choice of methods and interpretation is often overlooked in practical methodology books. It is refreshing to read a book on qualitative methods that addresses these difficult, but important questions in a clear and structured way. The same can be said about chapter 8, where the authors discuss some of the different ways of writing up qualitative research. Here, Markula and Silk distinguish between ‘realist writing’, ‘different forms of narrative writing’, ‘autoethnography’ and ‘performance ethnography’. Lastly, chapter 9 provides the reader with some useful insight and tips on how to assess the quality of a qualitative research article. In this chapter, the authors raise questions of validation of qualitative research articles, trustworthiness, authenticity, coherence and impact.

In Qualitative Research for Physical Culture Markula and Silk have succeeded in writing a sound manual to designing, researching and reporting an effective qualitative research project. This book will provide guidance and aid to students and researchers from a wide range of scholarly fields, just as the authors have intended. It also deals with a variety of different qualitative methods, making it a good introduction to the many possible research designs and practices that qualitative methods provide within the fields of physical culture and sport.

Copyright © Anne Tjønndal 2016

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