An impressive collection, developed in the Swedish PE research environment

Gunn Helene Engelsrud
The Western Norway University of Applied Sciences

Håkan Larsson (ed.)
Learning Movements: New Perspectives of Movement Education
266 pages, paperback, ill
Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge 2022 (Routledge Studies in Physical Education and Youth Sport)
ISBN 978-0-367-69662-7

This book is edited by Håkan Larsson, a well-known professor of sport science who has published extensively on physical education (PE) within both Swedish and international contexts. The book is part of the Routledge Studies in Physical Education and Youth Sport series. The editor has invited contributions from colleagues in Scandinavia, Canada, and Great Britian, who together have contributed 16 chapters. Håkan Larsson has written the introduction (Chapter 1), the conclusion (Chapter 16), and “Movement Learning in Educational Contexts” (Chapter 3). The full Table of Content is available at the bottom of the page, including these chapters by Larsson. Gunn Nyberg has contributed an individual paper and a collaborative paper, Dean Barker has contributed an individual paper and a collaborative paper, and Joacim Andersson has contributed two collaborative papers. The other papers have either individual authors (5) or are collaborative (5). The authors comprise six women and eleven men (if biological data is relevant). The authors have in common that they refer to each other and most of them are experienced researchers and collaborators. I consider this both a strength and challenge.

As Håkan Larsson states in the foreword, the purpose of this book is to offer what he terms an outline of new and emerging perspectives of movement learning and movement education. However, the conceptualisation of “movement education” as a formal designation of an education programme is rare; the concepts used in educational programmes are physical education and school sport. An example from the Norwegian curriculum is movement referred to as the “joy of movement” and as a lifelong ambition that PE should contribute to. Larsson takes as a starting point that a dominant and predominantly dualist perspective currently exists here, as illustrated through step-by-step models of how to reach a certain outcome when it comes to movement skills, linear and mechanistic perspectives on movement learning, a rationalistic view of knowledge, “the body” to a great extent being seen as a “machine”, and neoliberal governance that would probably reinforce the acquisition metaphor and support the develop­ment of a range of test situations that centre on objective measurements of movement skills and physical performance (p. 33).

However, I understand that he wants to make a contrast to lean on, but since illuminating one’s own preunderstanding is a premise in research, I would have liked to see a closer interpretation of the background, otherwise I can easily read it as a straw man argument.

Larsson clearly want to challenge a paradigm that holds that movements are assumed to be governed by some sort of “ghost in the machine”, that is, the mind or the brain as decontextualised entities (introduction). One of his reasons is that he wants to give room to contrast some taken-for-granted ideas about movement learning where expertise, instruction, and docile athletes are emphasised. However, as a reader based in a phenomenological tradition and in traditions where the consciousness of the mover is challenged as in practising Feldenkrais, mediation, Contact Improvisation (CI), and dance and movement improvisation, I wish that Larsson had contextualised and further delineated his own and the book’s perspectives. However, I understand that he wants to make a contrast to lean on, but since illuminating one’s own preunderstanding is a premise in research, I would have liked to see a closer interpretation of the background, otherwise I can easily read it as a straw man argument.

Since the book’s publication in 2022 and my being asked to write a review for, a couple of years have passed. It seems somewhat unfair to consider this when reading and writing about a book ambitiously titled “new perspectives”, but I assume that the challenges to which Håkan Larsson refers in his conclusion have grown in relevance. As he writes, “Perhaps the most challenging dimension is the ‘the becoming someone’ dimension.” The questions about who moves, when, and where and with what meaning and intentions and for whom, moving freely or within contexts that stimulate the persons, are not fairly distributed. Today, real-life experiences are crucial and challenging for terminology and perspectives. When war and conflicts deprive people and in particular children of life and childhood, the enormously privileged positions from which the authors operate become something worth mentioning here. Who are we? We can dream, aspire to new movement experiences, work with identity, criticise dualism, acquire new insight into normative and power-related aspects of movement learning, and discuss the perspectives that the book makes available. Larsson himself writes that he finds it

almost despairing to try to keep track of the terminology if the content is taken as a whole. It just does not work. To understand this, first, one must take into account that all the different perspectives – phenomenology, phenomenogra­phy, poststructuralism, pragmatism, socioculturalism, interactionism – have all developed in different social and historical contexts and for different purposes (p. 224).


However, what strikes me is the how the authors use “old” theory and philosophers, such as John Dewey (chapters 13 and 15), Michel Foucault (chapters 1, 7, and 16), Maurice Merleau-Ponty (chapters 5 and 9), Tim Ingold (chapter 14), Ference Marton (chapters 6 and 11), Gilles Deleuze and Deleuze and Felix Guattari (chapters 7, 14, and 16), and Otto Friedrich Bollnow (chapter 9), to mention some of the theorists who are represented in the chapters. This means that the new perspectives of movement learning and movement education are informed by “old” and well-known perspectives (which Larsson also mentions in his conclusion) and mostly from male authors. Worth mentioning is that the theoretical perspectives are developed within “western” thinking, a way of thinking about movement learning that is criticised in the introduction, were Larsson writes that the current “approach has supported the dominance of a westernised and predominantly white, masculinised and heteronormative view of able bodies, embodiment and movements”. I consider this a paradox.

One question that, for me, is “hidden between the lines” is if movement is understood as embedded in all aspects of life as an existential basis that learning movements in sport and physical education have to rely on. The reader is for example presented with phenomenology where the learner is at the same time the knowing subject and the knowledge object, and the mover’s engagement with one’s social relations and environment, and “my own movement” as lived experience is the core experience. However, other chapters examine the movement of “the other” and view the movement that the other performs through the lenses where social norms and other norms operate on the learner and the learner is objectified in the research. I read this as a tacit assumption, embedded in the way poststructuralism and phenomenology represent two very different perspectives, and shown in terminology as the physical body, the material body, the human body (Markula), and how a Foucauldian perspective highlights that the body is constituted through discourse and language, which means ana­lysing how larger economic, social, and political issues affect sport and physical activity (p. 92). Here, the sensuous and perceiving and experiencing subjectivity of the body tend to go unnoticed.

Larsson has organised the book into three types of chapters, the first type offering a contextualisation of the topic of movement learning and education – that is, what is it and why is it in focus (introduction)? In this part, I found Chapter 2, “Metaphors of Movement Learning” by Dean Barker, Gunn Nyberg, and Helene Bergentoft, very interesting and creative. They have identified four dif­ferent perspectives that they argue exist within movement education research. They give a practical analogy that works as an organising principle for the chapter. They have termed the principles the information-processing perspective, the nonlinear pedagogical perspective, the organic learning perspective, and the guided discovery perspective. In thinking about movement, these perspectives can inform practices and stimulate further research.

Jesper Andreasson and Kevin Holger Mogensen succeeds in making the content a living text with fine narrative approaches of embodied learning processes.

The second type of chapter offers comprehensive introductions to a number of emerging perspectives of movement learning. In this part, I learned more about the research by Gunn Nyberg, who is responsible for Chapter 6, “A Phenomenographic Perspective of Movement Learning”. Here I found a clear explanation of how researchers using a phenomenographic approach are interested in exploring qualitatively different ways of experiencing a phenomenon among a group of people, but not so much about the subject herself. The article deals with questions about what it means to know, from the perspec­tive of the learners, what is expected to be known, and what is there to be known. How can teaching be designed to facilitate student learning? Reading Nyberg’s chapter (also chapter 11) together with Standal (chapter 5) and Aggerholm (chapter 9) allowed me and other readers to see a clear difference between these positions on understanding movement learning.

The third category offers a number of in-depth empirical examples of studies, and although there are many studies from the gym, Chapter 15 (“The Ecstatic Pump and the Logic of Pain: Learning Processes and Embodiment in Fitness Culture”), by Jesper Andreasson and Kevin Holger Mogensen, succeeds in making the content a living text with fine narrative approaches of embodied learning processes. The body com­municates. The body resists. The body breaks. They write:

Different forms of knowledge about the body, how to train it, feed it and challenge it are however gradually being transformed through self-experimentation and social organization/negotiation of emotion­ally expressive aspects of the body. Knowledge about the body is also (becom­ing) knowledge in the body (p. 221).

This tells me that different perspectives compete for influence within us and between us and the environment.

Concluding remarks

I feel very privileged to have been asked to review such an impressive research work, developed in the circles of the Swedish research environment. The qualified selection of research makes the book rich and well worth a read or, rather, studying and investigating. I was touched by a paragraph in the conclusion, where Håkan Larsson wrote from his experience as a coach in hurdling:

As a young coach it never transpired to me that the context was replete with sociocultural norms that the young athletes had to negotiate. It did not transpire to me that learning some obscure movement pattern (like hur­dling) could make no sense, or seem pointless to a young person (or to any per­son for that matter). Neither did it transpire to me that learning to run hurdles was simultaneously about becoming a hurdler, at least not in the sense that a hurdler was somebody, an identity attached to a body. I was ignorant about the fact that movements could hardly be seen as existing per se and could be learnt without at the same time affecting the learner, the person.

My interpretation is that personal writing is important to understand ourselves and examine the origin and expression of our own experiences. So I suggest; Read, learn, move – remain and be in the book for a while!

Copyright © Gunn Helene Engelsrud

Table of Content

      1. Introduction to New Perspectives of Movement Learning
        Håkan Larsson
      2. Metaphors of Movement Learning
        Dean Barker, Gunn Nyberg and Heléne Bergentoft
      3. Movement Learning in Educational Contexts
        Håkan Larsson
      4. Beyond Molecularization: Constructivist, Situated and Activity Theory Approaches to Movement Learning
        David Kirk and Elise Houssin
      5. A Phenomenological Perspective of Movement Learning
        Øyvind Standal
      6. A Phenomenographic Perspective of Movement Learning
        Gunn Nyberg
      7. Foucault’s Poststructuralist Approaches to Understanding Movement Learning
        Pirkko Markula
      8. A Transactional Understanding of Movement Learning
        Joacim Andersson and Mikael Quennerstedt
      9. Practising Movement
        Kenneth Aggerholm
      10. Symbolic Interactionism And Movement Learning
        Dean Barker
      11. Teaching and Learning Running Differently: A Phenomenographic Approach to Movement Education
        Gunn Nyberg
      12. Movement Learning and Pupils’ Artistic Expression Analysing Situated Artistic Relations in Physical Education
        Joacim Andersson and Jonas Risberg
      13. An Emotional Journey: The Significance of Aesthetic Experience for Motor Learning
        Ninitha Maivorsdotter
      14. Tangible tricks and transitions in skateboarding
        Åsa Bäckström
      15. The Ecstatic Pump and the Logic of Pain. Learning Processes and Embodiment in Fitness Culture
        Jesper Andreasson and Kevin Holger Mogensen
      16. Conclusion
        Håkan Larsson
Print Friendly, PDF & Email


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.