Media, digital technology and learning in sport: a critical response to Hodkinson, Biesta and James
Enright, E & Gard, M 2016, 'Media, digital technology and learning in sport: a critical response to Hodkinson, Biesta and James', Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy, vol. 21, no. 1, pp. 40-54.
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In their 2008 paper, Hodkinson, Biesta and James draw on the sociological theories of Pierre Bourdieu to construct what they claim is a ‘holistic’ theoretical framework for understanding learning. While not an attempt to dissolve the long-standing opposition between ‘cognitive’ and ‘situated’ theories, the authors claim that thinking about learning and learners in ‘cultural’ terms via Bourdieu's theories allows us theoretically to integrate individuals and learning contexts. The result, they claim, is a ‘scalable’ theory of learning that overcomes the dualisms – such as structure/agency and individual/society – that dog learning theory. We welcome both Hodkinson et al.’s ideas and overall goal. However, we were struck by the absence of any mention of communications media or digital technology in their theoretical framework. Does this mean that media and digital technology can straightforwardly be mapped onto Hodkinson et al.’s theory? Or is this a serious oversight? Given the large amount of recent theorising about the transformative educational potential of media and digital technology – admittedly much of it speculative and hyperbolic – there appear to be some grounds for troubling some of Hodkinson et al.’s ideas by prioritising the effects of media and digital technology on learning. We used two examples of learning in sports, one historical and the other contemporary, to consider the theoretical implications of media and digital technology's role in sports learning. The first explores the ways professional footballers learned to produce displays of emotion during the 1950s and 1960s. Our second example presents data from semi-structured interviews with downhill longboard skateboarders and focuses on how these young people use and think about digital technology as they learn their sport. While not rejecting Hodkinson et al.’s preference for Bourdieu's sociological theories, we draw on other theories that do not see the relationship between the ‘individual’ and ‘society’ as their conceptual starting point. To this end, we touch on Actor Network Theory (ANT), ‘connectivism’ and the theoretical work of Deleuze and Guattari in order to at least question whether Bourdieu's ideas are sufficiently flexible or dynamic to account for learning in media- and technology-saturated environments. Most obviously, rather than the individual/society dualism which Hodkinson et al. simultaneously question but also rely on, are there advantages in using ‘flatter’ metaphors such as the ‘network’ to understand learning? We agree with Hodkinson et al.’s point that theories are tools for thinking with and that their metaphorical power can and should be harnessed to improve the way we teach. It is for this reason that we question Hodkinson et al.’s claim to offer a ‘holistic’ theory of learning. All theories, like metaphors, have real-world limitations and this is why we should always be suspicious of theories that claim to be able to ‘see’ the world from all angles and, perhaps more fundamentally, to dissolve the dualisms that they are built on. Theories are always a partial view from somewhere and just as they help us to see some things, they do so by demanding that we not see others.