Department for Health

Physical Cultural Studies (PCS)

Research on physical cultural practices explores the ways in which our bodies become organised, represented and experienced in relation to the operations of social power.

Why do we research in this area?

Dr Mike Silk and Emma Rich discuss their research into sport and society (image courtesy of Nick Webb and Andy Miah, Creative Commons).

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Our interdisciplinary and international research agenda is underscored by a commitment towards identifying, and intervening into, physical cultural inequalities (such as gendered, disability, raced, classed, sexual, age based, geographic) and pressing social concerns.

Our work examines the relationships between physical activity, health, sport and wellbeing with culture, technology, the environment, urban space, the body, pedagogies, poverty, inequalities, power relations and identities across the lifespan.

Such research locates and understands our physical cultural practices within the broader political, economic, social, and technological contexts within which they are situated. Further, it identifies the local and global contexts that contribute to various forms inequalities and suggests possibilities for social change through sport, physical (in)activity, embodied health and emotional wellbeing.

Through our interdisciplinary theoretical and methodological approaches to physical culture, we aim to develop new knowledge that can:

  • contribute towards policy in sport, physical and mental health/wellbeing
  • impact practice in public/private organisations
  • engage the public through a variety of activities
  • contribute towards progressive societal change.

What do we do?

We seek to offer new directions and innovations in our research, through theorising, conceptualisation or creative methodological approaches that can develop new directions and knowledge within the study of physical cultural forms, practices and representations.

Our research raises fundamental questions about embodiment, that challenge conventional ways of thinking as to how the body is positioned and perceived in culture and society, and with respect to how we might go about studying bodily movement, enactment and positioning in time, place and space.

We employ a fluid theoretical vocabulary, utilising concepts and theories from a variety of disciplines, including:

  • cultural studies
  • post-feminisms
  • health
  • education
  • economics
  • social policy
  • media studies
  • performance studies
  • philosophy
  • sociology
  • urban studies.

Through asking important questions and setting important agendas for policy, practice, pedagogy and social theorising, our research offers a truly holistic understanding of the derivation, constitution, and experience of physical activity/human movement, sport, the body, power, wellbeing and (ill)health.

Thematic strands

Physical and digital cultures

  • Embodied health and emotional wellbeing over the life course
  • (Bio-)Pedagogies, risk and identities
  • Digital technologies, (social) media representations and e-health
  • Inequalities in physical and mental health: ageing, disability, gender, class, race and sexuality
  • Physical/health education and physical (in)activity practices

Policy, social exclusion and development

  • Poverty, social justice and local-global change
  • Social exclusion, sport and empowerment
  • International development, health and wellbeing
  • Coaching pedagogies, culture and social change
  • Global sport events, politics and policy

Active spaces, governance and inclusive communities

  • Urban space, representation and promotional cultures
  • Leisure, tourism and sports management
  • Surveillance, securitisation and social control
  • Sensory landscapes, environments and physical cultures

Examples of our research

Project title Aim/findings People and partners Funder
Creating inclusive physical cultures and community contexts Multi-method evaluation of a volunteer program that supports the participation of older adults with disabilities in community based physical activity. Age UK
A social approach to women’s recovery from depression This project offers a critique of the limitations of biomedical models of depression and identifies the significance of everyday day practices and social relationships (leisure, sport and travel) that enable embodied wellbeing. Australian Research Council
Sport mega-events, urban projects and governance This project addresses how regeneration associated with major sporting events/major urban renewal projects impact upon social, economic and health disparities in urban centres in the UK, China, Singapore and Malaysia. Jiangsu Government, PRC
Physical cultures, digitality and mobile health apps This project addresses the rapid growth in mobile health apps that relate to physical activity and lifestyle. The research suggests that while the promotion of healthy behaviours through mobile apps has intensified, so have the processes of surveillance and regulation of people’s everyday lives. ESPRC/NIH (Pending)
Public pedagogy and citizen media To be confirmed University of Bath
Relays at Watershed
Scoping project (for Badminton England) to model junior elite sports academy provision. To produce a model of good practice for implementation in Badminton England's sport plan. Preliminary findings will be reported in October 2012 followed by a presentation at the National Badminton Centre to all key stakeholders. Badminton England


Academic staff

Research students

Visiting professoriate