Physical Cultural Studies (PCS) is a broad-ranging and innovative project developed within the Department of Kinesiology at the University of Maryland, College Park.  We, at Maryland, have decided to embrace and activate the term physical culture as a means of announcing and directing our particular object of study.  According to this understanding, the term physical culture represents a diverse cultural sphere (including, but not restricted to: sport, health, movement, exercise, dance, and daily living related activities), through which the active body is located within, and thereby experiences, the operations of social power.  PCS is thus interested in the critical, and theoretically informed, analysis of those “cultural practices in which the physical (active) body—the way it moves, is represented, has meanings assigned to it, and is imbued with power—is central” (Vertinsky, 2004, italics added).

Figure: The Empirical Core and Dimensions of PCS                     


The PCS project is inherently contextual since it seeks to locate and analyze particular aspects physical culture, within the broader social, political, economic, and technological contexts in which they situated.  PCS thus seeks to identify the role played by physical culture in constructing, reproducing, and sometimes challenging, particular class, ethnic, gender, ability, generational, national,racial, and/or sexual norms and differences.

Figure: The Crises and Contradictions of the Physical Cultural Landscape

Whether it is the prevalence of highly commercialized and mediated sport spectacles and celebrities; the spiralling rates of physical inactivity and ill-health; the gendered and gendering economy of popular physical practices; the phenomena of overtraining and steroid abuse; the differential opportunity for physical activity between different racial, class, and generational groupings; or, the physical exploitation evident in the workplace, PCS seeks to develop a more nuanced socio- behavioral understanding of the physical health and well-being (or otherwise) of the nation.

Through the development and strategic dissemination of potentially empowering forms of knowledge and understanding to academic, policy-maker, and public constituencies, PCS seeks to illuminate, and intervene into, sites of physical cultural injustice and inequity in meaningful ways.  Moreover, it is our contention that the aforementioned physical cultural injustices and inequities–with which PCS is committed to engaging–are clearly implicated in the health experiences and outcomes of the general populace, hence, PCS’ relevance to the mission of the School of Public Health, within which the Department of Kinesiology is located.


1.  Power, Context, and the Active Body