Whose knowledge counts in Adapted Physical Activity? Adapted physical activity (APA) is a cross-disciplinary body of practical and theoretical knowledge directed towards impairments, activity limitations, and limited participation in physical activity (see full definition at http://ifapa.net/definition/). Despite its crossdisciplinary nature, APA still appears to lack diversity in terms of its approaches to research, and engaging with and representing voices of participants. Informed mainly by traditionalist paradigms, the field of APA has been critiqued for marginalising the experiences of its users and paying little attention to power imbalances inherent in traditionalist research approaches. Therefore, ‘Who is the expert and whose knowledge counts?’ is critical in APA. The purpose of my ongoing research project is to respond to these questions through a systematic content review of the prevailing research methodologies and discourses in APA and to propose alternate perspectives.
My research is ultimately inspired and guided by epistemic and ethical responsibility. In other words, it interrogates: to whom, with and for whom the field is intended to serve and support. Specifically, there is concern with the dominant epistemic authority – legitimate knowledge formation and the people with/of authority to speak about such – in APA. Preliminary investigation indicates that this authority is strongly associated with the medical model of disability and traditional, objective and researcher-centred approaches. Furthermore, an ongoing critique of the field is the lack of presence and voice of people experiencing disability in APA research and practice.
Consequently, my research will address a lack of scope in APA research in terms of the field’s engagement with specific research methods and to demonstrate the need for more diverse perspectives in order to address some of the overarching complex and key issues within the field (e.g., inclusion). While APA is considered a multidisciplinary and cross-disciplinary field guided by diverse epistemological and methodological approaches, preliminary inquiries suggest there is in fact limited breadth with emphasis on specific types of inquiry emanating from prevailing disciplines and the pervasiveness of the medical model of disability. Not only is this narrowing from a knowledge generation standpoint, but the opportunity to imagine and engage work that has the potential to be transformative in shifting both research and practice is also stifled. Complex problems are unlikely to be fully recognised and addressed within any one particular discipline or approach. Furthermore, there has been strong critique of the medical model as it does not account for the role of society in disabling people or other alternate understandings of disability.
As recently as 2015 a documentary analysis of research trends published in the Adapted Physical Activity Quarterly (APAQ) over a 10-year period. The identification of research methods was a category of analysis. However, differing significantly from this research, is the level of analysis with regard to research methods. It reported their findings primarily along qualitative and quantitative divides with accompanying descriptions of research design. My research seeks to exceed this type of review by critically attending at the level of epistemology. By revealing the assumptions underlying researchers’ methodological choices, the possibilities for research integration and active communication across disciplines becomes more plausible.
Beyond reporting current trends and possible future directions, my research will also explore alternate approaches and the possibility of methodological integration across disciplines. This offers a unique entry point for researchers to consider how they might collaboratively move across disciplines to address complex, key issues in the field. This is also timely, given recent calls for more interdisciplinary work. That is the focus is not simply to showcase and suggest the active application of alternative research approaches and development of cross disciplinary dialogues. My research will highlight and reinforce the epistemic responsibility of APA researchers, as builders and gatekeepers of the current APA scientific establishment, to actively engage with alternate approaches and participants by keeping the following questions under continuous examination: Who is the expert and whose knowledge counts?
Dr Gyozo Molnar is Principal Lecturer in Sports Studies, University of Worcester, and co-editor of Women, Sport and Exercise in the Asia-Pacific Region: Oppression, Resistance, Accommodation (Oxford: Routledge, 2018).