Dodgeball is used to 'oppress' and 'dehumanise' others - report

Dodgeball has been labelled as 'dehumanising' students.
Dodgeball has been labelled as 'dehumanising' students. Photo credit: AAP/Alba Vigaray.

A popular game from physical education class (P.E.) has been labelled as a tool of "oppression" by a team of Canadian researchers.

The professors believe dodgeball, a team sport where the aim is to hit opposing players with a ball, teaches youth to "dehumanise" and harm their peers. 

Professors from three Canadian universities presented their argument last week at the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences in Vancouver, Washington Post reports.

In an interview with Washington Post, professor Joy Botler said: "When you're setting up the environment for students to learn, and you introduce the idea that it's okay to slam the ball at whomever you like, even... with a soft ball, the intention is there.

"People say [dodgeball] is being used as an outlet for aggression or catharsis. I suspect that this is where they're learning that."

Researchers found more athletic and dominant students in P.E. would establish rules without contribution from other students. These rules included creating their own teams and subsequently targeting other students.

Butler told Washington Post that "the message is it's okay to dehumanise the 'other'... the true definition of competition is between two evenly matched teams. Kids stack their teams, and they really enjoy beating the other team. What's the enjoyment of that?"

Researchers plotted a sample of answers by middle-school students explaining why they hated dodgeball against Iris Marion Young's 1990 article "Five Faces of Oppression."

Young's article argues the five faces of oppression are:

  • Exploitation: Using other people’s labors to benefit for oneself.
  • Marginalization: Relegating a group of lower standing to the edge of society.
  • Powerlessness: Those relegated lack autonomy.
  • Cultural imperialism: Establishing the rules and customs of the ruling class as the norm.
  • Violence: Members of a group of lower standing know they may be subject to random, unprovoked attacks, the Washington Post reports.

Young's theory of oppression, Butler said, matched up with the messages communicated by students during the research process.

A report on the subject will appear in the journal, European Physical Education Review.