What if behaviour doesn’t change: an agential realist examination of physical activity intervention

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Objectives: Physical activity intervention favours a mechanistic approach to changing behaviours. This research re-framed the practice of intervention using an agent ontology and examined how an intervention designed to promote intergenerational physical activity (InPA) in families with young children functioned to create the targeted behaviour.

Methods: Agential realism combined with narrative inquiry provided the theoretical framework for thinking differently about intervention. Ten parents of 3-8 year old children were interviewed after using a digital smartphone app for at least eight weeks. Parents’ stories of app-use were examined for functional relations using dialogical narrative analysis.

Findings and Discussion: By understanding the app as a storied object, its functional relations demonstrated that the intervention participated with the parents. Together, they configured a version of the targeted behaviour via three key functions: signification, expansion, and elaboration. Signification demonstrated that the object capable of being affected by the intervention required the intervention to configure it. Expansion was the imaginative, affective feature of configuration. Using the app expanded the parents’ initial signification into a model world they “tried-on” through dialogue with meaningful aspects of the intervention. Elaboration followed the trajectory of the dialogue and accounted for the varied and unfinished forms of InPA observed at the time of measurement.

Conclusion: The targeted behaviour of InPA was not leveraged mechanistically; rather, it emerged, meaningfully configured between the human and nonhuman participants. Intervention outcomes, especially behavioural ones, must be negotiated with participants, and practices must evolve to reflect the unfinished nature of lives and the limits of professional practice.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 21 Feb 2020
EventInternational Conference on Qualitative Research in Sport and Exercise - Durham University, Durham, United Kingdom
Duration: 7 Jul 20209 Jul 2020


ConferenceInternational Conference on Qualitative Research in Sport and Exercise
Abbreviated titleQRSE 2020
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


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