Athletic Women’s Experiences of Amenorrhea: Biomedical Technologies, Somatic Ethics and Embodied Subjectivities

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Holly Thorpe University of Waikato

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Taking inspiration from Nikolas Rose (2007a, 2007b) and feminist new materialists, this paper creates space for athletic women’s voices of their biological and social bodies, and particularly their interactions with the medical professions and biomedical technologies. Drawing upon interviews with 10 female athletes and recreational exercisers who have experienced amenorrhea as a result of their exercise and dieting practices, it reveals how these women, as ‘somatic subjects’, are “reformulating their own answers to Kant’s three famous questions—what can I know? What must I do? What may I hope?—in the age of the molecular biopolitics of life itself” (Rose 2007a, p. 257). In so doing, we see that not all women are docile bodies within such operations of medical power and knowledge, and the “somatic ethics” being practiced by athletic women diagnosed with amenorrhea vary considerably, ranging from rejection and resistance to acceptance of medical advice. Ultimately, this paper challenges scholars of the moving body to consider what the ‘biological turn in social theory’ might mean for our field, and our understandings of moving bodies beyond the biology/culture dualism.

The author is with the Department of Sport and Leisure, University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand.

Address author correspondence to Holly Thorpe at

Editor’s Note The author of this article, Dr. Holly Thorpe, received the inaugural SSJEarly Career Researcher Award from the North American Society for the Sociology of Sport in 2015. The award is given annually to an individual who has completed his or her PhD within seven years of the award year ‘in recognition of significant scholarly contributions to the sociology of sport field’. In the course of her academic career, Dr. Thorpe has amassed a stellar record of impactful scholarship across the disciplines, publishing nearly 50 journal article and book chapters, as well as several monographs and edited books, on social theory, gender, physical culture, and lifestyle and action sports. She has also delivered numerous keynote addresses, been actively engaged in public sociology, and contributed to policy development with a number of international sport organizations. In recognition of receiving the SSJEarly Career Researcher Award, I am pleased to highlight Dr. Thorpe’s work by featuring it as the lead article in this issue of the Sociology of Sport Journal.

Michael D. Giardina

Editor, Sociology of Sport Journal

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