Changing Positions: The Sexual Politics of a Women’s Field Hockey Team 1986-1996

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Joanne Shire Cheltenham & Gloucester College of Higher Education, Cheltenham, GL50 4AZ, UK

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Celia Brackenridge Leisure and Sport Research Unit, Cheltenham & Gloucester Francis Cheltenham, GL50 4AZ, UK

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Mary Fuller Cheltenham & Gloucester College of Higher Education, Cheltenham GL50 2QF, UK

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Despite a huge expansion in the literature on individual aspects of sexual identity and sexuality, and the growth of studies on women in sport, there are still relatively few investigations into women’s sporting and sexual subcultures. In addition, practical difficulties frequently preclude the adoption of longitudinal research designs when studying sport groups. With this research we describe the micro-dynamics of a particular women’s field hockey team, tracing the shifting composition of the team from predominantly heterosexual to almost entirely lesbian over the ten year period 1986-1996. A retrospective, longitudinal design was used: data from semi-structured interviews with 26 players were matched against data depicting the changing distribution of heterosexual and lesbian players during the ten year period. Two major findings emerge: first, that the women’s sexual identities were more fluid and complex than most of the literature on women in sport implies. Secondly, the status system of the club was more strongly influenced by organisation sexuality than it was by structural tradition. Consequently the status system changed from one based on structure (i.e. years of experience in the club) to one based on culture (i.e. identity as a lesbian organisation) as the number of self-identified lesbians increased beyond 38%.

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