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Bourdieu, Feminism and Female Physical Culture: Gender Reflexivity and the Habitus-Field Complex

Holly Thorpe

Feminist theorizing in the sociology of sport and physical culture has progressed through ongoing and intense dialogue with an array of critical positions and voices in the social sciences (e.g., Judith Butler, R.W. Connell, Michel Foucault). Yet, somewhat surprisingly, the work of French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu—arguably one of modern sociology’s “most important voices of social critique and theoretical innovation” (Krais, 2006, p. 120)—has gone largely unheard among critical sports scholars interested in gender (notable exceptions include Atencio, Beal & Wilson, 2009; Brown, 2006; Kay & Laberge, 2004; Laberge, 1995). In this paper I introduce recent feminist engagements with Bourdieu’s original work to a critical sports sociology readership via a case study of snowboarding culture and female snowboarders. I begin by briefly examining the efficacy of three of Bourdieu’s key concepts—capital, field and habitus—for explaining gender and embodiment in snowboarding culture. I then consider how the habitus-field complex can illustrate the “synchronous nature of constraint and freedom” (McNay, 2000, p. 61) for women in contemporary physical culture.

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“An Eye for Talent”: Talent Identification and the “Practical Sense” of Top-Level Soccer Coaches

Mette Krogh Christensen

The purpose of this study is to explore how top-level soccer coaches identify talent. I draw on Bourdieu’s work to challenge a commonly held assumption that talent identification is a rational or objective process. Analysis of in-depth interviews with eight coaches of national youth soccer teams indicated these coaches identified talent in three ways. First, coaches use their practical sense and their visual experience to recognize patterns of movement among the players. Second, the coaches’ classificatory schemes are characterized by their preference for so-called “autotelic” players, that is, players that, from the coaches’ perspective, exhibit a potential to learn, practice, and improve. Third, the study shows that talent, of which the coaches act as arbiters of taste, is socially configured in top-level soccer.

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Female Fandom: Identity, Sexism, and Men’s Professional Football in England

Katharine W. Jones

In this article I consider women’s relationship to football culture, showing how women sometimes downplay their gender identities to reinforce their fan identities. To accomplish this I interviewed 38 female fans at English men’s football (soccer) matches and analyzed their responses to abusive or insulting behavior by male fans. Women used three strategies to respond to sexism and homophobia. First, they expressed disgust at abuse, sometimes redefining fandom to exclude abusers. Second, they downplayed sexism. Their third strategy was to embrace gender stereotypes, arguing that femininity was inconsistent with “authentic” fandom and that abuse was a fundamental part of football. Finally, I suggest that examining nontraditional male fans using a similar framework might yield useful results.

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“I’m a Frog, You’re a Frog, Kiss Me”: A Commentary on Brayton and Alexander (2007)

Geneviève Rail

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Power, Discourse, and Symbolic Violence in Professional Youth Soccer: The Case of Albion Football Club

Christopher Cushion and Robyn L. Jones

A sociological analysis was conducted into the collective nature of coaching as manifest in the triangular interaction between coach, athlete, and context within English professional youth soccer. The work of Pierre Bourdieu is predominantly used to interpret data collected ethnographically over the course of a 10-month season. Findings show how an authoritarian discourse is established and maintained, how it is structured by and subsequently structures the coaching context, and how accompanying behaviors are misrecognized as legitimate by both coaches and players. We conclude by reflecting on the limits of such work and its implications for future coaching education.

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No Pain Is Sane after All: A Foucauldian Analysis of Masculinities and Men’s Rugby Experiences of Fear, Pain, and Pleasure

Richard Pringle and Pirkko Markula

In this article we present research that used Foucauldian theorizing to examine the articulations between masculinities and men’s rugby union experiences of pain, fear, and pleasure. Data was collected via semistructured interviews with 14 New Zealand men of diverse rugby backgrounds. Results suggested that although rugby provided an influential discursive space for the negotiation of masculinities, these negotiations did not result in the simple (re)production of dominating discourses of masculinity. This finding supports the judgment that sport does not consistently or unambiguously produce culturally dominant conceptions of masculinities. The interview accounts revealed, nevertheless, that the games of truth surrounding rugby and masculinities were not played in an equitable manner. This finding helps justify concern about the social significance of popular heavy-contact sports and gendering processes. A strategy of resistance based on the resurrection of marginalized knowledges is discussed.

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Editor’s Note

Edited by Ellen J. Staurowsky

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The Technologies of the Self: Sport, Feminism, and Foucault

Pirkko Markula

Following Michel Foucault, feminist sport scholars have demonstrated how women’s physical activity can act as a technology of domination that anchors women into a discoursive web of normalizing practices. There has been less emphasis on Foucault’s later work that focuses on the individual’s role of changing the practices of domination. Foucault argues that human beings turn themselves into subjects through what he labels “the technologies of the self.” While his work is not gender specific, some feminists have seen the technologies of the self as a possibility to reconceptualize the self, agency and resistance in feminist theory and politics. In this paper, I aim to examine what Foucault’s technologies of self can offer feminists in sport studies. I begin by reviewing applications of Foucault’s technology of the self to analyses of women’s physical activity. I will next locate the technologies of the self within Foucault’s theory of power, self and ethics to further reflect how valuable this concept can be for feminist sport studies.

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“Just Do It”: Consumption, Commitment, and Identity in the Windsurfing Subculture

Belinda Wheaton

Debates about changing contemporary Western societies have emphasized the increasingly fluid and fragmented nature of identities, suggesting that people draw their sense of identity from increasingly diverse sources, including sport and leisure lifestyles. Drawing on ethnographic work on windsurfing subcultures, this article explores the ways in which participants create and perform (sub)cultural identities through their “new sport” consumption and its attendant lifestyle. The paper identifies the main features of the windsurfers’ status system, illustrating that demonstrating commitment, not the conspicuous display of equipment or subcultural style, is central to the meanings the windsurfers give to their participation and subcultural identity. The paper concludes by examining to what degree purported features of contemporary postmodern culture, such as a loss of self-identity, are reflected in such seemingly “image-based” new sport consumption practices.

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Rethinking the Relationships between Sport and Race in American Culture: Golden Ghettos and Contested Terrain

Douglas Hartmann

This article proposes a new way of thinking about the relationships between sport and race in the U.S. It is critical of sport’s racial form and function but does not overlook its unique and potentially progressive characteristics. This theoretical framework is generated through an extended review and critique of longstanding popular beliefs and post-1970s scholarly critiques thereof. It draws most heavily from the latter but also argues that academic critics have been too quick to dismiss the opportunities for racial resistance and change available through sport and, thus, failed to grasp the full extent to which sport is implicated in American racial formations. In contrast, sport is portrayed as a “contested racial terrain.” This formulation, in combination with the “golden ghetto” metaphor, not only conveys the complexity of racial dynamics in sport but also reveals the broad public significance of sport in a racialized culture.