Following criticism leveled at sociologists by Chris Rojek and Bryan Turner in “Decorative Sociology: A Critique of the Cultural Turn,” this article identifies a troubling absence of systematic contextualization in sport sociology. In addressing this issue, I begin by describing the role of history and context in sociology and conclude that the discipline should take history more seriously, not least by giving context greater due. I then engage the debate as to whether radical contextual cultural studies or social history offers the best explanation of context. Here I argue for the latter. In justifying my position, I adapt a model employed by the conservative social historian Arthur Marwick in “The sixties: Cultural Revolution in Britain, France, Italy, and the United States, c. 1958–c. 1974,” to contextualize a contemporary cultural phenomenon, the female boarder (i.e., the female surfboard rider, skateboarder, and snowboarder). Ultimately, this paper illustrates that the systematic and transhistorical tools developed by social historians have the potential to facilitate a more all-encompassing contextualization of cultural phenomena, to examine multiple historical conjunctures, and to help sociologists take time and change more seriously.
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.
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.
Holly Thorpe and Megan Chawansky
This study seeks to better understand broad management issues associated with the employment of female workers in one sport for development (SfD) project. Through interviews with the executive director and five female staff members of Skateistan—the skateboarding SfD project operating in Afghanistan, Cambodia, and South Africa—this study offers insights on female transmigrant workers who relocated to work for the project in Afghanistan, focusing particularly on how formal and informal management strategies are experienced by international female staff and volunteers. Extending the work of Black, Mendenhall, and Oddou with a poststructural feminist approach, we identify six key themes related to the experiences of female transmigrant workers moving into and during SfD assignments: (a) initial motivations, (b) organizational selection mechanisms, (c) management of risk, (d) work–life balance, (e) managing the self, and (f) negotiating postcolonial critiques of development work. In so doing, this paper recognizes women’s lived experiences as a valid and valuable form of knowledge that could be used to inform management approaches adopted by SfD organizations.
Rebecca Olive and Holly Thorpe
This paper examines the potential of social theory for enhancing researcher reflexivity and praxis in the ethnographic field. More specifically, we advocate the potential of feminist interpretations of Pierre Bourdieu’s concept of “regulated liberties” for helping critical ethnographers navigate some of the embodied political and ethical tensions and challenges encountered in male-dominated physical cultures. Drawing upon examples from our fieldwork in surfing and snowboarding cultures, we illustrate some of the strategies we employ to subtly subvert problematic cultural norms and values within these action sport cultures. Engaging the work of poststructural feminist and Bourdieusian scholars, we raise some of the ethical questions and concerns we have experienced as cultural members and feminist researchers while engaging with participants in the waves and on the slopes.
Anna-Liisa Ojala and Holly Thorpe
Action sports (e.g., snowboarding, skateboarding, windsurfing, BMX) have traditionally celebrated antiauthoritarian, do-it-yourself and anticompetition cultural values. With the institutionalization and commercialization of action sports over the past two decades, and the introduction of mega-sports events such as the X Games, and the inclusion of some action sports into the Olympic Games (i.e., snowboarding, freestyle skiing, BMX), action sport athletes are increasingly working with coaches, psychologists, agents, managers and personal trainers to improve their performances. In this Insights paper we consider coaching in action sports via the case of Finnish professional snowboarders’ attitudes to coaches. Drawing upon conversations with elite freestyle snowboarders we briefly present insights into their perceptions of the various positions of coaches in professional snowboarding before we offer suggestions built upon a Problem-based learning approach for coaches interested in working with action sport athletes.
Marianne I. Clark and Holly Thorpe
This article presents a diffractive experiment in thinking about mothers’ engagements with self-tracking technologies as materially and discursively produced phenomena. Inspired by St. Pierre’s claim that any empirical adventure with new materialisms must begin by living with theory, we share our feminist, collaborative journey with Fitbits and Karen Barad’s agential realism to consider what might emerge when we begin thinking and living with concepts such as diffraction, entanglement, and intra-action. Unfolding within the uncertain intersections of theory, method, and data, our diffractive methodology prompted understandings of maternal, moving bodies as entangled agencies in continuous states of becoming and fostered generative feminist relationships that allowed us to embrace new ways of thinking, knowing, and being.
Anna-Liisa Ojala and Holly Thorpe
Holly Thorpe, Lyndsay Hayhurst, and Megan Chawansky
This paper explores the ethics of representing girls and young women from the global South in Sport for Development (SfD) organizational campaigns via the case of Skateistan—an international SfD organization with skateboarding and educational programs in Afghanistan, Cambodia, and South Africa. Focusing particularly on Skateistan’s representations of skateboarding girls and young women in Afghanistan, we draw upon interviews with staff members as well as digital observations and organizational curriculum materials, to reveal some of the nuanced power relations within such media portrayals. In so doing, we also draw attention to some of the unintended risks of “positive” representations of sporting girls from the global South, and some of the strategies employed by Skateistan to navigate such issues.
Holly Thorpe, Julie Brice, and Anna Rolleston
To date, there is little research focusing on the role of culture and Indigenous ways of knowing in Western science-dominated high performance sporting environments. This paper takes inspiration from the emerging field of Postcolonial Science Studies and feminist Indigenous scholars to explore how Aotearoa (New Zealand) Black Ferns Sevens players from Māori and Samoan descent make meaning of their bodies within Westernized high performance sporting spaces. Drawing upon a thematic analysis of semi-structured interviews with 18 members of the Black Ferns Sevens squad, we illustrate how players navigate divergent cultural value systems within and across various aspects of the high performance sport environment, including training, nutrition, menstruation, and the everyday quantification of their bodies. This paper also reveals some of the important considerations, learnings, and vulnerabilities experienced during this cross-cultural research collaboration, and highlights the need for more research by/with/for Indigenous women in high performance sport environment.