Sport for Development

Sarah Oxford, Victoria University:

My PhD questions the extent to which young women’s participation in sport, and specifically so-called Sport for Development (SDP) programming, shapes or constrains gender relations. Although SDP organizations are diverse, they typically offer sport in conjunction with an educational component to youth living in low-income, marginalised communities. My research motivation stemmed from working as an international development practitioner in Cameroon and from my Master’s dissertation which questioned how SDP organizations in Kenya had transformed to include girls. I drew from empirical data collected by scholars such as Martha Brady (2005) who argues that the benefits girls receive by participating within SDP appear to outweigh the risks; Martha Saavedra (2009) who notes female participation in gender-sensitive SDP organizations may alter what is ‘normal’ and challenge gender norms; and Lindsay Hayhurst (2011) who suggests female SDP participants challenge gender norms but at the cost of experiencing emotional abuse. Simultaneously, this research was underpinned by gender theories such as Butler’s (1990) gender performativity, Young’s (2005) phenomenology of the female body, and Connell’s (2013, 2007, 1998) arguments on the ‘coloniality of gender’ and the prospect of socially reconstructing the World Gender Order.

In 2015, I conducted six months of ethnographic fieldwork in Colombia. Research methods included semi-structured interviews (n=60), participant observation, and document analysis. I employed a purposive sampling strategy, interviewing participants comprised of a range of community members (aged 18–81 years), such as social workers, youth leaders, and unassociated residents. The diversity of interlocutors offered a rich picture of gender roles and relations, and what young women’s participation meant to the individual and community. Four days a week I played or coached on the field or assisted in the office. It was through these daily interactions that I began to move away from the theories and theorists listed above because the issues most critical in their writing were not necessarily the most pressing or relatable in the Colombian context.

The evident repercussions of Colombia’s complex history on social relations (Spanish Colonialism, the powerful Catholic Church, its long-standing internal conflict influenced by sorted relations with the US War on Drugs) illuminated the vital necessity for me to use an intersectional approach that paid attention to how class, religion, heteronormativity and race influence individual agency and gender relations. Moreover, the uniqueness of machismo, spectacular femininity, and gender relations in Colombia required me to move away from Western thinkers. I fell into the borderlines, focusing my attention on Colombian and Latin scholars such as Giraldo (2016), Viveros (2013), and Lugones (2010), eventually adopting a decolonial feminist framework. This has not been a simple formula change, but one that is taking much reflection and further reading. My methods of data collection did not change in this process; however, my intellectual lens and thesis framework were shaped by my fieldwork experiences. Although adopting an intersectional approach felt instant once I began my fieldwork, choosing the decolonial option evolved gradually as I found authors who relate to and draw from the Latin American socio-cultural context and moreover, whose voices need to be heard within Western debates.

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