Brock University

Boundaries, Discourse, and Practice: Cultural Concepts in Recreation and Sport

Arts and media have historically been central areas of inquiry for cultural sociologists. Yet, core cultural concepts are clearly relevant to the equally rich fields of sport and recreation. In this session, we take up questions like: how are sport and leisure bound up with social processes of differentiation and distinction? What are the foundations and consequences of boundary work in sport and recreation? How do sport and leisure as fields intersect with, or depart from, other fields (e.g. those centred on education, or cultural production)? How do discourses, schemas, and frames operate in fields of sport and recreation? By applying and extending insights from cultural theory, we begin to build a rich, meaning-centred understanding of sport and leisure.

Session Organizer: Diana Miller, University of Toronto,


Pounds are Seconds: The Cult of Thinness in Women's Distance Running

Christine Carey, McMaster University,

Within contemporary Western culture there is a great deal of value attached to health, slimness and leanness. This is especially true for women, who are judged highly on appearance. Idealized leanness has spurred a widespread pursuit of thinness among women that Sharon Hesse-Biber (1996) refers to as “the cult of thinness.” While pressures to be thin affect women in many social milieus, the cultural imperative to lose weight is especially pronounced in women’s distance running. This paper draws on semi-structured interviews with nineteen female runners to examine how their sport promotes the pursuit of thinness through structural mechanisms and interactive processes. Because female runners face performance-related pressures to be thin in addition to social pressures, it is argued that the cult of thinness is intensified in female distance running subcultures.


Sports and Symbolic Boundary Making: A Test of the Highbrow and Cultural Omnivore Theses

Joshua Brisson, Dalhousie University,

The question of how cultural practices and lifestyles count as status markers is a topic of much debate in cultural sociology. The aim of this paper is to contribute to this debate by examining whether the dominant trend towards cultural omnivorism (inclusivity) and away from highbrow patterns (exclusivity) of ‘elite’ status consumption, which has been observed in many cultural fields, has carried over to the field of sports. I use Correspondence Analysis techniques and nationally representative survey data from 2010 in order to visualize the structuring principles of the Canadian field of sports. First, I explore whether the nature of the distribution of sporting practices and social class positions in the Canadian field of sports bear resemblance to ‘exclusive’ highbrow and/or ‘inclusive’ omnivore structuring principles. Second, I explore whether the structuring principles of the field of sports vary for different social cleavages such as gender and race. This paper shows that Canadians’ sporting practices generally reflect principles of exclusion, while principles of omnivorousness are most prevalent among women and visible-minorities.


“This is the women’s workshop”: Establishing and Maintaining the Boundaries of Women Onlyness

Michele Donnelly, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council/University of Southern California,

Drawing on ethnographic research of two women-only leisure groups/activities – a women’s flat track roller derby league and a women-only home improvement workshop – this presentation explores the various ways that organizers and participants established and maintained the boundaries of women onlyness. In both cases, women participants served as the primary producers of women onlyness, and the culture of the group/activity. As such, they took the lead in maintaining the women-only boundaries of their groups/activities. In both the women’s flat track roller derby league and at the women-only home improvement workshops, gender boundaries were established in formal and informal ways. Women participants (and organizers) employed two main boundary maintenance strategies. The first is a “common sense” strategy that worked from the assumption that if a man understood this was a group for women; he (or any man) would not want to join. Using humour is the second strategy that women participants (and organizers) used to maintain boundaries. Women’s joking revealed concerns about preserving women onlyness, while maintaining a good-humoured atmosphere, and avoiding confrontation with men. It also effectively contributed to a feeling of bonding among the women. Establishing and maintaining boundaries not only demonstrated investments in women onlyness, it also revealed the ways that women onlyness – as a defining characteristic of the emerging culture of these groups/activities – is produced and, in some situations, institutionalized at the organizational level of these activities.


From a dragon from a small stream to my mom’s friend’s daughter: Case study of figure skater Yuna Kim.

Hye Jin Kim, Humanities, Social Sciences, and Social Justice in Education, OISE/University of Toronto,

In this paper, through the help of Bourdieu’s social theory, I provide a reading of the media portrayals of figure skater Yuna Kim as umchinttal (my mom’s friend’s daughter), and situate them in the educational discourses that accompanied the social and cultural changes in South Korea. Yuna Kim increasingly was portrayed through the notion of umchinttal—a neologism that refers to a new ideal student who tends to be more active, willing to succeed, and not exclusively in the traditional academy but also in the more “creative” areas. Yet, a closer look at the text suggests a changing field. The newly arising umchinttal/umchinah are born into families that can support the acquisition of a globalized educational capital and fluency in the cosmopolitan culture—a cosmopolitan habitus. This means that students from “small streams,” families with not much educational, cultural, or economical capital, will likely have a more difficult time to acquire upward class mobility through education, as the parents’ cultural or economic capital becomes more significant for their children’s educational success in the current education model.


© Canadian Sociological Association ⁄ La Société canadienne de sociologie