International Conference on Sports in Malmö, Sweden
April 8–12, 2010
Paper Presentation XI:
Gender, Sports and Generation – Children and Elderly People
Monday, April 12, 10.00–13.00

“Actively disadvantaged?”: A Foucauldian perspective of rural adolescent girls’ participation in sport and physical education

Amanda Mooney, Rochelle Eime & Warren Payne
School of Human Movement and Sport Sciences, University of Ballarat, AUSTRALIA

The illustriousness of sport to Australian culture has often been discussed and in rural communities it could be argued that community sporting clubs are integral, and often unparalleled, in the development of collective community identities and individual subjectivities (Smailes, 2002). Sport is considered a way of life for many rural Australians, yet social, climatic and economic factors have resulted in vast changes to the sporting landscape in rural communities, particularly for adolescent females. With the amalgamation of many community sporting clubs due to declining populations and the rationalisation of Government funding, fewer opportunities for participation in organised physical activity now exist for rural adolescent girls (Tonts & Atherley, 2005). Compounding this lack of opportunity, are questions around the types of physical activity experiences available to rural adolescent females and the impact this has on the way that rural adolescent females construct ideas around being physically active. This paper is concerned with the ways in which prevalent cultural and institutional discourses mediated through community sport and school-based physical activity impact on the construction of female physically active subjectivities in rural communities.

This study draws on data from a mixed method longitudinal study designed to assess the individual, social and environmental determinants of physical activity for adolescent girls. Focus groups and individual interviews were conducted with adolescent girls and physical education teachers from eight rural communities in the state of Victoria, Australia. Generally respondents considered that the majority of sporting experiences available to rural adolescent girls were competitive, team-based and gender-appropriate activities. In this paper, I discuss the formation of multiple forms of physically active subjectivities through the lens of the ‘netball’ girls, the ‘sporty’ girls, the ‘glamour’ girls and the ‘so small-town’ girls. Through this analysis I highlight the various and interrelated discourses through which competitive, team-based and gender appropriate activities are privileged in these communities.

Following Foucault, I critique some familiar notions of discourse-power relationships as they exist in rural settings and raise questions about the potential disadvantage such relationships yield in terms of adolescent girls’ participation in physical activity. This discussion considers the implications of this study for diverse rural community sporting organisations and for teaching physical activity in schools more broadly. It aims to provoke critical and reflexive examination of the 'sporty' subjectivities that get privileged with the intention of promoting alternative ways of being active.

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