Disability, Sport and Research

The past couple of months I have considered the aspect of disability in my PhD thesis. Largely because the Paralympic Games featured significantly in the educational programme connected to London 2012, with the Paralympic values of inspiration, determination, courage and equality a central feature alongside the Olympic values. I am discussing this topic at the North American Society for the Sociology of Sport conference this week, exploring whether through London 2012 there was perception change that has influenced UK education based sport policy beyond 2012.

The area of disability and disability sport is not something I have considered extensively before and it has raised some interesting issues. The two points that I have pondered more broadly are:

  • the dominance of the Paralympics and International Paralympic Committee in my own research around disability sport. In March this year, the organisation continued their direction of alignment with the International Olympic Committee and building a brand around international elite disability sport. I am continuing to ponder whether this global elite sport movement productively represents disability sport?
  • beyond elite and competitive disability sport, the relationship between everyday physical activity and sport and disability communities. The Activity Alliance released a research report recently around ‘The Activity Trap: Disabled people’s fear of being active’ and the issues around physical activity in everyday lived experiences of the disability community. In my own Paralympic-centric understanding of disability, have I missed the relationship between disability and everyday sporting issues?

The above bullet points are a couple of sentences of academic chatter to highlight how my own research has challenged my own understandings of disability, and what London 2012 did for particular disability communities. I am not going to be able to answer all of this by the end of my PhD. Nevertheless, it is an area that I want to delve into further, especially, with the upcoming ‘inclusive’ sport mega events of the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham and the 2021 Rugby League World Cup in the North of England. As ever, plenty to ponder!


The End of the Summer… Hello World 2.0

Back in September 2015 I blogged for the first time. Around 1095 days, 156 weeks, 36 months and 3 years later I decided to write this milestone blog, and ponder where I am up to?

Quantifiably, WordPress tells me that in the past 3 years I have published 38 blogs, 19,429 words and it has been read by over 1600 people around the world. Cool! Qualitatively, the topics have ranged from American football to lad culture; pondering the art of networking and how to interpret varying forms of media and sporting events.

At the end of September 2018 and in writing this blog I drafted several paragraphs: 1) reminiscing about my blog, 2) wondering what I should write about next, 3) evaluating my experience of writing a blog, 4) considering whether I am still a sports researcher and enthusiast… none have been particularly interesting!

So where next?

I need to finish my PhD. And on the 29th October I leave the country for 6 weeks.

It is the end of the summer and the end of the first era of my blog. In the coming month or so I want to think through where next, what next, and how to communicate such.

Thankfully sport continues to be interesting and pose a number of questions…


Tennis, Gender and Cats: On and Off Court Body Politics

Nike posted a powerful advert on the 25th August 2018. It caught my eye as it is another striking image and loaded caption from the multi-billion dollar sports empire.

Plus, it involved one of my favourite sport stars – Serena Williams – heralded as the current queen of tennis and an activist for black, female and now mothers rights (amongst others).

Yet, the powerful advert was a response to the potential banning of this outfit, the catsuit. Last week the President of the French Tennis Federation, Bernard Giudicelli, when speaking about outfits at Roland Garros this year singled out the suit as being disrespectful and “it will no longer be accepted. One must respect the game and the place”.

Responses from the media, other players and fans have been mixed:

What is playing out in this situation is quite fascinating for a student of sport and society, because distinctive parties are passing comment: fans, athletes, sport federations, media platforms, sponsors, activists etc.


This blog is not intending to take sides but demonstrate that in such a debate there are a variety of voices and opinions. Depending on what philosophical, pragmatic or theoretical standpoint you have will influence which voice/opinion you may find the most persuasive.

Interestingly, I find the role of the sponsor the most interesting in this debate. Nike and another of Serena’s sponsors Beats by Dre (as shown above) construct a powerful and empowering narrative. Meaning for me, Serena, will have leverage to disagree and battle practices she views as discriminatory, as she has done and hopefully will continue to do.

What will, also, be fascinating is the next move from the French Tennis Federation because if they do officially codify a dress code that discriminates against certain body types it could (and should) cause further opinion and debate.

Studio portrait 1907 – State Library of Queensland, Australia – https://www.flickr.com/photos/statelibraryqueensland/6894080272/

The world of women’s sport is rife with historical and contemporary clothing debates, for example:

The five examples, plus the catsuit debate connect to a myriad of: cultural, religious, racial, physiological or health, sexuality, etiquette, tradition, and gender based governance issues in sport. A who’s who of the UK 2010 Equality Act’s protected characteristics which applies to all legal parties within the UK. Yet, sports governing bodies, tournaments and athletes are not necessarily covered by national or international legal norms. Consequently, if the French Tennis Association does decide to ban and/or heavily regulate the dress code for next year we may never hear about it.

A glimpse of the odd, but wonderful world of body politics in sport.


Switzerland Vlog: A PhD Student on Her Travels

On the 4th June I headed out to the 2018 World Congress of Sociology of Sport hosted this year in Lausanne, Switzerland.


The academic conference had over 300 participants and had activities across four days. The well-established international academic community brings together a diverse range of presentations and sessions; attached here is the program and abstract booklet.

I did not present this year, instead, I headed out to soak up the environment, meet old and new friends, and try to write up a journal article (under review) and non-academic research report (now published)!

To document my time I decided to Vlog. The following 8 minutes represents a real snap shot into my experience. It features thoughts:

It is my first time doing a Vlog and I learnt a lot from trying to create this, for example, trying to get consistency of audio is very tricky. Plus, a lot of footage did not make the cut, including, a tipsy walk and talk I made post the conference dinner! I am happy to have feedback on my Vlogging attempt…

Finally, I am pleased to confirm a series of future Vlogs as I head to Canada, Australia, Japan and Vietnam in the Autumn/Winter this year. A huge public thank you to: SOAS University of London, the University of Worcester and the Sport and Recreation Alliance – who have all contributed to funding these opportunities (for those of you wondering how I am affording all of this).


Love Cup: What Do You Watch at 21:00 (BST)?

I was amused the other day when a good pal smirked and remarked “are you watching Love Island?” … to her surprise, I was! On a separate occasion, last week, I was (stereotypically) sat in the pub watching a Football World Cup game, when a very burly fellow stated “I cannot stand that Love Island rubbish, I go out of the room when it is on!”

On the one hand I respect people’s tastes and viewpoints on popular culture, especially, the divisive coverage featuring either football or reality TV stars. Alas, it got me pondering. And I am going to argue, briefly, that the Football World Cup and Love Island are actually very similar forms of popular culture.

Love Cup

If you consider the mass appeal of both – Love Island and the Football World Cup – the strengths are reasonably similar, as shown in the diagram above. For example both are based on high levels of drama. Moreover, the alleged non-scripted drama in both events is boosted by a variety of factors, such as: regulated games, press coverage and TV production value.

Of course, there are some significant differences, such as, Love Island does not have elite athletic competitions or a club based system that produces the contestants; moreover, the Football World Cup relies on single gender competitions to produce an experience that will appeal to people of all gender identities.



But, I think, that both are in essence a competition between a constructed set of celebrities that induce conformity and norms through the mediums of sport and romance. Illustrated vividly by the similar perception that if you lose or get voted out – it is ‘failure.’ And the ideal contestant is of a particular build, age and make up (as seen in the images above of footballers and a current Love Island male contestant).

From this, in a deeper thinking state, I would also, contend that Love Island and the Football World Cup raise similar ethical issues, such as, the reliance on a ‘perfect’ specimen, outcome or drive to not be a failure. I am currently reading Prof. Heather Widdows (2018) book Perfect Me: Beauty as an Ethical Ideal. In regards to this blog, the book has made me consider, firstly, how the link between the Football World Cup and Love Island speaks to a wider UK societal shared value framework. Secondly, how this shared value framework can be used as a formula to boost forms of popular culture.

Now, I am no expert philosopher, so the paragraph above is a very trifle like thought (i.e. lots of layers to it, but all very gooey; rather than fixed). But, as I work through Widdows’ book, and continue to watch both the Football World Cup/Love Island, I shall be thinking:

To what extent I personally conform to ideals (as Widdows notes around beauty, p. 4) dominant in the sport and romance based popular culture programmes (as noted in the diagram above).

And conforming, pragmatically (rather than philosophically), is not necessarily negative. But, for me, awareness is key. So, we do not all end up valuing the same ideals without understanding why.

IMG_0491_Love Island June

I would highly recommend Heather Widdows’ book, blogs or videos if you want to continue pondering this. I, definitely, need/want to keep thinking this through. In the meantime, happy Love Island and/or Football World Cup viewing!


Gender and Publishing: Guest Blog

My blog this month is self promotion (shock for an academic). The guest blog piece:


came about after I met the Mark from Taylor and Francis at a CREST event back in September 2017. We had a debate about gender in academic publishing and whether it was equitable or balanced. In January this year Mark contacted me and asked to write a companion piece for their theme around gender and publishing, available here: https://authorservices.taylorandfrancis.com/category/insights/research-stories/

It has been a good experience in two ways. Firstly, writing a guest blog for another website as the regulations and style were more structured than my own personal blog here. I have learnt a lot about focusing a blog post and writing in a more succinct manner. Secondly, the topic, I am not too sure I have fully developed my stance on gender (or other protected characteristics) in the workplace; but this short guest blog has really helped me hone my experiences and what I am actually looking to debate/change.

Watch this space!


Social Media: Some Feedback and Advice please…

A short and sharp blog this month, with a very specific theme. Social media. Not to critique or understand it, but, ask for some advice and feedback…

Do you use social media professionally?

I do, and I cannot keep up! I now have accounts on: Academia.edu, Twitter, LinkedIn, WordPress, Soundcloud, YouTube, H-Net etc.

‘Social’ media has now been eroded to be ‘social/professional’ media; with my own professional practice saturated by a plethora of social media channels. I largely use them to network, communicate and reach a variety of audiences, which I find very cost/time effective.

blog 1
Professional social media is big business!

I am co-delivering a workshop next week with a fellow PhD student, Andy, and I wanted to blog about the questions raised during the workshop. It is definitely not a ‘how to’ masterclass, as in my opinion there is no right way to use social/professional media.

If you do use social media professionally, what is your chosen/most frequently used platform? Does your usage ever blur into personal posts or content?

Fenwick (2014, p.3) raises the concern that:

“..there is a general concern that online environments loosen inhibitions and create a false sense of intimacy, producing inappropriate postings that can be amplified immediately and internationally..”

I think this is fair, but, what expectations do people have in 2018? Is social media a domain where you always need to be professional? It is based on a ‘social’ element after all?!

A lot of unanswered questions around the ethics, blurring of activities and professional guidelines, you need to adhere to when projecting yourself into the public domain. However, a lot of answered questions in terms of the positive trend of engaging with professional/social media. The Microsoft $26.2bn deal (above) to acquire LinkedIn shows a clear tech industry endorsement to the ‘power’ of professional/social media. Plus, the growing body of statistics that show a positive correlation between professional/social media and the impact of research outputs, for example, the LSE Impact Blog published recently:

Academic journals with a presence on Twitter are more widely disseminated and receive a higher number of citations.

The statistics and metrics around reach and audience is persuasive when you consider the cost and time effective role professional/social media can play, especially, within academia. But are we at a point where guidelines, practices and expectations need to be clearer? …much to discuss next week in the workshop with Andy and the group!

In the meantime, any comments or feedback would be very useful – email v.postlethwaite@worc.ac.uk / comment on the blog using the boxes below /  Tweet/DM me / or a message via one of the multitude of platforms I appear on!


Reference: Fenwick, T. (2014) Social media, professionalism and higher education: a sociomaterial consideration, Studies in Higher Education, DOI: 10.1080/03075079.2014.942275