Social Science, Sport and Leisure

Toffoletti, Francombe-Webb and Thorpe on New Femininities in Digital, Physical and Sporting Cultures

In this article Kim Toffoletti, Jessica Francombe-Webb and Holly Thorpe, series editors of New Femininities in Digital, Physical and Sporting Cultures, discuss their new series and its importance to sport and leisure studies.

Tell us a bit about the series

Kim: The series is designed to appeal to researchers who are looking for the latest scholarship that engages with changing experiences and expectations of how gendered bodies look, act and move in sport and related contexts. I hope that books in the series will become go-to texts for anyone wanting to keep up-to-date with new trends in physical activity being developed, adopted, adapted, contested or rejected by athletic girls and women. We anticipate that the series’ inclusive focus on a range of sporting, athletic, moving and fit bodies will make it appealing for researchers and teachers using feminist paradigms across a range of disciplinary fields.

Why this series now?

Holly: I’d say that the series meets a need for critical and creative feminist perspectives that address the changing nature of gendered sporting subjectivities, bodies, practices, politics, agency, affects, and experiences in a period characterised by the emergence of new strands of feminism (including post, popular, neoliberal and fourth wave feminisms), digital networked technologies, and global consumer markets.

Phew, that’s a lot! But all very important stuff.

Holly: I’d add that we are seeing a feminist challenge to neoliberalism as a dominant cultural phenomenon shaping women’s everyday experiences across a range of social institutions like the workplace, education and the media. The series offers a platform to respond to these conditions – it’s a forum to explore emerging gender identities and assemblages in sport, physical culture and fitness contexts and to offer innovative feminist conceptual, theoretical and methodological frameworks to make sense of these developments.

What kinds of books would you like to see as part of this series?

Jessica: I envision the series as a home for scholars across a wide range of disciplines - including sport, physical education, health, media, leisure, youth, feminist, gender and sociological studies - who are developing innovative methods and theoretical approaches for understanding the complexities of new sporting femininities in physical and digital spaces. I’d be excited to see books in this series addressing new trends in sport, health and fitness, physical activity and physical culture emerging from the globalisation, commodification and digitisation of life. Collectively, we’re keen to solicit books that look beyond organised sport - that is, books that address changing forms of physical activity and active recreation. In this sense, the series embraces research that speaks to movement cultures more broadly - things like dance, exercise and fitness cultures, or action sports like surfing and skateboarding. It’s also a platform for new research exploring the intersection of the corporeal and the digital in physical activities. I’m thinking here of the popularity of self-tracking devices such as fitbits in sport and leisure activity and movements such as fitspiration on social media platforms.

Who are your academic heroes?

Holly: Well, there’s no way this could be an exhaustive list, but I have always loved the work of feminist scholars of sport and physical culture such as Pirkko Markula, Patricia Vertinsky, Belinda Wheaton, C.L. Cole, and Samantha King (among others!). At the local level, I feel very privileged to work with incredible feminist geographers such as Robyn Longhurst and Lynda Johnston. I am also currently finding a lot of inspiration in the works of feminist new materialists such as Samantha Frost, Rosi Braidotti, and Karen Barad, who are encouraging me to think about the moving body in radically different ways. Recently I saw Patricia Hill Collins speak at a conference and she was amazing. I’ll stop there, but my list of academic heroes is filled (and constantly filling) with incredible feminist scholars across an array of disciplines!

Jess: Like Holly just mentioned, I relish the challenge of thinking across disciplines. This has meant that I have been inspired by the work of feminists beyond ‘sport’. Namely, the work of Rosalind Gill and Angela McRobbie has made me think carefully about conceptualisations of postfeminism as a sensibility, power and agency. Extending this, I have followed with interest Jessica Ringrose’s work around gender, sexuality and digital spaces, as well as her incredible engagement with complex theory. At the University of Bath I have been lucky enough to work alongside fantastic feminists such as Simone Fullagar, Emma Rich, Cassie Wilson and Chris Griffin who have each pushed me to think about physical culture, subjectivities and femininities across the lifespan.

Kim: If I could chime in here, I’d like to nominate Sara Ahmed. Her feministkilljoys blog is an exemplar of a feminist intervention that intersectional in its approach, and is inspiring new forms of online activism for women, including those who participate in physical activity, fitness and sport. Right now, I’m also getting deep into Sarah Banet-Weiser’s work in both my research and teaching. Her insights into women’s engagements with commercial and digital cultures are incredibly relevant across feminist studies of bodies, technology, consumerism, brands and the like. We are lucky to have her (and a number of our feminist ‘heroes’ and mentors) as part of the series Advisory Board!

Kim Toffoletti is Associate Professor of Sociology at Deakin University, Australia. She specialises in the study of women’s sporting experiences and representations, using transnational feminist and critical postfeminist perspectives.

Holly Thorpe is Associate Professor of Sport and Physical Culture at the University of Waikato, New Zealand. Her recent publications include Women in Action Sport Cultures (Palgrave, 2016) and Transnational Mobilities in Action Sport Cultures (Palgrave, 2014).

Jessica Francombe-Webb is Lecturer in Sport and Physical Culture at the University of Bath, UK. Her research draws from the discipline of feminist physical cultural studies in order to explore the contested politics of the (in)active body in relation to health, physical activity, body size, and appearance.