Identity, Narrative &
Discourse: Researching the
Sporting Body
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Marlen Elliot Harrison, MA, PhD
[email protected]
Abstract & Hypothesis
Story Time!
Limitations &
About Marlen: Quant
vs Qual Tension
Ethical Frameworks
Proposal Time!
Hypothesis Formation
Based on your current
knowledge of the key terms identity,
discourse - take a couple of
minutes to develop a working
hypothesis (on your own or
with a partner) that explains
how these three constructs
may be used in applied sport
psychology research.
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Identity, Narrative and Discourse: Writing & Researching the Sporting
In considering the human body in action, language becomes the tool with
which we relate our ideas, experiences and sensations and story becomes
the mode of communication. Like psychological identities, so too is the human
body and physical activity situated within specific discourses of knowledge,
power and culture. In this discussion, I'll address how I - a former therapist, a
sociolinguist and a writing professor - found a comfortable home in the
discipline of sports psychology by reviewing some of the qualitative research
I've guided in the fields of sport and exercise sciences while at the University
of Jyvaskyla. I also share such experiences in order to highlight how the body
and the athlete identity may be examined via critical, narrative
approaches. More specifically, we'll consider constructivist paradigms that
suggest such identities are influenced by linguistic, written, academic and
cultural discourses and also explore research methods and ethical
frameworks (i.e. feminist, queer, communitarian, etc) that honor the interplay
of identity, narrative and discourse.
Story time!
Work together with a partner.
Briefly tell a story about your body in relationship to
physical activity or sport.
When finished, your partner will share her/his story.
You each have 5 minutes; keep your eye on the
Work together in small groups: Each group will develop a
definition of one of our key constructs - identity, narrative &
discourse. Try to relate the concepts to the stories you told.
Identity: Singular or multiple (Weinrich; Hermans)? Social or
personal (Tajfel & Turner; Erikson)? Fixed or dynamic (Freud;
Norton & Kano, Hall)? Disciplinary, cultural, contextual,
Narrative: Often viewed as story, series of events; how does
narrative reflect/construct identity (Clandinin & Connelly;
Lieblich; Manfred; Pavlenko)? Theory, therapy, research,
Discourse: Analyzable modes of communication (Fairclough,
Gee) and meta-conversations related to struggle for authority,
ownership, mastery, power (Foucault, Pennycook)...
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Examples: Analyzing a conversation, political debate, text
messages, email exchanges, Facebook posts, sports
commentaries, etc.
About Me - Qual vs Quant
BS Psychology
MA Education & Human Development:
Counseling & Expressive Arts Therapies
PhD Composition & TESOL: Socio- & Applied
Quant vs Qual Tension:
Science is objective, quantifiable (based in
numbers), reliable, generalizable, focus on
trends of large groups
Can science be subjective, non-quantifiable
(based in language), variable, singular,
focused on realities of individuals or small
Autoethnography 1
Autoethnography is an approach to research and writing that seeks to
describe and systematically analyze personal experience in order to
understand cultural experience. This approach challenges canonical ways
of doing research and representing others and treats research as a political,
socially-just and socially-conscious act. A researcher uses tenets of
autobiography and ethnography to do and write autoethnography. Thus,
as a method, autoethnography is both process and product.
Scholars became increasingly troubled by social science's ontological,
epistemological, and axiological limitations. In particular, scholars began
illustrating how the "facts" and "truths" scientists "found" were inextricably
tied to the vocabularies and paradigms the scientists used to represent
them; they recognized the impossibility of and lack of desire for master,
universal narratives; they understood new relationships between authors,
audiences, and texts; and they realized that stories were complex,
constitutive, meaningful phenomena that taught morals and ethics, introduced
unique ways of thinking and feeling, and helped people make sense of
themselves and others.
Ellis, Adams & Bochner, 2010 - Autoethnography: An
Autoethnography II
Even though some researchers still assume that research can be
done from a neutral, impersonal, and objective stance, most now
recognize that such an assumption is not tenable. Consequently,
autoethnography is one of the approaches that acknowledges and
accommodates subjectivity, emotionality, and the researcher's
influence on research, rather than hiding from these matters or
assuming they don't exist.
Furthermore, scholars began recognizing that different kinds of people possess different
assumptions about the world—a multitude of ways of speaking, writing, valuing and believing—
and that conventional ways of doing and thinking about research were narrow, limiting, and
parochial. These differences can stem from race, gender, sexuality, age, ability, class, education, or
religion. For the most part, those who advocate and insist on canonical forms of doing and
writing research are advocating a White, masculine, heterosexual, middle/upper-classed,
Christian, able-bodied perspective. Autoethnography, on the other hand, expands and opens up a
wider lens on the world, eschewing rigid definitions of what constitutes meaningful and useful
research; this approach also helps us understand how the kinds of people we claim, or are
perceived, to be influence interpretations of what we study, how we study it, and what we say
about our topic.
Ellis, Adams & Bochner, 2010 - Autoethnography: An
Ethical Frameworks
Feminist Theory: Creates a problem of inequalities of power
based on gender.
Feminist Communitarian Ethical Framework (Denzin,
Christians) questions absolute authority of researcher.
Queer Theory: Creates a problem of inequalities of power
based on hegemony and marginalization and questions
identities as fixed(Jagose, Sullivan).
Often used to examine minority identities such as queer,
elderly, ethnicities, low-income, etc.
Southern Theory: Creates a problem of inequalities of power
and authority based on geography (Connell).
The majority of scientific knowledge has been constructed
by members of the Northern Hemishphere.
Running in pain : an autoethnography of power, coercion and injury in coach-athlete
Hussain Haleem, 2006
This autoethnographic study investigates the emotional and social dimensions of a coaching
relationship from the athlete's perspective. Autoethnography is an approach that draws on
highly personalised biographical accounts in which authors tell stories about their lived
experiences (Ellis Bochner, 2000; Richardson, 2000) in order to place the "self within a social
context" (Reed-Danahay, 1997, p. 9). Consequently, through the analysis of my memories and
ethnographic notes, I analyse my experiences as an Olympic marathon runner and, in particular,
the challenges I faced with my coach. In the process of investigating the emotional and social
dimensions of the coaching process (which I have divided into three phases), I focus
specifically on the creation of (1) my 'athletic identity', (2) the power relationship that
developed between my coach and myself and, (3) my early retirement from running. In order to
make sense of my experiences, I draw upon theories of identity (e.g. Bradley, 1996),
Foucauldian concepts on 'power' (e.g. Foucault, 1980), and the literature addressing 'premature
retirement' (e.g. Sparkes 1996; 2000). Finally, a conclusion summarises the main points made
in addition to outlining their implications for further coaching research and practice.
Example I - William, the
First a swimmer (identity), but ended career after injury. North
American paradigm of coaching suggested that such injury was
insurmountable (discourse).
Coached a swimmer in Japan and now coaches swimming in
Finland (identity shift or new construction?). Befriended Estonian
swimmer who suffered similar injury but found new opportunities
in Finland due to different paradigms of injury and ability (queer
Questioned masculinity due to injury and inability but new
geographic context has him rethinking this and recognizing new
identity constructions.
Autoethnographic narratives with queer theoretical framework to
examine how geography, injury and masculinity are related to
his athlete identity and coaching philosophy.
Example 2 - Kristina the
Learned the Japanese martial art of Kendo in home country of
Lithuania. Kendo was not traditionally a female sport and not
practiced outside Japan until recently (sport migration=queering
Came to Finland and met elite-level, female Kendoka and
wondered what their experiences had been like, inspired by her
own relationship to the sport.
Hybrid feminist-queer theoretical framework and narrative
methodology to capture experiences of female Kendoka and
suggest that their experiences as women may have influenced
their journeys as Kendoka. Researcher as member of the
research community and participants as co-researchers
(communitarian ethical framework). Collaborative research
protocol creation.
Example 3 - Naoko the
Studied gymnastics since childhood but left the sport due to
growing anxiety/fear of persecution/rejection for being a lesbian
Another teammate also came out as lesbian and has encouraged
her to return to the sport. Though neither is publicly open about
their sexuality they want to explore other athletes’ and coaches
willingness to accept such identity constructions (reflective of
discourses of sexual hegemony).
Using focus group discussion (method) and discourse analysis to
examine attitudes by other Japanese athletes towards sexual
diversity in homogeneously cultural and single-sex team sports.
limitations & Criticism
Talk with a partner for a
few minutes and
brainstorm at least two
criticisms of these
approaches in terms of
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Create a Proposal
Now that we have defined key
concepts in qualitative social
science research such as
discourse, and now that we
have reviewed some examples
of methods, ethical frameworks
and actual projects, it’s your
turn to develop a project
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Thank You!
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These slides are available at
You can contact me at
[email protected] or
via my website, listed above.
Thank you to Dr. Tatiana Ryba,
Noora Ronkainen and the
Department of Public Health Sport Sciences at Aarhus

Identity, Narrative & Discourse Slides