Qualitative Methods in Sports Studies

By David L. Andrews; Daniel S. Mason et al. | Go to book overview

7 Sport and the Personal Narrative

Pirkko Markula and Jim Denison

To read the leading journals in sports studies often means reading articles where the researcher deploys a neutral voice written in the third person. In these articles, the researcher acts as an absent, objective observer of social events. In the numerous studies concerning young people and sport, for example, one rarely sees the author reflecting on his or her own childhood experiences in sport. Even apparent qualitative studies around topics such as pain and injury, burnout, winning and losing, and body image tend to be characterized by an absent narrator. Thus, how the author has influenced the text and the conclusions drawn largely remains a secret. Similarly, in all the gender studies done in sport, or the numerous investigations into issues of race and social class in sport, seldom do we come across a position statement from the author where he or she openly discusses the social categories to which he or she belongs.

These concerns over the practices of writing, we believe, are very relevant for qualitative researchers. It is no longer a taken for granted aspect of the research process that for qualitative research to qualify as “real” research it must be written according to the conventions of traditional science. Qualitative researchers are no longer held to such rules as writing objectively in the third person, using the passive voice, or reporting abstracted facts above personal interpretations. This is because qualitative research is fundamentally subjective in nature and takes into account many non-quantifiable elements of experience such as emotions, feelings, desires and dreams. It's important, then, that qualitative researchers celebrate the unique access they have to people's lived experiences and try to evoke those experiences with as much drama and detail as possible. One way of doing this is by crafting stories from people's experiences to show how lives are lived and understood as complete wholes from the inside. These storied accounts then become for qualitative researchers their interpretation and analysis of experience rolled into one.

In addition to considering more carefully how to represent their research subjects' experiences, and considering the possibility of story writing, qualitative researchers today are also concerned with how their own experiences influence the research process. For this reason, many qualitative researchers insert their own selves into their research texts. They do this not only by writing in the first person, but by also discussing how their own biases and values intersect with their research subjects' values. The impact of these changes has spawned a new

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