A doctoral thesis examining (re)presentations of women’s team sports in the English national press and public policy documentation 2010-2018

Williams, Scott (2021) A doctoral thesis examining (re)presentations of women’s team sports in the English national press and public policy documentation 2010-2018. Doctoral thesis, Northumbria University.

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There has long been academic interest in the gendered representations of women’s sport (George, Hartley and Paris, 2001; Fink, 2015; Bruce, 2016). This study seeks to add to this burgeoning field and its findings are drawn from a qualitative process, comprising critical discourse analysis on 8 years of coverage from seven English national newspapers: The Guardian, The Times, Daily Mail, Daily Express, Daily Mirror, Daily Star and The Telegraph (n=4281) and governmental and governing body policy and strategy documentation (n=102). Four sports make up the sampling frame: Netball, Association Football, Rugby Union and Cricket. Team sports were chosen in order to minimise the ‘celebrity’ effects on coverage (Smart, 2005) and these selections are all considered ‘traditional’ sports in the English context. The main research aim is to explore the discursive repertoires around women’s sport, while also exploring any shared or divergent discursive repertoires between the textual types of press coverage and policy outputs. A further sub-aim of the research is to explore the utility of Foucault’s concept of ‘governmentality’ in sports scholarship.
The media analysis focuses on three central themes of the research. Firstly, reportage emphasised the importance of national teams, with some ephemeral presentations of successful international players as national heroes, whereas little domestic level coverage was offered. Coverage also frequently invoked stereotypical tropes of ‘Englishness’ when discussing the football national team. Secondly, men were framed as the rightful leaders and gatekeepers to sport, and this is weighed against the emerging role of women as ambassadors of all of women’s sport homogenously. This corresponds with recent research around the changing narratives of women’s sport in the mass media, building on the work of Toni Bruce (2016). Finally, credence was given to the establishment and reestablishment of history, with emerging examples of discussion on the shared history of men’s and women’s sports. However, this was frequently used to ridicule their male counterparts rather than being indicative of less gendered coverage. Overall, I argue that there is a multiplicity of identities and discursive positioning’s, ranging from older tropes of coverage focusing on hetereosexualisation and motherhood to relatively new narratives of female athletes as national heroes.
The policy analysis centres again on three generated themes from the texts. Firstly, elite level female athletes were given responsibility for the successful implementation of both domestic level and English soft power strategies. This is partially a product of the increasingly wide ranging aims of central sports policy such as social wellbeing and the sport for health agenda. Secondly, building on this responsibility, elite level were depicted as ambassadors for all of women’s sport, but also wider public health through their ability to ‘inspire’, adding a new dimension to the representations evident in the media analysis. Importantly, there were many examples of governing bodies seeking to leverage their elite athletes to uplift their sports through a period of increasing professionalisation. Thirdly, women’s sport occupied a liminal space within English sports policy, with policy confusion evident. One area of this was in the women’s specific strategies, which broadly focussed on the social elements and other benefits of participation while simultaneously downplaying the potential significance of competition, sometimes describing this as a barrier to participation for women specifically.
Finally, a discussion is offered which synthesises the discursive repertoires of the two different datasets, with comparisons drawn between the generated themes and how they are articulated across the two text types. Crucially, even though the expression of these narratives were different in the two datasets, the language used contributes to ‘common sense’ understandings of women in sport (Hall, 2009), shaping what is thought about when we think about women’s sport.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Uncontrolled Keywords: Gender, Foucault, Connell, Critical Discourse Analysis
Subjects: L700 Human and Social Geography
L900 Others in Social studies
Department: Faculties > Arts, Design and Social Sciences > Social Sciences
University Services > Graduate School > Doctor of Philosophy
Depositing User: Rachel Branson
Date Deposited: 21 Jul 2022 10:51
Last Modified: 21 Jul 2022 11:01
URI: http://nrl.northumbria.ac.uk/id/eprint/49587

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