Linghede challenges conventional sport studies, that’s why it’s essential reading for all sport scholars

Anna Adlwarth
Nord University, Norway

Eva Linghede
Glitch i Idrottslandet: En kritiskkreativ undersökning av queeranden inom svensk idrott(svetenskap) [Glitching sport (science): a criticalcreative inquiry of queerings in Swedish sport (science)]
175 sidor, hft.
Stockholm: Gymnastik- och idrottshögskolan, GIH 2019 (Avhandlingsserie för Gymnastik- och idrottshögskolan)
ISBN 978-91-983151-7-2
Eva Linghede’s dissertation is different – but it is also brilliant. In her dissertation, which is about queer persons, identities and relations in sport, she approaches an otherwise marginal research field within sport science from an innovative perspective. In doing so, Linghede manages to question scientific norms on several levels: on the one hand, she questions scientific knowledge production with her theoretical and methodological approach. On the other hand it is the dissertation per se that glitches, that intrinsically presents a divergence from the norm. The work glitches hence not only visually, but also in the sense that Linghede chooses to include literary writing in her knowledge production. In this sense, she blurs the borders between scientific and literary, objective and subjective as well as researcher and research object. By doing this this she gives birth to new conceptions and mindsets.

Originally based on queer theory, Linghede’s initial interest lay in researching the experiences of athletes that violate the gender norms of sport, like for example boys* and men* in equestrian sport or non-heteronormative athletes in different types of sports. Here, she falls back on an innovative approach of narrative research as a resource. Next to the gender aspect she also includes different axes of intersectional oppression in her work.

However, during the research process – which Linghede describes in detail – she starts questioning her own reproduction of binarism (and in a certain way heteronormativity) and how science in itself brings forth binarism. In that way Linghede expands her original interest and expands her theoretical reflections to include feminist Science and Technology Studies’ concepts of gendered materiality. Referring to Karen Barad (2003, 2007), she introduces the concept of intraactivity, which supposes that materiality and discourse do not constitute two distinct entities, but rather bring forth each other. This notion is essential concerning the emergence and perpetuation of the binary categorisation the whole sporting system is built upon. Furthermore, she expands her reflections on epistemology with the strategy to merge theoretical, methodical and analytical approach, which she bases on Barad’s concept of ontoepistemology.

Moreover, in kinship with Donna Haraway and Rose Braidotti, Linghede uses the concept of figuration, which “doesn’t only express what already is, but also opens up for other possible worlds” (p. 47, translated by author of this review). However, instead of simply pointing out problems with, and criticising the status quo of, the current sport system, she manages to create new ideas and concepts and thereby to outline alternative mindsets and utopias. Consequently, she creates opportunities instead of reproducing queer and non-binary identities as deviant. In doing so, she gives birth to the figuration of a sports dyke (article 2) or the notion of thinking with glitch:

Thinking with glitch is to put a positive spin on things that society demands undesirable and contributes to an affirmative showcasing of diversity in the fandom. By emphasising how (binary) gender malfunctions and acknowledging the beauty of glitch, I thus argue for pleasure in the confusion of boundaries and for responsibility in their construction. (article 3, p. 580)

The dissertation is article-based and includes four articles which were published in Sport, Education and Society (2016, Vol. 21(1), 82-95); Journal of Sport and Social Issues (2017, Vol. 4(4), 290-306); Qualitative Research in Sport, Exerciseand Health (2018, Vol. 10(5), 570-584) and Leisure Studies (2019, Vol. 38(3), 408-421). Linghede approaches her articles as innovative and experimental as elaborated in her theoretical framework. In this way, she integrates the knowledge-production of the discussion of the article itself with other PhD students in her first article about male* experiences in equestrian sport. In her second article, which is about “queering acts, moments and spaces in sport (studies)” she and Håkan Larsson create figurations in that they theorise and narrate in a critica-lcreative way. Her article about glitching bodies is furthermore a textbook example of the merging of theory and method, and in her last article “Becoming horseboy(s)” she skilfully includes her own fieldnotes and thoughts throughout the research process in her analysis.

Linghedes scientific approach and her knowledge-production are deviant, innovative and maybe provocative. But the dissertation should for exactly this reason constitute a major gain for the field of sport studies, which is so often accused of a lack of an inherent theory (development). The very fact that the dissertation intrinsically presents a glitch, which Linghede succeeds in by utilising literary language, poetic form and disrupting her language visually, is smart and beautifully done. Linghede is moreover not afraid of taking responsibility for her own knowledge production as well as taking a stand in relation to her situatedness, which is also discussed in an own chapter. Her data acquisition and approach of analysis, particularly concerning the interviews she falls back on in article 1, 2, and 4, on the other hand, seem somewhat comprehensive.

This dissertation is not meant for sport policy makers and sport researchers who seek to get easy answers and solutions concerning the inclusion of queer and non-binary athletes into the current sport system. Neither does it ‘simply’ tackle discrimination and oppression of queer athletes or only criticises the current sport system – but it rather opens up for new horizons. Admittedly, Linghede criticises binary mindsets as well as the binary composition of the world and science per se, but she prefers challenging on an ontological and epistemological level than on the basis of the political agenda. The dissertation is a good example of how queering and innovative, provocative knowledge-production can look like and I would thus recommend it to every student of gender and queer studies. Moreover, within sport studies this dissertation should be read by everyone whose research interest lies within gender and sport as well as the interconnection of discourse, materiality and sporting bodies. Furthermore, it will be a good read for everyone who is interested in theory development, innovative approaches, and who wants to challenge scientific norms.

Although the dissertation is not meant to give easy answers and may be perceived as very complex, it shouldn’t discourage sport scholars, but rather inspire– even in this research field – to diverging scientific perspectives, which are otherwise all too marginal in sport science.

Copyright © Anna Adlwarth 2020

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