Norway’s first PhD course in sociology of sport at Nord University

Anna Adlwarth, Mads Skauge & Anne Tjønndal
Faculty of Social Sciences, Campus Bodø, Norway


Between September 17 and 20, the PhD course Sport and Society: Power, Inequality and Technology were held at the Faculty of Social Sciences, Nord University – campus Bodø. The course, organized by Associate Professor Anne Tjønndal, provided insights into different research perspectives of social inequality, power and technology in sport. These topics were presented by the invited lecturers: Professor Jorid Hovden (Norwegian University of Science and Technology), Associate Professor Natalie Barker-Ruchti (Örebro University, Sweden), Prof. Dr. Reinhard Haudenhuyse(Vrije Universiteit, Brussel, Belgium) and Professor Pål Lagestad (Faculty of Education and Arts, Nord University).

In addition to the academic program, the course offered social activities such as boxing at Bodø Bokseklubb, visiting Saltstraumen (the world’s most powerful tidal current) and joint dinners. Besides PhD candidates from different faculties at Nord University, visiting students came from The Arctic University of Norway, The Norwegian School of Sport Sciences, Inland Norway University of Applied Sciences, as well as the University of Jyväskylä (Finland), all of them engaged with a PhD thesis situated in or related to sport studies.

Tuesday, 17th of September

Following welcoming words by Anne Tjønndal and short presentations of the student’s PhD projects, everybody got to know each other over lunch. The first day then continued with two lectures by Anne Tjønndal about “Technology, Digitalization and (New) Sports” and “Sport Science Faced with New Technologies: using social media, the internet and digital visual methods as data”. Here, the students got to compile in teams the contributions by, and challenges for digital technologies in the world of sport. Furthermore, the usability of digital technologies as a source of data (such as netnography) and their applicability as analysis tools was discussed.

Divided into three teams (named after real eSports teams and players) participants were invited to discuss three questions:

  1. What do you consider the most valuable contributions to the development of sport brought on by digital technology?
  2. What are the greatest challenges sport faces today because of digital technologies?
  3. What significance does digital technology hold for the topic of your PhD project?

The day ended with a joint dinner for lecturers and participants at restaurant Lyst På in Bodø city center.

Wednesday, 18th of September

The second day started with Jorid Hovden’s lecture “Leadership discourses and gender policies in sport organizations”. Using the Sydney Scoreboard, Hovden illustrated how, despite increasing female sport participation, women still represent a minority in sport leadership, with slow progress towards gender equality. Giving insight into her research on gendered leadership discourses, Hovden demonstrated the impossible quest for women in sport leadership positions, where images of good leadership are synonymous with masculine personality traits. In the second half of her lecture, Hovden gave a more applied overview of Gender Diversity in European Sport Governance.

Professor Jorid Hovden lecturing on gender equality and women  in sport leadership

Hovden’s lecture was followed by a session with Natalie Barker-Ruchti who introduced her methodological approach to cultural case studies in sport. She gave examples of a participatory visual research method used in the top-level female football coaches project in which 19 female football coaches reconstructed their career paths. Barker-Ruchti pointed out the importance of giving attention to individual cases in qualitative sociological studies, emphasizing positive ethics such as giving non selected athletes a voice, raising awareness and telling other narratives than the hero-script. The group also discussed problems that could appear in terms of legitimizing such qualitative approaches.

Natalie Barker-Ruchti lecturing on retrospective biographical mapping as a tool in case studies of elite athletes and coaches

In the afternoon, a ‘publishing-panel’ was held where the students could ask questions and get information about publishing. The lecturers depicted the perspective of the ‘editor’ (Hovden), the ‘reviewer’ (Haudenhuyse), the ‘authors’ (Barker-Ruchti and Tjønndal). Questions discussed were such as how to pick the right journal; when is the right time to submit a paper; and how do you handle harsh critique from reviewers. The panel encouraged participants to start writing from day one of the PhD, even if you don’t know what to write and have no inspiration. Additionally, the panel encouraged the PhD candidates to spend some time familiarizing themselves with the journal they want to publish in before submission. Good tips here include: (1) checking the style and the content of the journal the last two years; (2) taking notice of how abstracts are written in the journal; and (3) taking notice of reoccurring methods, themes and theories. The panel’s final and perhaps most important advice was: not to be afraid of rejection and to remember that everyone gets rejected at some point in their career.

In the evening the participants and lecturers were invited to try the sport boxing at Bodø Bokseklubb.

From the left: Anna Adlwarth, Reinhard Haudenhuyse, Natalie Barker-Ruchti and Jorid Hovden trying out boxing at Bodø Bokseklubb with coach Vera Schnabel

Thursday, 19th of September

Thursday started off with a trip to Saltstraumen, a natural phenomenon right outside of Bodø. Saltstraumen is the world’s strongest tidal current causing the water to dance beautifully on the surface of the sea. There is a bridge going directly over Saltstraumen, allowing the course participants watch the current from above.

The Tidal Current Saltstraumen (photos by Anne Tjønndal)

After lunch together at Nord University, Natalie Barker-Ruchti gave her second lecture, “An example of a cultural case study: Mark’s attempt to qualify for an Olympic Games”. Here, Barker-Ruchti gave insight into a specific case study from “The path to Rio” research project. The project comprised of a year-long study of athletes preparing for the Olympic qualification for Rio 2016, during which the athletes completed weekly online questionnaires which were followed up by three interviews conducted during the year. Concerning the case of an athlete that did not qualify due to injury, Barker-Ruchti wondered how non-qualification –in contrast to the ‘athlete hero script’ –  is narrated. Furthermore, she demonstrated how to explore self-health protection and risk behavior management drawing on narrative sociology and the sociology of illness (Frank, 1995). Before dinner at restaurant Bjørk, the students were invited to discuss their ideas for the course paper and encouraged to write a paper closely related to their PhD projects.

Friday, 20th of September

Reinhard Haudenhuyse from the Vrije Universiteit Brussel started the last day with his lecture about sport and social inclusion. Right at the beginning, Haudenhuyse pointed out that the concept of social inclusion is often weakly defined, something that sparked a lively discussion about how we can define the troublesome concept ‘social exclusion’ in sport. Continuing his lecture, Haudenhuyse discussed ideas of inclusion in sport vs. inclusion through sport, respectively development of sport vs. development through sport with the course participants. To avoid linear and group related in- and exclusion-mechanisms, Haudenhuyse introduced the transgressive inclusion model, which, similar to the idea of superdiversity, strives for the elimination of the idea of power groups.

Reinhard Haudenhuyse (VUB, Belgium) on social inclusion/exclusion in sport

The second input of the day came from Professor Pål Lagestad who gave an overview of his research projects on adolescents and sports participation. He introduced five research projects that consisted of quantitative empirical studies to gather knowledge about the decrease of activity levels among Norwegian adolescents and the longitudinal methods behind them. The studies he presented thus examine longitudinal changes in physical activity levels but also sport enjoyment, the importance of organized sports vs self-organized sports and differences between staying in and dropping out of organized sport.

Finally, for the third session of the day, Reinhard Haudenhuyse followed up his first lecture about sport studies often being a theory poor-field that he made earlier that day. Thus, for the last lecture of the week methodological, epistemological and ontological perspectives were discussed, with Haudenhuyse inviting the students to think about who they want to reach with their projects and how to achieve this goal.

Selfie-time with some of the PhD course participants and lecturers. Happy to have completed the course!

Before the course, 18 students had signed up (with participants from Denmark, Sweden, Scotland and England). In the end, 11 PhD candidates from 5 universities and 2 countries completed the course, showing that it is possible to host courses in sociology of sport above the arctic circle. Six of the participants are PhD candidates at Nord university, something that shows tremendous growth in sport science at Nord, and has contributed considerably to the establishment of the research group Sport and Society.

Nord University’s New Sport and Society Research Group

Based on an initiative from Anne Tjønndal, the research group Sport and Society was established at Nord University in June 2019. The formation of the research group can be traced back to two starting points. In 2015, when Tjønndal started her PhD project in Bodø, she was the only PhD candidate in sociology that worked within the sociology of sport. Shortly after Tjønndal started her PhD studies, another PhD candidate – Bjørnar Blaalid – began his project on street football as rehabilitation for drug addiction. Still, they were only two scholars interested in the sociology of sport at the Faculty of Social Science in Bodø.  By the time Tjønndal defended her PhD dissertation in June 2018, she was the only candidate at the Faculty of Social Sciences to graduate with a degree in the field of sociology of sport. After the gaining her degree, Tjønndal has recruited several ‘sport sociologists to-be’ as new PhD candidates at Nord University, and eventually, it became natural to establish a formal collaboration between these researchers. Now, there are 5 PhD candidates in sociology of sport, with more to come:

    • Mads Skauge (youth sport, fitness and inequality among Norwegian adolescence)
    • Bjørnar Blaalid (street football as a rehabilitation measure from drug addiction)
    • Egil Rogstad (gender representation in Esport in Norwegian mass media)
    • Anna Adlwarth (sex segregation in sport and the problem with the women’s category)
    • Thor Atle Thøring (risk management and mega-events: the 2017 UCI Road World Championships in Bergen as a case study).

Additionally, Saara Isosomppi will be joining the Nord team as she starts her PhD on gender equality in Nordic sport organizations in January 2020.

As Nord University is a widespread university consisting of nine campuses, with a driving distance of 13 hours travel time between the northernmost and he southernmost campus, the university has several scholars interested in sport (although in other fields than sociology). For instance, Nord University has a sports department located at the Faculty of Education and Arts. For the emerging new society of sport sociologists at the Faculty of Social Sciences it was only natural to collaborate with researchers in other areas of sport studies from the other faculties. The establishment of the research group was therefore partly an attempt to facilitate more collaboration between the PhD candidates, partly across academic dividing lines of sports research (campuses, faculties, research fields, topics, methodological approaches and scientific traditions). Therefore, it was decided that the newly established research group should be called “Sport and Society” to include researchers outside of sociology of sport. Thus, our research group works with sociological, psychological, cultural, pedagogical, technological and historical perspectives on sport. We study various issues of sport as a social phenomenon and the role and importance of sport to society as a whole. By now, 18 researchers are affiliated to the research group Sport and Society, seven of them PhD candidates.

Some members of the research group participants gathered for lunch.

The research group is a low threshold arena for sharing intended research projects, ideas, paper drafts, presentations, popular science contributions, and a place to discuss and get helpful feedback from colleagues. About once a month, we have group meetings in Bodø. Those who are located on other campuses participate by Skype. Every meeting has a specific agenda raging from paper presentations (and comments) to ideas for arrangements and discussions of local sports events.

This semester the research group has been quite active through publishing several popular science texts and a number of scientific papers and book chapters. The PhD course ‘Sport and Society’ has been successfully arranged and several of the group participants have got great media attention for popular science (public debate) contributions, their research projects and academic achievements. To mention some of the activities related to dissemination of research, PhD candidate Mads Skauge published a feature article about the use of VAR (Video Assistant Referee) in top-level international football here at the idrottsforum.org. Associate Professor Martin Kjeøen Erikstad contributed to a text in the national Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten discussing how to prevent dropout from youth sport and an episode of the podcast ‘Pappatrenerne’. PhD candidate and Lecturer Line Danielsen got attention for her PhD project on coach-athlete relationships within women’s football in Aftenposten. Associate Professor Dagmar Dahl has published the open-access book ‘The Aquatic Life’ project focusing on strengthening the Nordic-Baltic cross-sectoral cooperation in the field of swimming and water safety education for children. Finally, Anne Tjønndal was awarded Nord University’s Award of Excellence in Research Dissemination. Additionally, she was elected, as the first researcher from Nord University, into The Young Academy of Norway consisting of talented, junior researchers from all disciplines with a demonstrated commitment to science policy and innovative research dissemination.

The research group has several plans for the rest of 2019. In November, we are arranging a popular science debate about Esports at Nord University’s campus, Helgeland. In this context, we will write several feature articles on different aspects of the emergence of Esports in the local newspaper RANA NO. The same month we are hosting our first “Shut up & write” seminar and in December we are having a full day paper seminar involving all of the research group participants. Additionally, several plans for 2020 are in progress. For example, it seems like the group will be well represented at the ISSA World Congress of Sociology of Sport in Chile, October 2020. Hopefully, the Sport and Society research group can contribute to the Nordic field on sports research in the coming years.

Copyright © Anna Adlwarth, Mads Skauge & Anne Tjønndal 2019

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