One of the beauties of running is how simple it is to get started. With a good pair of running shoes, you can step out your door and get going—and you can do it at just about any age. Running is a great way to help improve your cardiovascular health, burn calories and boost your mood, among many other benefits.
Running is an individualized activity that will look different for everyone. How often you run, how far or how fast will depend on your motivation and goals. Maybe you hope to get fit or stay healthy, be social, have fun or tackle your first marathon etc.
In his book Running, Identity and Meaning: The Pursuit of Distinction Through Sport, Neil Baxter attempts to epitomize the many different aspects of running. The ambitious main goal is to outline the “diverse and dynamic universe of running” (p. 5). Baxter’s primary research questions are as follows: How do the different ways of practicing running relate to one another? What do different forms of running mean? What forms of identity do various ways of running support?
The theoretical and methodological framework is presented in the chapter “Researching Running: Embodiment, Lifestyle and Identity”. Drawing extensively on Bourdieusian and Foucauldian theory, the book examines the corporeal and discursive practices that constitute running. Bourdieu’s field theory is used to describe running as a relatively autonomous field or space of body practices with their own logics, values, principles and specific forms of physical capital. Baxter adopts an approach incorporating both quantitative and qualitative data. His study includes data from Sport England’s 2018 Active Lives Survey, Baxter’s own large online survey “Big Running Survey”, and interviews with twenty-one runners.
Thin, fit, and “healthy” bodies operate as important markers of social status. These bodies are widely viewed as representative of hard work, deservingness, and moral superiority, whereas people with larger bodies are framed as lazy, immoral, and even deserving of stigmatization.
In the third chapter, “The Evolution of a Field: A Brief History of Running as Sport in Britain,” Baxter provides a historical overview of British running,
In “Running the Numbers: Quantitative Insights and a Map of the Field,” Baxter analyses the quantitative data. The results of this analysis confirm previous findings, showing that gender is the primary factor influencing sporting practice today. While running as an overall category has a balanced gender, race and class representation, the different running practises (health-related, socially, competitive etc.) are gendered, raced and classed.
In “Disciplining the Body and Mind: Running as a Technique of the Self” Baxter applies Foucauldian and Bourdieusian theories on running to investigate how internalized individualism and self-responsibility intersects with performances of embodied cultural capital or high-status markers used to create social distinction. Thin, fit, and “healthy” bodies operate as important markers of social status. These bodies are widely viewed as representative of hard work, deservingness, and moral superiority, whereas people with larger bodies are framed as lazy, immoral, and even deserving of stigmatization. The idea of embodied neoliberalism suggests that people have internalized the disposition of individual responsibility. Thus, while neoliberal policies exacerbate social, political, economic, and health inequalities, neoliberal discourses explain inequality as a result of differences in self-discipline. The findings reveal that embodied neoliberalism intersects with gender, race and class-based habitus and show how the ways in which the body is disciplined contribute to the reproduction of class, race and gender identities.
“The Price and the Meaning of Success: Training, Competition and Performance” specifically deals with competitive running. Competitive runners seem to engage in a different form of boundary work than ’joggers’: While the motivation of ’joggers’ is based on losing weight, keeping healthy or de-stressing, competitive runners to a greater extent focus on status within the field of competition – drawing boundaries against those focusing on health and fitness.
In chapter 7, “Running Places: How the Sites of Running Matter”, Baxter explores the physical and cultural differences correlated with the ”running places” (roads, tracks, the countryside and obstacle courses).
While the book tries to address running in its entirety it has a limited geographical scope. Focusing exclusively on a British context, readers with different national perspectives should bear in mind the contextual differences.
To cover such a broad topic in a single volume is ambitious. The book is successful in giving a great overview of running, but it is impossible to include all the details of any particular area of running, so sometimes generalization seems inevitable.
The book is recommended to anyone interested in the broad topic of running, but also, despite the danger of overgeneralization, to those whose interests fall more specifically within the area of one of the subcategories of this heterogeneous activity. It is also highly recommended for readers interested in ’embodied neoliberalism’.
Copyright © Lise Joern 2022