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Marathon swimming, embodiment and identity

This book is about the extreme sport of marathon swimming. It provides insight into a social world about which very little is known, while simultaneously exploring the ways in which the social world of marathon swimming intersects and overlaps with other social worlds and configurations of power and identity. Drawing on extensive (auto) ethnographic data, Immersion explores the embodied and social processes of becoming a marathon swimming and investigates how social belonging is produced and policed. Using marathon swimming as a lens, this foundation provides a basis for an exploration of what constitutes the ‘good’ body in contemporary society across a range of sites including charitable swimming, fatness, gender and health. The book argues that the dominant representations of marathon swimming are at odds with its lived realities, and that this reflects the entrenched and limited discursive resources available for thinking about the sporting body in the wider social and cultural context. It argues that in spite of these constraints, novel modes of embodiment and pleasure seep out between the cracks of those entrenched understandings and representations, highlighting the inability of the dominant understandings of sporting embodiment to account for experiences of immersion. This in turn opens up spaces for resistance and alternative accounts of embodiment and identity both within and outside of marathon swimming.

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entitlements, on the ability to participate freely in the sport. The final section explores some of the ways in which swimming emerged as a platform for gender-defiant experiences of embodiment, and the possibilities and limitations of these for a feminist politics of marathon swimming. ‘We’re all just swimmers’ Throughout the research process, and particularly when fellow swimmers discovered my gender studies background, I  was repeatedly reassured that there was no gender dimension to swimming; that ‘we’re all just swimmers’. This is another dimension to the apolitical

in Immersion
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production of contemporary sporting bodies but are conventionally treated as antithetical to fatness (Shogan 1999; Zanker and Gard 2008; Magdalinski 2009). This is, of course, to oversimplify, since ideal sporting body size and composition varies enormously with fields such as sumo, rugby, wrestling and field sports all demanding both fat and muscular bulk in ways that challenge conventional stereotypes of athleticism. Nevertheless, lean, taut embodiment remains most easily socially coded as ‘sporting’ and the morally privileged antithesis to the presumed moral failures of

in Immersion
questions of the ordinary

enactment. This opened up new spaces of action, ‘articulating a second poetic geography on top of the geography of the literal, forbidden or permitted meaning’ (de Certeau 1984: 105). The embodiment and the enactment of everyday life Breaking with attempts to think of the social and cultural system as totalitarian and controlling, de Certeau’s The Practice of Everyday Life (1984) associated the everyday less with the ensemble of scripted human activities than with unpredictability and creative potential. Influenced by reflexive anthropology, de Certeau explored the

in Enduring violence

social scientists working on ageing who have begun turning their attention to related issues of identity, the ageing self and embodiment. Authors, mainly sociologists, have emphasised various perspectives: the extent to which agerelated identity can be said to be newly flexible compared to a previous fixity, particularly with the rise of consumer culture, commodification and lifestyle markets (Blaikie, 1999; Featherstone and Hepworth, 1989; Gilleard and Higgs, 2000; Katz, 2005); critiques of the ways in which gerontological knowledge and discourse shape the experience

in Ageing selves and everyday life in the North of England
Reflections on John Harris’s account of organ procurement

enlightenment, perhaps the most powerful is Lawrence Sterne’s comic fantasy, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gent. The powerful descriptions of the extreme characters in this satirical book convey the central dilemma of an age that tried to see reason as supreme. Porter captures Sterne’s central message in his own inimitable prose: [Sterne] was uncommonly sensitive to the conundrum of embodiment. In flesh and blood lay the self and its articulations. With its own elaborate signlanguage of gesture and feeling, the body was the inseparable dancing-partner of the mind

in From reason to practice in bioethics

’s position as principal and archetypal masculine figurehead is paramount due to his dictatorial management style and his embodiment of the ethos. He assumes the combined Cohering contradictions and manufacturing belief59 role of saviour, hero, military commander and business executive in this rigidly hierarchical operation. He leads a redemptive troupe of teachers-as-surrogate parents who labour to redeem a twenty-first-century ‘urban residuum’. Culford symbolises Dreamfields’ mission, embodying its mantra as a self-made, mixedrace man of modest working-class origins who

in Factories for learning
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Edward Shils – the ‘outsider’

12 Concluding comments: Edward Shils – the ‘outsider’ Christopher Adair-Toteff Stephen Turner introduced this volume by pointing out the many contradictions in Edward Shils’ thinking. The focus of these concluding comments is to add to Turner’s account by addressing Shils’ influence and by evaluating his successes and failures. Not only did Shils embody many contradictions, but he was also the embodiment of an ‘outsider’. Born to Russian immigrant parents and brought up in Pennsylvania in the United States, he was drawn to an eclectic and wide range of authors

in The calling of social thought
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Condoms, adolescence and time

offered an alternative history of AIDS. In Chapters 5 and 6 I questioned the view that the advent of AIDS and the discourse of safer sex constituted a crisis in masculinity for heterosexual men. Here it was shown that feminists responding to the mainstreaming of safer sex discourse perceived the change brought by AIDS in the mid-1980s as one which threatened and challenged phallocentricism, deprivileged heterosexism and denaturalised male embodiment. I demonstrated that these views worked towards creating knowledge on condom use as deconstructing the social

in Object matters
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embodiment. It is important, then, not to overstate the embeddedness of the marathon swimming social world within the cultural logics of neoliberalism, and the 178 178 Immersion disciplinary nexus of the ‘conduct of conduct’ (McNay 1999). Throughout Immersion, multiple moments of uncontainability emerge, seeping through the cracks in what appear at first glance to be solidly congealed exclusions and conceptual frameworks. This can be seen, for example, in the spaces between the playful fakeness of the heroically fat(tened) body and the cruel abjection of ‘real’ fat, or

in Immersion