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Playing with ethics?: A Foucauldian examination of the construction ethical subjectivities in Ultimate Frisbee

Links between instrumental rationality and problematic sporting subjectivities are well established (e.g., Beamish & Ritchie, 2006; Donnelly, 1996; Hughes & Coakley, 1991). In recent years, however, critical scholars have taken an increasing interest in how athletes and coaches might find ways of problematizing their involvement in sport and thus discover new ways of understanding their participation (e.g., Denison, 2010; Douglas & Carless, 2006, 2009; Markula & Pringle, 2006; Pringle & Hickey, 2010; Shogan, 2007). Markula and Pringle (2006), Pringle and Hickey (2010), and Shogan (2007) have adopted a Foucauldian perspective to examine how those involved in sport and exercise might undertake a process of ethical self-creation. This interest in the formation of ethical sporting subjectivities resonated closely with my own experiences as an athlete and coach, and, in particular, my experiences within the sport, Ultimate Frisbee (Ultimate). Subsequently, I was drawn to ask the Foucauldian question: “what forms of problematization and practices of self underpin Ultimate players’ creation of an ethical self through an aesthetics of existence?” To examine this question I undertook an ethnographic study of Ultimate, comprising two years of fieldwork as a participant-observer, interviews with fourteen Ultimate players and textual analysis of Ultimate media. I specifically sought to analyse my work using Foucauldian theory and the ethical turn within French postmodernism. I found a heterogeneous process of ethical self-creation to be evident amongst Ultimate players. Of particular importance in this process were players’ multiple understandings of Spirit of the Game, which I interpreted as a postmodern telos, and their ongoing engagement in practices of self, which were “not something invented by the individual himself [sic]. [Rather] they are models he finds in his culture” (Foucault, 2000a, p. 291). However, I found that differences in players’ interpretations of these practices of self, in combination with a few players who appeared to reject these practices, meant Ultimate was not free from conflict, disagreement, or controversy. Ultimate, then, was not an ethical utopia; rather, it offered players possibilities to create their selves as ethical subjects. I added complexity to this understanding of ethics by reconsidering Ultimate through the ethics of the Other. Drawing on Derrida’s tactics of clôtural reading, aporia and justice, I theorized ethically problematic aspects of Ultimate which had not been revealed within my Foucauldian analysis. In this thesis I support moves to integrate postmodern ethical perspectives and subjectivities within sociological studies of sport. Such analyses take seriously the ethical perspectives that individuals and groups have and seek to examine how these understandings influence their sense of self. At the same time, however, ethics is revealed to always be partial and incomplete. In this sense, ethics is a performative project without end. The sociology of ethics which I undertake in this thesis offers possibilities not only for understanding questions of how sporting subjectivities are currently created, but also for considering possibilities of how these subjectivities might be formed differently in the future.  
Type of thesis
Crocket, H. R. (2012). Playing with ethics?: A Foucauldian examination of the construction ethical subjectivities in Ultimate Frisbee (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)). University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/6353
University of Waikato
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