Thumbnail Image

Issues of power in a history of women's football in New Zealand: A Foucauldian genealogy

In the majority of countries throughout the world, football is a highly popular sport for women and girls and one which continues to grow in playing numbers. According to FIFA, 26 million females were registered as football players in its member countries, an increase of four million players within the past five years (FIFA Big Count, 2006). Despite such popularity of participation, histories of women’s football ‘speak’ of exclusion, struggle and conflict, and thus, the prime question which underpins this study is: “how has women’s football in New Zealand gone from a position of struggle to a point where the game is perceived as a ‘normal’ sporting activity for women and girls?” In order to examine this question, I have used Michel Foucault’s concept of conducting a ‘history of the present’, a genealogical approach which accounts for the “constitution of knowledges, discourses, domains of objects and so on...” (Foucault, 1978, p. 117). I drew extensively on a wide range of source material: media texts from newspaper articles and letters to the editor; football texts from the minute books of various football associations, official correspondence and six scrapbooks; interviewing texts which were produced by in-depth interviews with 15 women who had been purposefully selected because of their involvement in playing and coaching/administration of football for at least five years; and vignettes of my own footballing experiences over a 35 year period. Within this genealogical approach, I identified and interrogated how dominant power-knowledge discourses produced power effects for female footballers, and impacted upon the development of the game through different periods of time since 1921. An investigation of these various texts revealed that female footballers have been constructed in specific ways as they emerged as “objects of knowledge” (Foucault, 1978, p. 105). In 1921, the tactical deployment of key discourses positioned the emergent girl footballer as irresponsible, selfish and unfeminine; after a blaze of publicity, she vanished without a trace. Fifty-two years later in 1973, the lady footballer emerged and continued to be discursively constructed through similar heterosexual discourses of marriage, motherhood and femininity. However, this time the tactical deployment of the same discourses which led to the disappearance of the girl footballer, intersected with other prevailing discourses to re-emerge in sufficiently modified forms to make it possible for the lady footballer to play, and continue to play, football. An examination of a dominant discourse in the period approximately 1980 to 2008 revealed how new and different elements, associations and relations intermeshed into a common network to provide the conditions which would allow women’s football to develop and flourish. The ‘truth’ of the discourse Female Football – The Fastest Growing Sport in New Zealand continued to be reinforced by increasing participation numbers and, combined with various sporting practices in clubs and schools, gradually normalised football as an ‘appropriate’ sport for females. However, this same discourse concealed the struggles of female footballers who attempted to become involved in coaching and administration within male-dominated organisations, suggesting that this ‘normalisation’ only extended to females playing football. My research findings have highlighted the usefulness of deploying Foucault’s genealogical approach in examining current issues within women’s football and, I suggest, other women’s sports as well. In an examination of the power effects produced by power-knowledge discourses, the resultant struggle to disseminate the ‘dominant’ discourse or the ‘truth’ allows an insightful understanding of how power may be exercised during particular time periods. In turn, this may help us understand how discourses can shape men’s and women’s perceptions of reality, yet, simultaneously prevent them from seeing other views of reality. I believe Foucault’s genealogy is an exciting theoretical and practical method whereby the recording of a sporting history may be combined with an understanding of how power-knowledge discourses can be strategically deployed in gendered relationships of power.
Type of thesis
Cox, B. D. (2010). Issues of power in a history of women’s football in New Zealand: A Foucauldian genealogy (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)). University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/4725
University of Waikato
All items in Research Commons are provided for private study and research purposes and are protected by copyright with all rights reserved unless otherwise indicated.