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Psychosocial readings of encounters with pain in sport Open Access


Other title
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Lock, Rebecca Ann
Supervisor and department
Shogan, Debra (Physical Education and Recreation)
Rosenberg, Sharon (Sociology)
Examining committee member and department
Deborah Britzman (Education, York University)
Amy Kaler (Sociology)
Susanne Luhmann (Women's Studies)
Donald Kuiken (Psychology)
jan jagodzinski (Secondary Education)
Department of Sociology

Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
This thesis examines how female athletes relate to and interpret their experiences of pain. Starting from the position that the meaning of pain is not given but is interpreted, this thesis takes as its central question: what compels athletes to interpret their pain in the ways that they do? Previous sociological research argues that athletes accept pain, risk, and injury because they have become normalized aspects of sport. In contrast, this thesis explores the specific individual ways athletes find traction with the normalized practice of tolerating pain in sport. Drawing on the in-depth unstructured and semi-structured interviews I conducted with female athletes, I primarily turn to Kleinian psychoanalytic thought to read how these athletes relate to their pain and the discourses on pain they discuss. In particular, I consider how they psychically manage the difficult aspects of their pain experiences in the process of narrating them. Taking the interview conversation as a site of the social workings of pain, I analyze how the listener has a bearing on how the interviewees interpret and express their pain. In focusing on pain (rather than pain, risk, and injury) this research endeavors to hold onto the complexity and diversity of pain, as well as the full complexity of the athlete as a subject who interprets her experiences both consciously and unconsciously. On the basis of this research I suggest that an ethical response to athletes’ pain may not always entail trying to prevent or reduce this pain. Instead, I argue that it may be more important to acknowledge what is difficult about pain, which varies for different subjects. For some the difficulty of pain is what it signifies, for others what is difficult is acknowledging one’s own relation to pain or having one’s relation to pain acknowledged by others, and for others still, the pain may be unavoidable, and so what is at stake is not whether pain is suffered but how it is negotiated. Finally, I suggest we need to develop how sociologists understand processes of normalization, to account for the complex ways athletes may wittingly engage in experiences of pain.
Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. Where the thesis is converted to, or otherwise made available in digital form, the University of Alberta will advise potential users of the thesis of these terms. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis and, except as herein before provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
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