Fighting with the senses: using a sensory ethnography to explore the gender dynamic of Scottish karate

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This presentation will focus on using the body as a sensory tool for exploring gender in the sport of karate. Our senses are utilized in everyday experience: it is through sight, smell, touch, sound, and taste that we understand the physical world and negotiate our inter/actions within that world. Women and men’s bodies not only experience the senses, but are also embedded with sensory expectations as markers of gender identity.
Karate is a combat sport utilising kicks, punches and throws, and oozing action, drama, violence, sweaty body-to-body contact, speed, pain, elegance, domination, companionship, tacit tactics, bruises, and sporting respect. Karate is a sport oozing sensory phenomena, and with these sensory acts, gendered expectations. It is a sport where men and women fight and train with one another, negotiating through direct physical experiences gender identities, performances, and power relations. Essential to the embodied experience within this vividly gendered arena are the physical hits of a fight, the sweaty smell that drips off the fighters as they gasp for breath, the shouts of voices claiming points on their opponents, the thuds of fists hitting bodies, and the visual performances of agile darting movements.
In this paper I argue to explore the gender dynamic of this arena it is crucial use methods attentive to the embodied experience of the sport, and how these sensory experiences are ascribed gendered interpretations. I will highlight the centrality of the senses to the embodied experience of gender in sport, before giving an overview of the ways in which I intend to ‘caputure’ the sensory experiences of the sport (‘sensuous participation’, audio recordings, and participant lead photo/artwork diaries). I conclude by suggesting that a sensory-ethnographic approach not only enables a more nuanced understanding of how gender is woven into our inter/actions - which thus leaves the sensuous arena of sport a prime arena for exploring and changing gender regimes - but it also opens up pathways towards a research design which reflectively embraces the equally shared humanity of the ’participants’ and researcher alike.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - 6 Jun 2014
EventThe 5th Ethnography and Qualitative Research Conference - University of Bergamo, Bergamo, Italy
Duration: 5 Jun 20147 Jun 2014


ConferenceThe 5th Ethnography and Qualitative Research Conference


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