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  • Is There a “Beyond Patriarchy” in Feminist Sport History?
  • Patricia Vertinsky

History, says Alun Munslow in The Future of History (2010), is all we have, because we have made it. We use the past for the kind of history we intend to create, and the history we create inflects our engagement with the present as much as it might the past.1 It is a perceptive statement concerning the ways in which historians link the past and present to a possible future. It speaks clearly to the feminist historians in this issue who want to link past to present to imagined futures, some of them, perhaps, “beyond patriarchy.” But is there a “beyond patriarchy” in the history of sport?2 Can one imagine conceivable futures beyond the control or limit of the past and present? Can the astute feminist sport historian move into a liminal role and stand on the cusp of the folding of the past into the future, beyond the control or limit of the present? Can she/he dance their knowledge, expanding on and extending what is possible for sport history researchers to see, say, imagine and feel—hitching rides on and being pulled in by the phenomena they attempt to draw into view?3

This forum on feminist sport history sets out to use feminist theory as a kind of hermeneutic of suspicion that surfaces critiques of existing theories and practices in sport history. It claims to offer new, or perhaps less trod, ways to look at sporting discourses, cultural practices, and the mapping of public and private spaces; challenges ideology from [End Page 479] outside and hegemony from within; and as Susan Geiger suggests, “aims to release multiple truths into the scholarly environment.”4 This is certainly the worthy aim of editors Holly Thorpe and Rebecca Olive who have set out to demonstrate that feminism has not lost its historical political mission even though the world scenario and the imperatives of the academy have changed significantly over the last decades. They show how a number of young sport history feminist scholars are renewing and reinventing feminism continuously in their work, going their own way, refusing labels, and thinking through the ways in which old scripts need to be rethought and rewritten. But they also illuminate how this new generation of scholars has built their scholarship on the roots and shoots of earlier generations of feminist sport historians who had to work through and at times against a resolutely gendered profession. Their presentation of a multi-generational dialogue captures some of the struggles of feminist and gender sport historians among themselves and within a profession, which for so many years tended to define itself in opposition to femininity and alternative ways of writing history.5

In striving to overcome patriarchal and dichotomous ways of being in the academic space the issue of method becomes central to a number of the papers Thorpe and Olive have selected for this edition. Carly Adams points out that “critical engagements with women’s experiences through oral histories, as multi-vocal engagements with the past, are central to my work as a feminist historian.” Indeed the question of how subjective identities are composed in the oral-history interview has been the focus of much recent research, feminist and otherwise.6 The interview forms a particular moment through which two or more people work through a process of constructing a sense of self, and where the interviewer plays an active role. Taking on this task Adams exhorts feminist sport scholars to engage with the complexities of the inter-subjectivity of the interview process as they work to historicize and theorize narratives and develop a feminist history that is thick, layered, and reflective. It is important, she says, to “openly discuss the tensions in our research, our uncertainties and the rewarding moments, ask new questions, and embrace and theorize the researching self as part of our historical methods.”

In her interviews with female athlete Betty White she reflects upon how the performative aspects of an interview can become central to the shared story of women and sport as both speakers engage and collaborate in meaning making and producing knowledge. Such...


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