Senior games: docile bodies or resignigified subjectivities?

Por: Candance Ashton-shaeffer, Heather Gibson e Kari Kesinger.

Athens 2004: Pre-olympic Congress

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Participation in Senior Games and sport during mid and later life has been identified as a primary source of identity [1]. Studies suggest this identity is a delicate balance between challenging ageist stereotypes and conforming to youthful ideals [2]. This study adopts a poststructuralist perspective to examine sport participation as a source of identity in mid and later life. Specifically, are Senior Games a space for resignifying subjectivities or a site of bodily surveillance [3,4]?


Purposive and theoretical sampling were used to identify 37 Senior Games participants aged between 50 and 86. Twenty-two men and 15 women were interviewed at three different Senior Games events in Florida (USA). The semi-structured interviews covered such topics as sport participation history and meanings of sport and senior games. The interviews were transcribed verbatim, checked by the participants and analyzed using constant comparison and grounded theory methods [5].


Sport was a central component in the lives of all the participants and the role of athlete was a primary source of identity. For most of the men, sport participation had been a continuous part of their lives. For many of the women, regular participation in sport was a commitment they had made in mid life. Two major themes are associated with the ways these athletes confront ageing as both a biological and a social construct. For the majority, sport and senior games were viewed as source of authentic identity, a chance to resignify the "I" and to challenge the "me" (social identity). Sport was a source of social capital, of fun; winning did not matter as much as taking part. For a few, the idea of the disciplined docile body was evident. Commitment to training regimes, discipline, working through the pain and evangelical "preaching" against the evils of sedentary life were present. While, all of these athletes spoke of the health benefits of participation, it was only these few who appeared to be using sport in the quest for youthfulness.


Sport has been associated with aggression, dominance and disciplined bodies [6, 7]. While, this may be so, for the majority of participants in this study, sport and senior games participation in mid to later life appears to be a primary source of identity and chance to rewrite the script of what it means to be old [5].


[1]. Stevenson, C. (2002). IRSS, 37, 131-146.
[2]. Dionigi, R. (2002). World Leisure, 3, 4-15.
[3]. Foucault, M. (1983). In P. Rabinow & H. Dreyfus (Eds.), Michel Foucault: Beyond structuralism and hermeneutics. (afterword). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
[4]. Wearing, B. (1995). Leisure Studies, 14, 263-279.
[5]. Strauss, A., & Corbin, J. (1998 b). In N. Denzin & Y. Lincoln (Eds.). Strategies of qualitative inquiry (pp. 158-183). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
[6]. Heikkala, J. (1993). SSJ, 10, 397-412.
[7]. Theberge, N. (1987). Women Studies International Forum, 10, 387-393.




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