Triathlon geographies: a mixed-method investigation into spatial, social and digital sporting worlds
thesisposted on 06.10.2021, 09:17 by Daniel Giles
Responding to calls for practice-led research on sport and physical activity in the social sciences, a need to understand sport in relation to its technological, social and material environments, a tendency to overlook more banal and everyday aspects of participation, and a general lack of consideration of sport and physical activity in human geography, this research employs a case study of triathlon to better understand the profiles of athletes, the affordances of training environments, the subtleties of sociality and the dynamics of digital transitions associated with contemporary physical activity engagement. In doing so this thesis makes several academic and practical contributions concerning understandings of physical activity practices. Triathlon is a sport that has developed significantly over the past decade, witnessing a rapid uplift in the number of participants as a result of British success in the sport during the London 2012 Olympic Games. Despite the increasing amount of research exploring the practices and experiences of those engaged in recreational sport, triathlon has largely eluded significant study within geography and the social sciences. In order to develop more comprehensive understandings of the spatial, social and virtual worlds of contemporary triathlon engagement, this thesis utilises an mixed methods approach involving a large-scale online survey of 591 British triathletes combined with participant observation and 22 semistructured interviews with members of two triathlon clubs in the East Midlands. The empirical findings of the research highlight the complexity of triathletes training taskscapes, emphasising how factors such as the degree of specialisation, proximity, and accessibility, and characteristics including gender, experience, and confidence all play an important role in determining the locational geography of triathletes training practices. Drawing upon re-imagined notions of sporting social worlds this study considers the places that are central to the social practices of triathletes, in particular emphasising the importance of triathlon clubs as the spatial, organisational, and social centres of the triathlon world, facilitating the creation and cultivation of social relationships, and enabling the acquisition and expression of subcultural capital. Further, this thesis demonstrates that the digital has become an integral and inseparable aspect of triathlon engagement, with digital communication platforms providing opportunities for online extensibility that have reduced the need for physical presence, and socially-enabled activity tracking applications which have transformed triathletes’ social practices and interactions with physical spaces. Overall, this thesis significantly advances understandings of the spatial, social, and virtual worlds of triathlon in the context of Great Britain, contributing to geographical debates concerning the spatialities of physical activity, the social functions of serious leisure engagement, and the pervasiveness of digital technologies within everyday sport involvement. Ultimately, this research project demonstrates the merits of a geographical approach for enhancing understandings of contemporary sport and leisure practices, arguing that planners, local authorities, and governing bodies need to give more consideration to the needs of physical activity participants in the design of public spaces in order to encourage more sport and healthy lifestyles among a greater diversity of recreational athletes.
- Social Sciences and Humanities
- Geography and Environment