Diffracting mind-body relations: Feminist materialism and the entanglement of physical culture in women’s recovery from depression

Simone Fullagar

Research output: Chapter or section in a book/report/conference proceedingChapter or section


Finishing our hour-long interview about her insider knowledge of sport policy and the obesity agenda, I turn off my recorder as we leave the meeting room to enter the intimate space of the lift. Descending slowly from the 17th floor I casually mention other research that I am doing on women’s recovery depression and everyday practices. After a long pause she says quietly, “I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for sport, my depression became so bad at times. Playing sport kept me going somehow, it kept me alive”. The affective intensity of this research encounter has stayed with me for many years because that particular day I did not think I was doing mental health research. It serves as a reminder of the ontological inseparability and entanglement of mind and body in all research that portends to focus on either mental health or physical practices. To grasp the connectedness of our thoughts, feelings and senses as they are implicated in embodied movement we need more nuanced ways of thinking sport and physical culture as phenomena that materialize through complex biopsychosocial relations (as distinct from biopsy models of illness and treatment). In this chapter I take up the question of how embodied movement matters in mental health with respect to the materiality of all knowledge practices (science and social science, qualitative and quantitative research). I draw upon feminist and critical posthumanist scholarship to explore the material-discursive relations of depression and recovery (Blackman, 2012; Braidotti, 2013; Barad, 2007; Wilson, 2015). Such questions about matter require a thorough rethinking of the onto-epistemological assumptions that inform both naturalistic scientific and social constructivist research on physical activity. Understanding this complexity means staying with the embodied trouble (Lather, 2015) to move with different ways of (un)knowing beyond dualistic and reductionist categories of thought – mind/body, masculine/feminine, culture/nature, social/biological, objective/subjective. The value of new materialist feminisms lies with the relational questions that reorient our thinking about what gendered bodies can “do”, how matter “acts” and what “effects” are produced through the production of difference. This approach stands in contrast to the pursuit of truth about what is a body or locating the source of meaning in unmediated experience or an essentialised notion of womanhood (Braidotti, 2013; Coole & Frost, 2010; Barad, 2007; Grosz, 1994). There are, of course, nuanced lines of thinking within new materialism and critiques of supposed newness have importantly been raised by feminist and post-colonial, Indigenous scholars (see Barad, 2014; Ahmed, 2008).
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publication Sport, Physical Culture, and the Moving Body
Subtitle of host publicationMaterialism, Technologies, Ecologies
EditorsJoshua Newman, Holly Thorpe, David Andrews
PublisherRutgers University Press
Publication statusAcceptance date - 15 May 2017


  • feminism
  • Gender
  • Sport
  • Exercise
  • Depression


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