The embodiment of class, gender and age through leisure: A realist analysis of long distance running

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Leisure activities claiming to promote health and fitness have been an increasing feature of contemporary society. The impact of such activities on social inequality is an important area of study for both theoretical and policy reasons. This paper adopts an embodied approach to explore the development of long-distance running and the gendered, aged and classed nature of it. It is based upon part of a study which involved analysing a running magazine which was first entitled Jogging Magazine, quickly became Running and is now known as Runner's World, and ten interviews with runners. The paper illustrates connections between the knowledges, practices, organization and values promoted through running (from 1979-1998) and the growing popularity of a particular bodily type and style. The popularity of the slender muscular body has developed with the growth of leisure-sports like running. It has become the ideal for men and women of all ages, but has been particularly related to the middle-classes. Participation is thought to bring both health and aesthetic benefits for individuals. From the realist perspective adopted, the necessary mechanisms of running culture and the forms of embodiment promoted can be viewed as important in constituting class, gender and age processes. I suggest that viewing the emergent powers of sports like running utilising embodied approaches is important because they raise issues around the promotion of leisure activities that are viewed as unproblematically 'healthy'. In the case of running it is found that it promotes an embodiment of middle-classness that naturalizes gender and age inequalities whilst also individualising responsibility for them.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)159-175
Number of pages17
JournalLeisure Studies
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2004


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