Transnational Athletes’ Lifestories: Reflexivity in Research

Harri Selanne, LIKES Research Center, Finland

Theme: Social and cultural diversity

Program ID: SYM-26

Presentation: October 5, 2013 1:30 pm - 2:30 pm

Room: Jasperwood


This paper is framed within the life stories of 15 male and female transnational athletes to exemplify the insufficiency of such traditional categories as ‘nation’ and ‘race’ to adequately analyse culture and identity in lived experiences. Transnational athletes are not immigrants per se and should be understood as mobile subjects who regularly cross material and discursive borders, maintaining multiple relations (e.g., organizational, religious, political) and whose career development is negotiated in transnational spaces established through social networks and everyday practices (Ryba, 2012; Ryba & Stambulova, 2013). Locating athletes’ stories within a transnational framework allows us to gain a deeper understanding of processes of negotiation and conceptual transformation of meanings occurring in cultural transition. Nevertheless, we also argue for the need to temporarily ‘root’ our analyses in athletes’ ontological self-narratives while maintaining reflexivity of messy and unpredictable in-between-cultural positions shaped by the historicity of athletes’ and researchers’ subjectivities. Within this presentation, we draw on life history of a mixed-race Finnish female athlete to show the complexity of navigating conflicting meanings between ethnicity and racial discourses in the United States and Finland, which had varied effects on her athletic and non-athletic development, depending on location. We conclude with a discussion of reflexivity as a pivotal characteristic of the culturally competent research.

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