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What do sociologists of physical activity do?

This is an excerpt from Introduction to Kinesiology 6th Edition With HKPropel Access by Duane V. Knudson & Timothy A. Brusseau.

By Katherine M. Jamieson

Sociologists of physical activity are usually faculty members in colleges or universities whose teaching, research, and service advance a scholarly and practical understanding of the complex social and cultural contexts in which societal members experience physical activity. They may teach an introductory course on sociology of physical activity and offer courses on specialized topics such as the Olympic Games, interscholastic and intercollegiate athletics, and the ties between physical activity and phenomena such as gender relations, race relations, violence and aggression, social media, and the mass media (e.g., radio, television and streaming services, magazines, websites).

Sometimes sociologists of physical activity combine teaching with professional service by encouraging their students to assist in physical activity programs for neighborhoods and schools. This helps local communities and fosters a sense of civic responsibility in future kinesiology professionals. Faculty service activities may also include consulting with professional sport leagues on antiracist policies and practices. Or they may include working with community groups to use physical activity to help bring about community-wide change, such as supporting immigrant settlement by promoting culturally specific forms of physical activity, or consulting on city planning and priorities regarding the development and use of physical activity spaces.

These examples of both service and scholarly engagement illustrate the point that sociologists of physical activity cannot conduct their research in a typical laboratory. Even if it were possible to bring an aerobic exercise class or a group of sport spectators into a laboratory for study, such an approach would not work in most cases. Instead, it would produce an unrealistic result because manipulating an event usually alters the very thing that one is trying to study—an aerobic exercise class in its regular setting, for example. For this reason, sociologists usually prefer to study their subjects in the field—for example, traveling with professional golfers on the Ladies Professional Golf Association tour, observing race staff to evaluate the equity of athlete services in local half marathon races, mapping out the political processes that underlie the preparation of elite Canadian athletes for international competition, or learning how to support preferred physical activity practices among immigrant groups.

As part of this desire to understand everyday life and physical activity engagement, sociologists of physical activity spend considerable time making contacts and gaining the confidence of the people and communities with whom they wish to collaborate for the purpose of developing new knowledge. Regardless of the field setting, the quality of such relationships affects the quality of the research. Therefore, sociologists of physical activity seldom rely on a physical laboratory space; instead, they view all physical activity settings in the world as their laboratories.

More Excerpts From Introduction to Kinesiology 6th Edition With HKPropel Access