GEOGRAPHY CAREERS: INTERVIEW WITH DR ADELE PAVLIDIS AND DR DITI BHATTACHARYA ON WOMEN IN SPORT
14th September 2023
By Nicole Miller - Communications Officer, IAG
In the wake of the excitement around the Women’s World Cup, we talked to two Griffith University geographers ahead of their Geographical Research webinar about women in sport. The researchers are interested in how sport can influence ‘spaces’ and narratives. We also discussed how mentors have impacted their geography careers and work.
Dr Adele Pavlidis and her colleague Dr Diti Bhattacharya will co-present a webinar co-hosted by the Institute of Australian Geographers (IAG), Wiley and Geographical Research on 26 September 2023. The session is called 'Making ‘space’ for women and girls in sport: an agenda for Australian geography?'
The conversation follows on from Adele’s 2018 Fay Gale Lecture in Geographical Research, which was delivered at the IAG conference that year, and an earlier paper. During the lecture, Adele suggested a rethink on how sport is inherently spatial and political. She outlined why we need to do research on the spatiality of inequality in sport, and ideas about affects and emotions that can aid our understandings of sport as experienced by girls and women. She also proposed an agenda for geographers to take up.
Adele and Diti will reflect upon what has happened since the article and lecture, including recent public discussions around the World Cup.;
A recording of the webinar will be made available after the event on the Wiley website. We’ll update this page with a link as soon as it is published.
What is your current role and where do you work?
Adele: I’m a Senior Lecturer at Griffith University within the School of Humanities, Languages and Social Science. Read about my current work.
Diti: I’m a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Griffith Centre for Social and Cultural Research at Griffith University.
Geography is a diverse field and community. What 'type' of geographer would you describe yourself as (or do you find yourself labelled as)?
Adele: I identify myself as an interdisciplinary scholar, drawing from cultural and emotional geographies, as well as sociology, organisation studies, cultural studies and feminist theory.
Diti: I broadly describe myself as a human geographer as that’s what I completed my PhD in, as well as a social and cultural geographer. I’m working at the intersections of migration and geography, sporting culture and physical culture, affect and feminist theory. I am interested in how we understand and perceive women of colour and first-generation migrants. I explore research around personal spaces and ideas of belonging and settlement – including trauma, discomfort and suffering.
Adele, in 2018 you wrote a Geographical Research article about 'making space for women and girls in sport'. Can you tell us the key messages that you hoped readers would think about when they read your article?
Adele: In that article I wanted to open up the idea of the spatial dimension of sport beyond geography's core areas of interest, for example cities. This can help us grapple with complex notions of inequality and inequity, affect and wellbeing, as well as the economic and political dimensions of sport. Sport is about community. Yet it is also about corporate profit, advertising and gambling. I argued feminist theories of ‘affect’, the critical study of feelings through a feminist lens, have much to offer in terms of better understanding and grappling with sport as multiplicity.
Diti: When I read this article, I thought is has foundational qualities. It explains the relationships of how sport, leisure and geography intersect and how each of these things are very political. They are connected by spatial politics and what they exude when they interact. It is important in how to understand how sport and geography are closely entangled.
Adele, your article summary opens with a statement: "I argue that there is need to rethink how sport is inherently spatial and political." Can you explain what you mean about sport being inherently spatial?
Adele: Sport 'happens' in multiple spaces, sometimes all at once! On fields, in gyms, boardrooms, bedrooms, stadiums, on big screens and small screens, in policy, schools and more. Sport happens at kitchen tables as volunteers gather to discuss organising competitions, or in courtrooms where laws around access are made. By acknowledging the spatiality of sport (and the many spaces and places where sport 'happens') we can then start to see just how political it really is.
It’s interesting to think about how spaces change, including sports spaces for women. Not only on the field, but also places and spaces before the athletes are even on the field – the environment, the atmosphere, the discussions on and around the game. It’s interesting to analyse the kind of atmosphere that is created in our spaces, including questioning if they are inclusive.
Adele, what have you observed in the years since the article and lecture?
Adele: I have observed some interesting things while watching my own child participate in hockey, particularly in relation to spaces, roles and sporting culture. Many women are still dominating traditionally gendered roles, such as in the canteen or secretary position, and are not seen in lead administration or management positions. Why is that? There are many reasons.
There have been discussions around the importance of women being included in clubhouses, to make them more family friendly. That’s great, yet it makes women the harbingers of morality.
I have investigated the culture of AFL clubs, including barriers for women when looking to be included in male-dominated social events that influence club culture. For example, one club would hold a weekly dinner with the manager, coach and others to discuss the player line-up for the men’s team for the weekend ahead. The female coach asked if she could attend yet was actively excluded from the dinner. So, she and her colleagues continued to have their line-up meetings in informal spaces and separate to the male administrators.
What did you both think of the huge public and media response of the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup in Australia?
Adele: There have been studies about the links between increases in domestic violence and male sporting event finals. It is interesting to think about what environment that these sporting events create and the wider social impacts. With the World Cup the women were involved in creating sporting environments and spaces. It was definitely different.
It was very joyful and inclusive and was such a feelgood moment, which was then interrupted by the Spanish football president’s kiss. It was a time of celebration and jubilation. He was trying to exert himself in this space, at an important moment for the team. It’s interesting to think about how spaces change and also how they are disrupted by misogyny, by violence and aggression – which is a lack of consent.
Diti: Sporting cultures are entangled with other public discussions, including recent discussions around The Voice and Referendum. There is always the context to consider. With the World Cup, we can think about the women, what roles they play and played, and beyond that. We can think about representation.
During the Cup we saw diversity celebrated. Sam Kerr has Indian heritage. Mary Fowler was born in Papua New Guinea. Indigenous players, such as Anaiwan woman Kyah Simon and Noongar goalkeeper Lydia Williams, have been celebrated. Goalkeeper Mackenzie Arnold wears a hearing aid and publicly talks about her hearing loss.
We didn’t have to win the tournament to celebrate these stories. We have been discussing and celebrating these women before the narrative of winning and beyond what women’s sports can do.
The demographic of Australia is changing. How we think about people has changed. Migration has changed. The Cup has propelled us to think about some of the bigger issues – equal pay, diversity and inclusion in sport, about spectatorship, and women’s sport generally. Sport is a conduit, and the timing of the Cup was right.
Tell us about any informal or formal geography mentors you have had, including the impact on you and your work.
Adele: At high school, my geography teacher Miss Williams, wrote in my report card that “Adele had a flair for geography.” She was a wonderful and passionate geographer teacher. I’ve tried to find her since with no luck.
More recently, my mentor and collaborator Professor Simone Fullager, is always encouraging. She is such an intellectually generous interdisciplinary scholar. She allows me to explore ideas and always encouraging innovation. She’s enabled me to take risks. I’m grateful to be able to make mistakes and have that support there. She doesn’t expect me to know everything about something before I say something about it. That’s important – otherwise we say nothing! Who knows everything?
Diti: I had an early interest around physical geography and political geography, which was emphasised in school. These days, my work comes from a very personal space.
Adele has been one of my mentors, and I’m not just saying that. We connected on a personal level, not only around our professional work.
My first gateway city into Australia was the Gold Cost. I found it a hypersexual and heteronormative city – quite different migrant experience compared to Sydney or Melbourne. I didn’t see people like me, couldn’t eat the food that I wanted to eat and couldn’t engage with any physical or sporting activities. It had quite adverse effects on my mental health and wellbeing at that time.
Informal and personal conversations with Adele help me to really understand what I can do with my experiences and combine them with my work. I have started to value my experiences. Just to have someone listen to you, is valuable within academia. A lot of my work now is connected to our early conversations. A lot of those light bulb moments come from personal interactions.
Are there any ‘types’ of geographers you would love to attend the webinar?
Adele: Geographers of all disciplines can engage in discussions around sport. I would love to see geographers come along who have never considered sport in their research.
I’m really interested in political and economic geographies. So would like to hear these geographers’ input into cultural, sport and feminist geographies. I’m currently looking at economic spatial entanglements.
It would be great to see geographers who study climate change. It seems initially to be unrelated, yet it’s not. Changes in climate and to sports can both impact society in ways that people are scared of. Some change is good. Some change is bad. We have to be open to progress. How we respond to climate change and changes to sports are both are about working towards a future. We know change needs to happen yet there are technological, economic and social tensions.
I hope to meet geography teachers, who could use sports examples in their work teaching young people. People working within sports management and administration too.
What thoughts would you like people to be left with after the webinar?
Diti: I am interested in how to engage with sport outside of the conventional narratives, so hope that the webinar attendees think about what is happening and what is possible. I would like to hear how our audience imagine and frame conversations about sports, beyond elite sports participation.
I’d like to hear how young women are picking up sport, or thinking of taking up sport, and what we can challenge. How are diverse women picking up sport? How are women thinking about sport in ways that we haven’t talked about? How have they been affected by sport? I have been involved in sport later in my life, so sport can mean something very different to me, not only as a researcher.
Adele: I want people to think about the importance of cultural geography and feminist geography in relation to sport. Sport is one of those things in our society that is put in a bubble or thought as not scholarly enough – as if you can’t academically critique it. Feminist and cultural geographers have a lot to offer and can influence thinking around management and leadership in sport. Insights from these geographies can help to create environments that are welcoming and inclusive for more people.
REGISTER FOR THE WEBINAR
Dr Adele Pavlidis and Dr Diti Bhattacharya will present ‘Making ‘space’ for women in girls in sport: an agenda for Australian geography?’ on Tuesday 26 September 2023 from 5.00 pm – 6.00 pm (AEST).
READ ADELE’S 2018 PAPER
To read Adele’s 2018 paper, Making “space” for women and girls in sport: an agenda for Australian geography, visit the Geographical Research website. The paper appeared in Volume 56, Issue 4.
If you don’t have access to Geographical Research, consider an Institute of Australian Geographers membership. Members have access to the journal. Read about Membership Benefits.
GEOGRAPHY RESEARCH CAREERS
The interview with Adele and Diti explored the importance of mentors and how they can influence geography research careers.
Read about the many Geography Careers in the field of geography.
WHAT IS GEOGRAPHY?
Geography is the study of place, space, and the environment, and of people and others in relation to those. Read more.
THE INSTITUTE OF AUSTRALIAN GEOGRAPHERS
Join our talented community of Australian geographers. Read about the Membership Benefits.
CONNECT WITH ADELE AND DITI