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Making It Count: Marathon Swimming and the Quantification of the Self

This paper was presented as part of a panel at the British Sociological Association annual conference (25.4.14) on the theme of The Quantified Self. The panel aimed to address the rising Quantified Self movement, but also wider self-tracking trends and technologies. Also presenting on the panel were Deborah Lupton (Canberra University) and Farzana Dudhwala (University of Oxford), and the panel was organised by Chris Till (Leeds Metropolitan University). This was my first attempt at writing on what will form the basis for a chapter of my swimming book on "Swimming and Consumption", and it explores some of the problems inherent in the quantification of bodies, and the social function of biosensor and tracking data in the production of social belonging. You can listen to the podcast by clicking on the title above, and download the slides here.

Suffering for fun?

This paper was presented as part of the School of Sociology and Social Policy seminar series at the University of Leeds (my new place of work) on 12 March, 2014. It's part of the ongoing book-writing and is a work in progress for a chapter on swimming as pleasure / leisure. Click on the title to hear the podcast, or you can download it here. At the beginning of the talk, after a brief introduction, I play a video from my 2010 English Channel swim. This doesn't make for great audio (although there's some lovely whooping from my crew at the end). The video runs from 1.30 to 7.00 mins, so you might want to skip over that part (or watch along online...). I've also uploaded a pdf of the slides for the talk. Special thanks to Elaine Howley for the fantastic pictures of her furry tongue and stripy forehead! The paper raised lots of interesting questions about suffering as leisure, as capitalism, methodology, and the relation of these experiences to wider perspectives on social history. Lots of things to think about.

Who are you swimming for?

I presented this paper at a seminar hosted by the School for Nursing and Health Science, Dublin City University, on 2 July, 2013. This paper is a revised and extended version of a paper I gave earlier in the summer in Cambridge (see below), and is the beginning of a chapter for the book I'm working on (Immersion). The paper explores the expectation that Channel swimmers will swim for charity, and asks critical questions about the assumptions that underlie those expectations. The paper argues that charitable swimming forges a complex series of multi-directional exchanges of obligation that challenge the conventional assumption that swimming for charity is a self-evidently win-win activity leading to gains for both swimmers and charities. It's still a work in progress, but there were some helpful questions after the talk and hopefully a better version will follow for the book chapter as a result.

"We cannot let up until our sport is purified": marathon swimming and the troubled boundaries of authenticity

I gave this paper on 9 May, 2013, as part of a seminar series organised by the School of Applied Social Sciences at Durham University. The paper is a first attempt to write about the many fierce debates that animate the marathon swimming community about what 'counts' as a legitimate marathon swim. It's very much a work in progress, focusing particularly on the online debates. There are lots of areas that still need more development, but it's a start. You can listen to a podcast of the talk by clicking on the title above, and download the powerpoint slides here.

Becoming a Channel swimmer: training, technology and marathon swimming

I gave this paper at a symposium organised by the Wellcome Collection on 28 September, 2012, which was part of a series of events around an exhibition on bodily enhancement technologies called Superhuman. It was a day of exciting papers, and lots of discussion, and my paper was designed to bring a much more 'fleshy" and social perspective to the fairly high tech focus of the day. I talked about 'training' as a technology, and of the process of making a marathon swimming body as one made up of uncountable mundane technologies - bottles, goggles, bits of carpet to stand on. Using the Channel swimming research as a lens, I argued that the distinction between technology and nature is always arbitrarily drawn, and that uncritical use of those distinctions can obscure the social values and judgements that enable and constraint people in their engagements with the world. I don't have a recording or hard copy of this paper, but if you click on the title, this will take you to the event website.

"Who are you swimming for?": English Channel swimming, charitable fund-raising and the construction of alliances of suffering

I presented this paper at the Third International Conference on Sport and Society, held in Cambridge from 23-25 July, 2012. This is my first attempt at writing on the issue of charitable fund-raising and swimming, and is the beginnings of a much longer journal article on this topic that is currently in progress. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to record this talk for a podcast, but you can download the written text of the talk by clicking on the title.

"You can't be too vain to gain if you want to swim the Channel": marathon swimming and the war on obesity

I presented this paper at the ISSA World Congress of Sport in Glasgow on 16 July, 2012. This is a revised version of the paper that I gave in June 2011, and follows the structure, although in much less detail, of a paper currently under review with the academic journal, Body & Society. You can listen to the podcast of this talk by clicking on the title above; alternatively, you can download a pdf of the text of the talk here. (Please note that this is the tidied up version of the talk, so does not match the podcast word for word).

Dreaming of Jelly Babies: English Channel swimming and the challenges and comforts of food

I gave this talk during a drinks reception at the BSA Food Study Group conference, which was held at the British Library on 2-3 July, 2012. The aim of the talk was to give a light-hearted overview while the conference delegates were having a glass of wine, some nibbles and looking at the research posters that were displayed around the room. I was so nervous that I forgot to record it, but you can download a pdf of the text of the talk by clicking on the title.

"Man up!": Marathon swimming and the gendered body

18 May, 2012, Gender and Sport, Contemporary Issues seminar series, Centre for the Study of Women and Gender, University of Warwick. (To view the video of this presentation, click on the title, then select "Default Lite" and the click "Launch Echoplayer". This format does not work on iPads. Please contact me if you have any problems viewing this video. Alternatively, you can listen to the audio podcast of the talk here).

The web site for this event (and the others in the series), including recordings of the other presentations, can be found here

"You can't be too vain to gain if you want to swim the Channel": marathon swimming, ethnography and the problem of 'heroic fatness'

20 June, 2011, Sociology of Sport (Sociological Imagination Seminar Series, University of Warwick). Click here to listen to the podcast of this talk.

"If I could bottle this feeling...": Channel swimming, pleasure and positive deviance

2 February, 2011, Centre for the Study of Women and Gender, Department of Sociology, University of Warwick


Click on the picture for the pdf of the powerpoint presentation that accompanied this talk.

You can also access a podcast of this seminar here .