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Space, Sport and Resistance: negotiating agency and respectability in Muslim women’s sport practices in Finland

Almila, Anna-Mari (2015) Space, Sport and Resistance: negotiating agency and respectability in Muslim women’s sport practices in Finland. In: British Sociological Association's Annual Conference - Societies in Transition: Progression or Regression?, 15 - 17 April 2015, Glasgow Caledonian University, UK.

Type of Research: Conference, Symposium or Workshop Item
Creators: Almila, Anna-Mari

From burkini swimwear in public beaches to sport-scarves in competitive sport, female Islamic veiling in sport raises issues of equality, cultural sensitivity and multicultural accommodation. While other kinds of ‘headscarf’ disputes have been widely analysed by social scientists, those to do with sport and common space remain under-researched. Drawing upon ethnographic fieldwork in Helsinki, I discuss two Finnish cases about veiling, sport, female agency and spatial conflict. Using Lefebvre’s ideas about hegemonic spaces and resistance, I argue that while veiling Muslim women participating in sport in common space disrupt dominant ideas about how common space is to be used, veiling also provides these women with tools to challenge both majority and minority group understandings of appropriate behaviour and ‘normality’.

The first case concerns disputes over women-only swimming hours in public swimming halls. Gender-specific swimming hours are allocated for the benefit of Muslim women who, due to their religious convictions, cannot swim in mixed-gender spaces. These have triggered public debates about how publicly-funded places for exercise are to be used, and whether gender-segregated practices involve discrimination against men. Such debates reveal two viewpoints: while the State considers positive discrimination as an obligation, its critics argue that all discrimination creates inequality, ignoring the existing inequalities that positive discrimination targets.

The second case reveals how Muslim women use various sports, like jogging, cycling and swimming, as tools to claim both spatial liberty vis-a-vis their ethno-religious community, and the status of ‘normality’ in respect to mainstream Finnish society. In such strategies, being ‘appropriately’ dressed is the tool which guarantees their respectability, despite the suspicions that may be expressed against their sporting activities per se. Veiling appears as a complex of cultural expectations and challenges to them. Encompassing the State, ethnic groups and individuals, negotiations of sport reveal deep-rooted assumptions about public and common spaces.

Official Website: http://www.britsoc.co.uk/events/annual-conference-archives.aspx
Keywords/subjects not otherwise listed: cultural sociology, sociology of sport, production of space, Lefebvre, Finland
Your affiliations with UAL: Colleges > London College of Fashion
Date: 16 April 2015
Event Location: Glasgow Caledonian University, UK
Date Deposited: 22 May 2015 13:44
Last Modified: 22 May 2015 13:45
Item ID: 7447
URI: https://ualresearchonline.arts.ac.uk/id/eprint/7447

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