GIRLS AT THE RINK: An ethnographic study of girls’ hockey

This thesis examines organised ice hockey played as a hobby by a group of 12–16-year-old girls. Drawing on gender, power and governance perspectives, the research analyses the environment in which the hobby is practiced, the cultural practices it involves, the agency and space that are constructed in those practices, and the hobby’s gendered and gender-producing meanings. The research questions are: How are the cultural practices of girls’ ice hockey constructed? How are gender and agency constructed in the context of ice hockey? What meanings are the hobby given in the girls’ discussions?

The theoretical background taps the research traditions in the fields of feminist upbringing and education, culture, girlhood, and physical education. I examine the cultural practices of hockey on formal, non-formal and physical levels. The research draws on the concepts of gender, agency, space and border work. In the border work situations that emerge in the study, one sees questioning of conventional notions of femininity and masculinity by negotiating gender categories. I examine space in terms of physical, social
and cultural spaces. Agency is analysed on the macro, meso and micro levels; it is seen as associated with power relations in society, structures, sport as an institution and individuals as independent actors, albeit ones enmeshed in the power relations between actors. I approach coaching practices in terms
of theories of power and governance.

The ethnographic data used in the research was collected during eight months of fieldwork in which I participated in the activities of a hockey team in a community outside of the Helsinki region. The material consists of field notes, interviews, background information collected from questionnaires the girls completed, essays written by the girls, video recordings and records of meetings organized for parents. The data analysis is based on the interpretative approach and thick description. I describe my work with the Tytöt kaukalossa material as an analytical process consisting of three phases: analysis, reading and interpretation.

The results show that the physical spaces afforded to girls’ ice hockey teams are demarcated, regulated and segregated ones in which differences between the genders are amplified and marked using a variety of ownership and governance relationships. Including girls in drawing up joint ground rules is a way to train them to make decisions and to reach agreement. The everyday practices of the team include many different ways to mark togetherness that enable girls to perform their playership. An analysis of the girls’ comments revealed three considerations: the value of the hobby in making new friends, its health benefits and the career opportunities it opened up.

This research shows that the bio-power in the hockey culture, as an institutional dimension of governance, tends to produce a subject that readily adapts to discipline. The ideal at work there is that of the responsible citizen, in practice a model subject with the entrepreneurial orientation promoted by neoliberal society. The parents of the children are attached to the project through discourses of parental responsibility, voluntary work and health. At the individual level, subjects are required to use technologies of the self in self-governance and when receiving feedback.

This research shows that despite legislative requirements and demands for equality work, ice hockey in Finland is still an area that produces inequality. Women and girls are on the outer circle as regards the cultural practices of the sport. The space is marginalized not only in the media but also in cultural perceptions and attitudes. Everyday practices create social and cultural spaces in which girls struggle to gain opportunities and dismantle their assumed womanhood. By playing a game like hockey, which is perceived as masculine, girls are creating a new gender culture and dismantling the
dichotomous gender order.


City (for University):
University of Lapland