Combining Geography and Rowing – It was going to happen eventually!

This is the third in a series of blog posts written by the current MSc Society and Space students about their dissertations. The two major passions in Ben Moule’s life – geography and rowing – have (finally!) come together in his Masters Dissertation. In his research project, Ben seeks to explore how the sporting body is produced though interactions with sporting space.

I stand upon the start line of Henley Royal Regatta; the biggest event in the amateur rowing calendar. Before me are two crews, consisting of sixteen rowers and two coxes at peak physical and mental fitness, the ultimate sporting body, if you will. They are ready for the race that represents the culmination of the year’s training. All the early mornings, all the hours spent in the gym, all the miles rowed and the blisters gained, culminate into this one moment. The race has two possible outcomes: you lose and go home, or you win and qualify for the next round, drawing one step closer to the ultimate prize of winning at the highly prestigious and greatly desired Henley Royal Regatta. The athletes sit in their boat, poised to display their mastery of a very specific set of skills – and it is this performance that captivates me. The movements of nine individuals coming together to propel the boat from start to finish as fast as possible. It is these actions, the coming together of body and mind, which take precedence over all other events at this particular moment in time.

The fleeting snapshot in time and space, captured above, reflects my two major passions in life: geography and rowing – or perhaps, rowing and geography, depending on who you ask. For a while I have been contemplating putting the two into relation. I believe in animating a conversation between my two greatest passions both my rowing practise and my engagement with the field of cultural geography will benefit, with my enjoyment and knowledge of both increasing through the creation of, what I hope will be, a productive dialogue. You could even say that the meeting of these two entities was inevitable. Still the question for me always remained: how?

Blog Post Picture - Ben Moule

Prompted by my upcoming dissertation, I examined what really makes rowing special for me. I concluded that it was everything sensed by the individual – the sights, sounds, smells, the interactions and emotions occurring within sporting space – that culminate to make rowing such as significant part of my life. Within simple geographical terms everything sensed in a sporting environment has come to be conceived as a ‘sporting landscape’. Referring back to my initial paragraph, what is at the centre of my ‘sporting landscape’ is the sporting body: without this athletic individual my whole landscape would not be possible. For me, therefore, the body is at the centre of sports space(s).

By placing the body at the centre of spatial enquiry, it is possible to examine how space is created by the body and how the body is created by space. Within the geographical literature the centrality of the body within sporting spaces is neglected. What I am endeavouring to discover is exactly how a body becomes more athletic though interactions with sports spaces, something has yet to be explored within the context of rowing. What I aim to interrogate is the landscape assemblage of rowing, and more specifically how the sporting body comes about though the milieu of rowing. Assemblages are concerned with how individuals are understood in terms of how there emerge in space. My project will be twofold. First I will use “assemblage” as a mode of thinking. Researching though assemblage(s) to examine the process of embodied knowledge formation in order to develop a deeper understanding of both rowing and the geography of rowing. The second use of assemblage involves how the body, in this instance, is understood as an element of the environments (landscapes) from which it emerges. Further to this, the project will help to establish how the dialogue though which rowing takes place shape sporting bodies and how sporting bodies help to shape the environment of rowing. Or, to phrase it slightly differently, how does the sporting potentiality of the subject become embodied though training?

Through ethnographic methods my dissertation aims to address how the sporting body emerges though interactions with sporting space. These ethnographies have been carried out through attending many rowing session where I have been observing and documenting everything going on; the participants (both rowers and coaches), their routine and its disruption, the interactions within the sporting space and the interactions between different subjects. Using the information gathered, I will dissect both the dialogue though which rowing takes place and the sporting milieu as a means to interrogate the embodied experience of the subject. My intention is to discover how an individual becomes more sporting, we all have the ability to become athletic but how, though interactions with sports spaces, does this happen?

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