Sociology Professor Dr. Kristi Allain Named Canada Research Chair in Physical Culture and Social Life
Sociology Professor Dr. Kristi Allain has been named a Canada Research Chair in Physical Culture and Social Life.
Dr. Allain will examine the ways that power operates through the intersections of physical activity, aging, gender, and Canadian national identity. She will look at why sport celebrates certain kinds of people as national heroes, while excluding others, and how media representations position some as central to national myths, while making others peripheral. She will also examine how institutional policies of sports, government and health organizations impact the ways people engage in, think about, and remember sport and physical activity; how older people understand their participation in sports; and how such understandings challenge or support national identity constructions.
“My research seeks to make sport more accessible to older people, and expand our notions of Canadian identity in the process. These seem like disparate goals, but sport and physical activity are profoundly important parts of our lives as Canadians,” she said.
“As Canada becomes demographically older, this kind of analysis is particularly important. In this regard, I am interested in the role that older people can and do play in sport and Canadian identity. I want to know how physical activity works to build community, helps people understand their ageing bodies, and brings pleasure to their lives. Finally, I’m intrigued by the potential of the baby boomers to shift common-sense ideas associated with sport and national identity, making it more inclusive.”
Allain said it’s rare for older Canadians to see athletes who look like them on the national stage.
“Instead, the most celebrated athletes in Canada are often young, normatively masculine, seemingly-straight, able-bodied, white men. While this select group has come to define the national character in media representations, political discourse, and public celebrations, the average age of the Canadian population is rising.”
Through academic and popular research dissemination, her research will challenge the ways that national celebrations of sport marginalize certain groups, particularly those in later life.
Allain also hopes to disrupt and displace what she says sociologists call “neoliberal ideas of health.”
“These ideas – which circulate almost everywhere from government programs, educational initiatives, advertising, local health facilities and even in interpersonal relationships – tell us that we are personally responsible for our health and well-being, and that we have a moral responsibility to stay healthy and decrease our health care burden on the state,” she said. “This narrative positions exercise and physical activity as some of the most important activities in this regard. Neoliberal attitudes about health blame people for their own health concerns.”
Allain wants to disrupt these ideas because they disproportionately impact marginalized people, including those in later life. Instead, she hopes to find space to appreciate the joy that physical activity might bring to the lives of the old and celebrate ways to age well that challenge these neoliberal ideas.
Dr. Allain is an Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology at St. Thomas University. She earned a BA from Trent, an MA from Queen’s, and a PhD from Trent where her doctoral research examined the intersection of gender and national identity within young men’s ice hockey. In her more recent scholarship, she has examined Canadian national identities, gender, and aging, and she has been published in the International Review for the Sociology of Sport, the International Journal of Canadian Studies, and NORMA: International Journal of Masculinity Studies.