"It's Just a Sport. It's Just a Sport, Right?": The Reproduction of Class Privilege in Ultimate

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Titley, Fraser
Ultimate , Class Privilege , Race and Sport , Gender and Sport
Invented in 1968, Ultimate is a self-officiating, non-contact, team sport played with a flying disc. Over the course of the past 50 years, Ultimate has rapidly gained popularity and is often cited as being among the fastest growing sports in the world (World Flying Disc Federation, 2015; USA Ultimate, 2015). Interestingly, because it requires no referees, is usually played mixed (co-ed), and can be inexpensive to play, proponents of the sport portray Ultimate as being a more accessible and equitable alternative to “mainstream” sports (Walters, 2008). However, despite these distinctive traits and this progressive rhetoric, as a committed member of the Ultimate community for the last decade, I’ve noticed a problem: Ultimate tends to be played only by an incredibly homogenous and privileged group of people. Further, Ultimate has only been studied by a handful of people (Hamish Crocket, Gerald Griggs, Lindsay Pattison, Andrew Thornton, and Kirsten Walters), none of whom have substantively addressed the Ultimate community’s apparent homogeneity and affluence. In this thesis, I address this issue by employing Pierre Bourdieu’s conceptual schema to analyse my five-month long ethnographic research project as a member of the Ultimate community in Kingston, Ontario. Specifically, I use Bourdieu’s notion of social class and his concepts of capital, habitus, and taste to analyse the seven interviews that I conducted with mixed Ultimate players and the field notes I took during several hundred hours of participant observation. In doing so, I develop the argument that active participation in the Kingston Ultimate community functions to systematically maintain and reproduce the structural advantages of an already privileged group of people. I suggest, therefore, that Ultimate, a purportedly progressive form of recreation, is, in fact, a mechanism through which players distinguish themselves from “lower class” groups, thus (re)producing a particular social class identity that locates them at the top of the social hierarchy. I conclude this thesis by offering my recommendations for how individual Ultimate players and the entire Ultimate community might improve the accessibility and equity of our sport.
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