Playing fair : the rhetorical limits of liberalism in women's sport at the University of Texas, 1927-1992
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This dissertation situates the emergence of women’s intercollegiate sport at the University of Texas from 1927-1992 within the inherent tensions within liberal feminism regarding difference and equality. Specifically, it examines how the rhetoric of fair play functions as a resource for both resistance and social control. The rhetoric of fair play refers to a set of debates and discussions over the structure and meaning of competitive sport. The project proposes three tensions within fair play rhetoric: Discipline or Freedom, Rules as Control or Transformation, and the Universal or Political Athlete. Drawing upon the theoretical resources of liberal, radical and materialist feminism, as well as the cultural theory of Michel Foucault and Raymond Williams, the project argues that values of fairness and meritocracy within sport function dialectically to both empower demands for social change and to extend preexisting hierarchies. A number of questions guided this project: What social norms are at stake during sport competitions? How does fair play rhetoric uphold or challenge these norms? On what basis does fair play rhetoric challenge status quo social conditions? On what basis does it uphold them? And finally, how do the assumptions behind various usages of fair play rhetoric enable and limit their effects on society? Three case studies demonstrate how consecutive women’s sport administrators at Texas used claims to fair play to negotiate the dialectic tension of transcendent claims to sport identity and particular attachments to gender within women’s involvement in sport. Rhetorical tactics shifted from an invocation of sport’s public welfare benefits to political activism on behalf of women’s right to compete at sport. The project sets these varied tactics of sport advocacy within broader contexts of first wave feminism, interwar period Progressivism, social transformations of World War II, Civil Rights activism, and second wave feminism of the 1970s, culminating in the passage of Title IX. The dissertation concludes that the rhetoric of fair play exists within sport, and beyond, as a powerful form of discourse that can be wielded for social control or challenge. What is considered “playing fair” may change with time and perspective but the stakes remain high and thus merit scholarly attention.