Research and Data
This section of the website hosts all of the media coverage, presentations and publications arising out the research project, as well as a questionnaire about the project magazine and this website. Each item has links to download podcasts, written texts, media articles and reports, and more will be added as soon as they are available. Below I have also added a more detailed description of how I did the research (methodology).
Researching Channel Swimming
The project uses an (auto) ethnographic method. This involved documenting in detail my experiences of training for a 2010 English Channel swim and a 2011 Catalina Channel swim, including participation at key training sites in the UK (Dover, Lake District, plus my regular training spots in the West Midlands and Cotswolds), Ireland, jersey (Channel Islands) and San Diego and San Francisco in southern California. The aim of this was to use my own body as a vehicle for thinking about what it means to try and make a body that can do something that a body wouldn't ordinarily be able to do, and I focused on issue such as how my body felt before, during and after training, how my body changed and how I felt about that, and how the training process impacted upon other aspects of my life (time, money etc). Although the funding for the project began in May 2010, the autoethnographic fieldnotes built on notes that I had been taking for over a year before this project started, resulting in a set of notes covering almost three years of swimming and training.
In addition to the 'auto' aspects of the project, I conducted extensive ethnographic research in all of those sites, observing how people talked, interacted and behaved, both within the swimming community and those outside it looking in. I also conducted 45 in-depth interviews with prospective, successful and unsuccessful swimmers (19 women and 26 men) and documented uncountable informal conversations with family members, coaches, passers-by, boat pilots and official observers. While the autoethnographic and ethnographic elements of the project were closely interrelated (for example, on a single day, I might swim, hang out on the beach or help out with feeding, and then conduct an interview), I chose to conceptualise the project as (auto)ethnographic in order to maintain the possibility of separation between the two elements. This was a strategic move that would enable me to continue with the research, although with a slightly different emphasis, if I became unable to swim my self for any reason.
All of the recorded interviews were transcribed, and then the core dataset of fieldnotes and transcripts was coded into 9 key themes: Swim History, Motivation, Body, Sensation, Identity, People, Logistics, Pedagogics, and Water. Then, working by hand on paper printouts of the coded data extracts under these themes, I worked away with colour pens and post-it notes, marking out further themes within the themes. So, for example, looking closely at the theme "Body" highlighted topics such as health, gender and body fat, and the theme "Water" brought out issues such as wildlife, texture and weather. You can download the full framework of themes and sub-themes here. This method meant that I came to know the data extremely well through repeated re-readings. I then analysed the coded data using a discourse analytic approach; this simply means that when lookng at the data and trying to make sense of it, you think about what people are doing when they use particular words or actions, rather than taking them literally. So, for example, as discussed in one of my reseach presentations, when someone asks me "Who are you swimming for?", I would then think about some of the assumptions that are present in that question: e.g. that I must be swimming for charity, or perhaps that I should be swimming for charity. I would then think about what those assumptions can tell us about the ways in which society views endurance sport. I have also supplemented this core set of fieldnotes and interview transcripts with materials from news reports, blogposts, magazine articles and published biographies and autobiographies of swimmers, but these materials were not systematically collected and are used primarly in an illustrative capacity rather than sitting at the core of the analysis.
The research process has been hugely exciting and engaging, but perhaps one of the hardest things about doing the research was the practical demand of keeping fieldnotes throughout what was sometimes very intensive training, meaning that typing up my notes often had to compete post-swim with teh immediate demands of nutrition, hydration and rest. Furthermore, many of the weekend training swims as my Channel swim approached were 6-8 hours long, during which time it was not possible to remain constantly attentive tot eh concerns of the project or indeed to recall all of the details of that experience - especially when my key endurance startey is to not think and to let my mind drift. I addressed this difficulty by (a) using a voice recorder to keep immediate post-swim notes to write up later; (b) using some training swims to focus on one particular aspect that I wanted to explore more (sound, light, pain, boredom, pleasure, etc) rather than the whole experience; and (c) for some very challenging training swims, I set aside the demands of the project and focused instead on just getting through the swim successfully, writing up whatever I could recall later, but not worrying about missed details.
It's been an exciting adventure, both as a swimmer and as a researcher, and especially the autoethnographic aspects of the project have taken me into new research and writing territory in ways that are challenging but fun. I am still constantly revisiting my data to develop the analysis and to help with the writing process, and every interview transcript or audio recording is still very evocative of that whole intense proces of training to become a Channel swimmer.
k dot throsby at leeds dot ac dot uk
The Long Swim (blog)
Evaluation questionnaire launched
The end-of-project magazine, "Becoming a Channel Swimmer", was published today. It's been an adventure to produce, since I've never used publishing software before (and have no design skills), but I'm pleased with the results. Click here to download.
Today I wrote the first 500 words of my Channel swimming book!! A long way to go, but starting is one of the hardest parts.
Good news - Feminist Review have now accepted my article on swimming and pleasure for publication. My first journal publication for the project!
I made the final shortlist for the Leverhulme Trust's research fellowship (a year off teaching to write the swimming book), but didn't make the final cut. So, back to the drawing board on that front.
The second journal article for the project was submitted two days ago to Body &Society. It's called "'You can't be too vain to gain if you want to swim the Channel': marathon swimming and the construction of heroic fatness". Fingers crossed that they like it!
First journal article for the project has survived the first round of reviewing with Feminist Review. I got some very encouraging and helpful comments, with good suggestions for revisions to the paper. Good news.
The coding of the data has begun...not a very high tech approach, but it's going well.