About the project

Dr Broderick D.V. Chow, Lecturer in Theatre in the Department of Arts and Humanities, is the recipient of a Leadership Fellowship grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, worth £159,045. This is the first such award for Brunel.

The fellowship project explores the relationship between physical fitness and masculine gender construction, in order to propose a more nuanced reading of men’s fitness practices at a time when images of fit, strong-looking, and muscular male bodies are pervasive across numerous media. According to Dr Chow, “the question of how the ‘ideal’ male body has been represented has been explored in the arts from antiquity onwards, but there has been considerably less work on the building of the male body as a lived, vital, and embodied practice.” This, he argues, means that the ‘built’ male body often becomes synonymous with the myths and stereotypes surrounding it, when in fact the lived experience is much more complex. Male embodiment today has thus become a confusing and contradictory territory, opening questions of how men today are meant to inhabit, work on, and identify with their bodies.

Dr Chow’s project aims to transform our understanding of the relationship between physical fitness and masculine gender construction by investigating fitness and sport as performance, using a unique methodology combining ethnographic fieldwork and artistic practice-as-research. Looking at physical fitness practice as an ongoing performance of contested masculinities, the project asks how bodies might be a site where identities and social formations are contested and ‘worked out’, and how fitness ‘performances’ might promote healthy masculinities alongside the public goods of wellbeing, friendship, and community. The project is timely when both masculinities and fitness for public health are important social issues, and will offer an urgently needed corrective to over-simplified portrayals of ‘masculinity in crisis.’

The project will commence in September 2016 with a period of archival research, followed by a long period of auto-ethnographic fieldwork, which will build on Dr Chow’s fieldwork into professional wrestling and Olympic Weightlifting. In summer 2017 Dr Chow will work with performers and artists to create/curate a series of performance and theatre works. Other outputs of the fellowship include a monograph, several journal articles, and an series of networking events and an international symposium aiming to build a network of researchers working in the field of Art, Sport, and Performance.