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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Running together, even when we're apart : seeking community, being 'connected', and consuming together Couture, Jesse


This research is designed to glean insights and understandings into some of the ways that individuals seek out and experience community though sport and sporting practices. Drawing from findings yielded from an ethnographic study of the urban ‘run crew’ scene in Vancouver, B.C., this dissertation includes three distinct but interrelated case studies which each highlight how community is experienced, produced, and ‘consumed’ by runners – with a focus on both runners and running-related businesses that cater to runners. The first study focuses explicitly on the run crew scene in Vancouver, highlighting both how runners make sense of their participation and at once how this emergent subsect of contemporary running culture is often linked to consumption. The second study focuses on a web-based ‘social self-tracking’ platform called Strava – an app and social network commonly used by athletes to record and share the data they produce while self-tracking. I propose that while Strava can be a source of motivation and entertainment for its users, and even help to establish or strengthen social networks, the platform invites users to adopt and adapt to technologically-mediated surveillance strategies that encourage and reward displays of bodily self-discipline. Finally, the third study examines social media content produced by run crews and Strava during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic and highlights how these local organizations and this global corporation each leveraged the technological affordances of Instagram to help maintain a sense of togetherness and connection while their members were adhering to social distancing. I propose that each functioned as cultural intermediaries with regard to the dissemination of health, physical activity, and pandemic-related information. Overall, this dissertation contributes to literatures on sport-based communities, running (sub) cultures, and digital self-tracking in the context of physical activity. Taken together, these studies offer insights into the nature and structure of community in the contemporary moment, and work to extend ways of thinking about the relationships people (desire to) have with one another, with physical activity, and with technology.

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