Brian Wilson


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Great Supervisor Week Mentions

Each year graduate students are encouraged to give kudos to their supervisors through social media and our website as part of #GreatSupervisorWeek. Below are students who mentioned this supervisor since the initiative was started in 2017.


So grateful for our #GreatSupervisor Dr. Brian Wilson @ubccss @UBCKin @UBCEduc who is not only an exemplary scholar but also a role model human with his thoughtful kindness, humility, and patience. You're pretty much the supervisor lottery jackpot -- thank you, everyday!

Sport, Environment, Peace, Media group, Socio-Cultural Kinesiology (2018)


Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision

Dissertations completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest dissertations.

Running together, even when we're apart: seeking community, being 'connected', and consuming together (2022)

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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Football and forlorn hope: an ethno-graphic exploration of the sporting utopias presented by FIFA and a South African local football association (2020)

Numerous governments, non-government organizations, corporations, social movements and various other individuals and community organizations mobilize in, around, and through sport to achieve social change. These groups have been a feature of research relating to what is often called the sport for development and peace (SDP) sector, industry, or movement. This dissertation began with an interest in comparing how the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) through its Football for Hope Movement and how the Unemployed People’s Movement, a social movement in South Africa, through a local soccer association, connect the idea of hope to soccer, and position sport as a tool for building a better world. While in South Africa, my research became focused on the nostalgia that former soccer players held for their time playing soccer in the 1970s and 1980s. Methodologically, I employ a form of arts-based ethnography. I utilized sketching, drawing, and comics as part of my research process to collect, analyze, and reflect on my ethnographic data. Some of these images are presented throughout the dissertation.I argue that the hope and better world that FIFA promotes through its Football for Hope Movement is essentially the maintenance of the status quo. The difference being that through sport more people can succeed in the current system—improve themselves, compete, and accumulate wealth. That being said, aspects of FIFA’s Football for Hope Movement, including decision-making processes, and understandings of joy, friendship, and mutual support illustrated potentially alternative visions of the future. These alternatives were also present in my historical research on soccer in South Africa. A detailed exploration of the historical role that soccer played in social and political life, of a particular township, during apartheid shows how soccer challenged, reinforced, and sometimes seemingly operated outside of the apartheid system. My main argument is that soccer, and soccer spaces were amorphous, used for social and political purposes, imagined as conservative, progressive, and radical spaces; and, set up to attend to community crime and violence, yet also sites of violence. In this way, a social history of soccer upsets the simplified notions of hope put forward by FIFA.

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Manufactured magnificence in the 'Millennial City': the (post)colonial politics of a sport-focused gated community development in Gurgaon, India (2020)

This dissertation explores the (dis)connections between urban development, colonial legacies and postcolonial expressions of space, and ideas associated with sport/leisure. These (dis)connections are specifically explored through the emergence of a sport-focused gated community in Gurgaon, India. This research looks to better understand how this community is produced by public/private actors, the role of sport in urban development, how land is made available for such uses, how experiences of dispossession reflect broader state/citizen relationships, and how this development is connected to financial capital and legacies of colonialism. I conducted a global ethnography (Burawoy, 2000) of this community, employing a range of methods including observations, interviews, and qualitative document analysis. I begin by investigating how the community was imagined by executives, architects, and consultants, and how the community is promoted to potential buyers. Findings reveal that conceptualizations of this community are reflective of broader neoliberal policy changes in the region, and also that promotional materials reference colonial and postcolonial notions of sport and space. Additionally, I highlight the ways sport/leisure is utilized in creating spaces outside temporary moments of mega events. Following, I explore strategies used to acquire land, experiences of dispossession, and resistance to (il)legal land acquisition. I demonstrate how (in)formal modes of governance differentially discipline people through uneven applications of law. This reveals the unstable boundaries between what is considered legitimate and illegitimate in land acquisition and development. Next, I examine the design decisions made by architects and development executives. I highlight how architecture, in this case, (re)produces aesthetic sensibilities predicated on exclusionary practices. I also critically interrogate the uses of golf to produce a sanitized environment – and connect this analysis to colonial imaginations of civilized landscapes and contemporary politics of urban beautification. Overall, this dissertation contributes to literatures on sport and urban (re)development, economic liberalization and urban politics in India, and gated communities. Taken together, drawing theoretically from Ong’s (2006) notions of neoliberalism, and Chakrabarty’s call to provincialize Europe, this study illustrates how this space is connected to colonial practices of domination and shifts towards the facilitation of global capital, but cannot be reduced to this narrative exclusively.

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Mount Gariwang: an Olympic casualty (2019)

In this dissertation, I explore the contested development of Mount Gariwang in South Korea for the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympic & Paralympic Games. Through three separate studies that constitute the dissertation, I examine how different groups of people – journalists, activists, and local residents near Mount Gariwang – responded to the issue. Study One is an examination of South Korean mainstream and alternative print media coverage of the controversy. The findings indicate that the controversy was variably politicized or depoliticized across outlets, with the difference being starkest between, on one side, conservative mainstream media – and on the other side, left-leaning mainstream and alternative media outlets. Study Two is an exploration of the reflections of activists after a ‘failed’ environmental social movement, with a focus on their emotions. Interviews with 14 activists revealed that they felt a mix of resignation, regret, and frustration, as well as empathy with the locals from whom they did not have much support. The complex and at times contradictory mix of emotions enable reimagining the space between ‘not success’ and ‘not failure’ as a fertile opening. Study Three is an exploration of the responses of local residents who live(d) within various proximities around Mount Gariwang to understand how Olympic-related environmental transformations and inequalities are experienced by differently situated host-city stakeholders. Interviews with 12 local residents indicate that the ‘local response’ was anything but monolithic. The different perceptions and feelings about the development were entangled with individual relationships (geographical and metaphorical) to the mountain, and their views of the state and understandings of what it means to be a ‘citizen,’ influenced by broader historical memories. Overall, this dissertation contributes to understandings of injustices and inequalities that underlie environmental controversies, and how they are manifested and perpetuated through post-political processes. By seeking various responses to, and ways to understand, this controversy rather than accepting dominant representations of the issue, this dissertation also represents a way to challenge the post-political order, and to envision alternative political, social and environmental futures. 

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(Post) Political Power and International Sport: Examining the International Olympic Committee's Journey to Permanent Observer Status at the United Nations (2016)

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the United Nations (UN) have had an ongoing relationship over the past 80 years that culminated in granting the IOC Permanent Observer status at the UN General Assembly in 2009. This is an honor usually reserved for quasi-states and inter-governmental organizations: very rarely do non-governmental organizations (NGO) obtain this position. This dissertation critically examined the links between the IOC and the UN in a bid to gain an understanding of how and why the IOC obtained this status at the UN. Four research questions guided this study: (i) How, and in what contexts, has the UN engaged with the IOC in the past; (ii) Why/how is the UN currently engaging with the IOC; (iii) How/Why did the IOC obtain Permanent Observer status at the UN General Assembly; and (iv) What are the potential implications of the partnership between the IOC and the UN? In my pursuit of these questions, I drew in particular from the work of Dorothy Smith and Michel Foucault to aid my underlying examination of how forms of knowledge are socially constructed in ways that privilege some groups over others. The work of these theorists supported my attempts to contribute especially to the emerging field of research focused on inequitable power relations within and around the Sport for Development and Peace (SDP) ‘movement’. My findings demonstrated that there were various factors at play that have influenced the relationship between these two organizations, including the neoliberalization of development, the global power of sport, and processes of legitimation for both the IOC and the UN.

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The Will to Overcome: Experiments in Mud Running, Modernism and More Than Human Kinetics (2016)

Mud running is an expression of physical culture that champions the naturality of functional fitness, the primacy and playfulness of ‘premodern’ life, labour and leisure, and the capacity of all-comers to overcome mud-laden obstacle courses. The ambition of this dissertation is to bring posthumanist theory into contact with mud running and its humanistic ethic of ‘overcoming obstacles,’ and in doing so to extend knowledge of the prevailing history, theoretical premises and embodied experiences of physical culture. Emerging from an array of research practices, from fieldwork to textual analyses, each of my studies critically addresses the understandings of nature, body, self and society that prevail in mud running. In the first study, I pursue the ontological inheritance that makes it possible to invoke humankind as being outside of nature; at a critical distance from mud, dirt, and soil. This genealogical approach suggests mud running to be a recuperation of nineteenth century forms of physical culture which also encouraged getting somehow ‘back-to-nature,’ as well as identifying mud running and physical culture as expressions of their modernist, colonial heritage. The second study recasts the ‘camaraderie’ for which mud running is renowned as an outcome of material, corporeal and symbolic enactments in which a whole host of actors, human and otherwise, make dramatic and subtle contributions. Contra the modernist notion of humans overcoming natural or technological obstacles, this analysis recasts the conventional hero figure, the super-human athlete, to afford due attention to the often unsung ensemble of intra- and supra-human materialities with which these athletes share an ecology. The third study draws from affect theory to evoke mud running as a sensoria in which runners are not simply overcoming obstacles, but are themselves overcome by affective registers and responses. I describe how atavistic nostalgia, military-hero mimesis, as well as compassion and inspiration emerge from encounters with obstacle courses. At stake in these studies are not only questions surrounding the remarkable rise of events such as Tough Mudder and Spartan Race in recent years or their physical cultural heritage, but their shared claims as to what it means, and what it takes to be human.

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Amusing ourselves to life: new media and the politics of interactivity (2011)

This dissertation explores the emergence of health promotion tools in the form of consumer technologies once made exclusively for entertainment and/or communication. Though media consumption has historically been deemed a sedentary pastime, video games, mobile phones, and other devices have recently been made for the explicit purpose of prompting physical and cognitive exercise. Despite the growing popularity of what I call ‘Interactive Health Commodities’ like the Nintendo Wii, however, there remains a conspicuous absence of sociological research on: a) the methods by which these products purportedly ameliorate health and fitness; b) the subjectivities that are said to arise from their use; and c) the marketing strategies used to appeal to different consumer demographics. To address these issues, this research adopts a ‘contextual cultural studies’ approach, which is to say it is concerned with the operation of new technologies in relation to broader social, economic, and political circumstances. It specifically involves three inter-related case studies, each of which examines a particular commodity-form through an analysis of online marketing documents. The first case study focuses on an interview series distributed by Nintendo on the development of the popular Wii and Wii Fit video games. Drawing from Latour (1999), it considers how these technologies were designed to connect with human users, and how this concomitantly enables ‘governmental’ (Foucault, 1997) and ‘post-disciplinary’ (Rabinow, 1996) forms of control. The second case study centres on the portrayal of ‘brain games’ as tools for mitigating ageing-related risks. It investigates how, by ‘screening and intervening’ in cognitive health (Rose, 2008), these technologies imagine ageing in both positive and problematic ways. Finally, the third case study features content and textual analyses of product descriptions for a broad selection of smartphone health and fitness ‘apps’. These mobile devices are studied for their novel means of transmitting information and initiating surveillance. Taken together, the case studies reveal how, in one sense, Interactive Health Commodities are enabling, as they encourage exercise from a range of consumer demographics. These technologies are at once problematic, however, in that they tend to promote narrow health and fitness ideals, while also tying health inextricably to consumerism.

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Governing Risk, Exercising Caution: Western Medical Knowledge, Physical Activity and Pregnancy (2009)

No abstract available.

Master's Student Supervision

Theses completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest theses.

(Re)cycling through poverty: a study of homelessness and bicycling in Vancouver, Canada (2020)

In this research I explored the experiences of homeless and unstably-housed men who use a bicycle in Vancouver, Canada. Bicycling, the fastest growing mode of transportation in Vancouver (City of Vancouver, 2018), has become popularized due to its associations with positive health, economic, and environmental outcomes. Cycling has been taken up by upwardly-mobile and often white city-dwellers as a lifestyle choice signifying environmentally-conscious and responsible citizenship (Golub, Hoffman, Lugo, & Sandoval, 2016; Green, Steinbach & Datta, 2012). At the same time, many people who are homeless or unstably-housed may depend on walking and cycling for transportation, and may cycle out of necessity, not by choice (Lugo, 2018). To date, however, cycling scholarship tends to focus on infrastructure implementation or the public health benefits of cycling, and frames cyclists in a commuter-leisure dichotomy (Mayers & Glover, 2019). As a result, little is known about the experiences of low-income people who cycle out of necessity. Relatedly, more research is needed regarding how cycling is connected to larger issues of inequality, such as Vancouver’s current housing crisis, opioid epidemic, and settler-colonial history. The study was guided by critical and interpretive theoretical perspectives that helped bring attention to social inequities and the experiences and perspectives of marginalized individuals. Using primarily ride-along interviews, I did five in-depth semi-structured interviews with homeless or unstably-housed men who ride bicycles. Results indicate that bicycles were used for a variety of reasons, including for leisure, for transport, and for informal recycling work. The bicycle was a mobility aid for participants who had multiple health issues. Participants met their bike-related needs through an underground economy and a network of places and people. They cultivated relationships along these networks that helped them ‘get by’ despite experiencing significant stigma from the public and from police, as well as structural barriers. These results suggest that homeless and unstably-housed men who use bicycles employ varied and creative means to get by, and that work remains to decriminalize informal recycling and de-stigmatize low-income cyclists in Vancouver.

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Bicycles for development in Uganda: a study of perceptions, organizations and globalization (2019)

The bicycle has been hailed by The United Nations and various non-governmental organizations for its use in environmentally-friendly forms of social and economic development (Yang & Wu, 2015). Despite these claims, there remains a lacuna of research exploring the value of bicycles outside of Europe and America (Sengers, 2016). Specifically, there is a lack of research on: the structure and goals of ‘bicycles for development’ (BFD) organizations; how bicycles are used for development purposes; the perspectives of those involved in BFD; and the politics and complexities of bicycle-driven development work related to globalization.Responding to these shortcomings, the overarching goal of this study was to better understand how bicycles are being used as an international development tool. This research was guided by pertinent literature on ‘sport for development and peace’ (Darnell, 2012), neoliberal approaches to development (Wilson & Hayhurst, 2009) post/colonialism (Carrington, 2015), and globalization (Tsing, 2005). In order to bring focus to this study of the global BFD movement— and how it is understood and experienced in relation to particular contexts where BFD is prominent— I conducted semi-structured interviews in various regions of Uganda with 19 individuals associated with 10 BFD organizations.Research results included that: (1) BFD organizations exist along a spectrum, with some being ‘top down’, international, and economics-focused – and others being ‘bottom-up’, domestic, and community-focused (and most having features of both); (2) meanings ascribed to the bicycle are unstable and context dependent, which impacts how bicycles are used as a development tool; and, (3) as bicycles move to and within Uganda, various forms of ‘friction’ (Tsing, 2005) are encountered, that lead to challenges for BFD providers and recipients. I conclude by suggesting that while bicycles are considered useful for a range of development purposes, perspectives on their usefulness varies. It is also clear that inequalities commonly associated with sport for development are evident in the BFD movement too, although there are some unique features of BFD in this regard. I recommend further research on how local populations understand the bicycle, with a focus on the extent to which local interests and needs are taken up.

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Behind the Scenes of Sport for Development: Perspectives of Executives of a Multinational Sport Organization (2015)

Currently, international cricket organizations have mandates to increase cricket participation globally by 1.5 million people. To do this, these organizations are sponsoring cricket-focused international development programs across the globe. This study was inspired by concerns from scholars such as Darnell (2012) about potentially negative outcomes of ‘sport for development and peace’ (SDP) work for targeted populations – and a recognition that little is known about how decisions are made by executives of international sport federations to pursue SDP initiatives. This study explores the international development work of the globally-prominent International Cricket Council (ICC) and the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), and is guided by the following research questions: 1) How have decisions been made by high-level executives of global cricket organizations about engaging in development- related work and how are these decisions explained?; 2) How do key decision-makers understand the notion of development and what are their perceptions of development-related issues?; 3) How are development-related goals portrayed to stakeholders and how do these goals align with broader organizational goals?; and 4) What are the benefits of and problems with cricket-related development work as revealed through discussions with key decision-makers? This study is informed by literature on developmentalism, SDP, cricket and globalization, and urban (re)development. Theoretically, postcolonialism is featured because this perspective is concerned with the politics, cultures, and economies of societies living with legacies of colonialism; ongoing impacts of neoliberal forms of development in these societies and; the lived experiences of individuals in contexts where postcolonial forces are especially intense (McEwan, 2009). Nine semi-structured interviews were conducted with executives in ICC and MCC. The results illustrate that: (a) a select group of executives in ICC and MCC make decisions hierarchically, and that decisions reflect organizational mandates; (b), decision- makers tend to be dismissive of critiques of SDP, with notable exceptions; and (c) development-related programs are portrayed differently to different audiences. This study concluded with commentary on the importance of interviewing a range of individuals working in SDP, the sometimes contradictory ways that cricket continues to be implicated in postcolonial relationships, and roles of reflexive decision-makers working in organizations governed by neoliberal policies.

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Nice Korea, Naughty Korea': Media Framings of North Korea and the Inter-Korean Relationship in the London 2012 Olympic Games (2014)

In this study, I analyze mainstream news-media framings of North Korea and the inter-Korean relationship in the London 2012 Olympic Games. I explore the role that media plays in promoting particular understandings of North and South Korean nations and relationships. My research was guided by the following questions: 1) How did mainstream news-media in South Korea and other national contexts frame the relationship between North Korea and South Korea in the London 2012 Games?; 2) How was North Korea’s involvement in the Games understood and portrayed within different news-media?; 3) To what extent were themes pertaining to the unity of and/or divisions between North and South Korea evident in the coverage?; 4) What differences were there, if any, between the South Korean coverage of these topics and other international news-media coverage?; and 5) What might these differences imply about subjectivity in decision-making processes in mainstream news-media, and/or about how journalists might be implicated in the promotion of stereotypes and/or xenophobia? This study draws on existing research on news-media coverage of conflict, sport, and nationalism with particular attention to the interrelated concepts of ideology, hegemony, and Orientalism (Said, 2003). Live-televised commentary and newspaper articles from South Korea and other English-speaking nations were collected and analyzed using Fairclough’s (1995) Critical Discourse Analysis to examine how language operates in framing events and topics in a manner that may make some points or perspectives more visible than others. The results illustrate that South Korean and international media covered North Korea’s involvement and the inter-Korean relationship during the Games differently. Namely, international media representations of North Korean performance were at times derogatory or dismissive, and included more discussions of the North Korean government and its associated conflicts and issues (as compared to South Korean coverage). As well, emphasis on division was found more often in international coverage when covering the inter-Korean relationship. The study concluded with commentary on the potential role of sport media producers in peace promotion and in the perpetuation of cultural violence, the potential impacts of the studied portrayals on audiences, and possibilities for developing more critically-informed approaches to creating media messages.

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Older adults' experiences of an age-segmented exercise program (2010)

This study examined the experiences of older adults within an age-segmented fitness program. The research was guided by the following questions: (1) What are the experiences of group members of a program designed for older adults?; and (2) How are members’ experiences related to their social position? Current research has demonstrated that the physical activity and exercise levels of older adults progressively decrease with age. To date, studies have shown that older adults who exercise do so not only for health, but also personal and social reasons. In addition, gender greatly influences whether or not an older adult is likely to exercise, and what meanings he or she will attribute to the practice. Building on the extant research, this study explored the meanings that older men and women attributed to exercise and investigated how older adults constructed their social identities in relation to their aging bodies and within the context of an exercise program. The study utilized data from in-depth qualitative interviews and focused observations with six male and six female members of a fitness program for older adults. The average age of the men in the sample was 73, while the average age of the women was 67. The majority of the men and women were well-educated, married, able-bodied, and self-identified as heterosexual. Each of the men and women were interviewed twice for a total of 20.5 interview hours. In addition, each member was observed an average of two times, for a total of 12 observation hours. The data were analyzed using Strauss and Corbin’s (1998) concepts of open and axial coding.My findings revealed that membership at the program reinforced age and gender relations through the use of the body as a symbol of self-expression (Biggs, 1997), which prescribed manhood and womanhood in opposition to each other, and where fit aging was defined in opposition to ageist stereotypes of disease and decline. The meanings that older men and women attributed to exercise were framed by their gender, their socialization experiences, and their attitudes about exercise and their aging bodies. This research found that older men and women negotiated their identities as individuals who were fit rather than old by contrasting their experiences with others who were not aging as successfully, and by conforming to ageist discourses privileging youth and health. My study contributes to the literature on exercise and ageism by revealing how some older adults negotiated meaning and identity in the context of socially constructed discourses around gender, fitness, and the aging body.

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