Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Japanese-American basketball: Constructing gender, ethnicity, and community
by Willms, Nicole A., Ph.D., University of Southern California, 2010, 294; 3434557
Abstract (Summary)

This study explores the ways that an ethnic-based sports league organizes and understands itself in the context of larger racial/ethnic and gender hegemonies in sport. Using primarily qualitative data drawn from observations and interviews, augmented by archival and survey research, I analyze the social construction of gender, ethnicity, and community within Japanese-American basketball leagues and tournaments (“J-Leagues”) in the Los Angeles area using a three-level theoretical framework that examines social interactions, structural contexts, and cultural symbols. Japanese-American Basketball is an institution with a unique gender regime that provides a space for and is supported by cultural symbols and social interactions that differ from those typically found in mainstream sports. The core reason for this alternate pattern in gender relations is the importance of community-building for Japanese Americans. Girls and women in the leagues are a necessary component of community-building—their active participation is an important element for maintaining the expansiveness of the leagues. Successful women connected to the J-Leagues also provide symbolic resources for the Japanese-American community that help build ethnic solidarity and that are seen as comparable, if not superior, to those offered by male counterparts. Within this milieu, female athleticism is normalized, encouraged, supported and respected. Outside of the community, however, girls and women often face different reactions.

The gender regime in the J-Leagues exists in the context of larger sociohistorical circumstances. Early discriminatory laws and practices punctuated by the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II created the settings, necessity, and desire for a strong ethnic community. These same circumstances also served to erode elements of patriarchy within the Japanese-American family. These structures influenced Japanese Americans to place a high value on institutions that promote community and to be open to active participation by women (particularly when it serves the goals of maintaining community). Furthermore, the enduring racialization of Japanese Americans in the United States as “Asian” involves controlling images that often portray women as small, weak, and feminine while also regarding them as foreign and unassimilable. This study reveals the ways in which engagement with a physical and all-American sport such as basketball contests both types of images. Participation by either sex—and especially successful participation in mainstream environments—feeds this counter-hegemonic project.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Messner, Michael A.
Commitee: Kurashige, Lon, Saito, Leland
School: University of Southern California
Department: Sociology
School Location: United States -- California
Source: DAI-A 72/03, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Asian American Studies, Womens studies, Ethnic studies, Gender studies, Recreation
Keywords: Basketball, Community, Ethnicity, Gender, Japanese-American, Race, Sport, Women athletes
Publication Number: 3434557
ISBN: 978-1-124-41489-8
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