I’m a Running Researcher: Catherine Palmer

This post is part of the I’m a Running Researcher series. See all profiles in this series here.

Who are you?

Hello, I’m Catherine Palmer. I’m the Head of Department of Social Sciences at Northumbria University.

What is your background?

I’m a lapsed anthropologist. My BA and PhD were both in Anthropology from the University of Adelaide, Australia, but I since – and increasingly – I engage with public health,  social and sport policy, sports management and sociology disciplines and departments. I now see myself as an interdisciplinary social scientist or a critical interpretivist.  My research on sport and social issues has covered a range of topics – the Tour de France, sport and social inclusion, risk and lifestyle sport, sport and alcohol and fitness philanthropy.

How long have you been researching running?

Since 2016, although I have a long-standing interest in sport and physical cultures on the move – e.g cycling pelotons. My running research has developed out of this broader interest.

How did you get into researching running?

I started researching runners (and walkers) as a way of coming to know more about people’s involvement with sport and charity (what I’ve termed fitness philanthropy). My work on sport and alcohol also drew me towards working with participants who had struggled with alcohol use and were drawn to running as part of their self-care.

What running research have you done?

I have a broad research programme on fitness philanthropy that has focussed on running and runners. This included running-interviews, participant observation at mass-participation events (and virtual ones through the pandemic). My latest publication is: Palmer, Catherine (2021) Sports Charity and Gendered Labour (Emerald Press), which looks at the forms of labour – emotional, physical, domestic, philanthropic – which enable (and in some cases inhibit) training and participation in sports charity events.

How do you research running?

As an avid, but average runner,  I tend to limp alongside my participants. That is meant both literally and metaphorically. Being an everyday runner becomes shared ‘physical capital’ that allows me to engage with many of the visceral experiences of running, which I’ve recorded and analysed using Go-Pro cameras, and more conventional in-depth interviews, and participant-observation methods.

What is the most significant, important, surprising, interesting, unusual, or favourite finding emerging from your research?

I am genuinely fascinated and humbled by the generosity shown by participants.  My work on sports charity involves me talking to people who have often experienced death, grief and loss and who are running to fundraise and/or to be part of a community. The rawness of their experiences, and the honesty with which they are prepared to share is an incredible privilege.

Do you run?

I do. I try and run most days. I have just moved (back) to the UK, and am using running as a great way to get to know Northumberland.  I run-commute; get off a train stop early and run home, take part in parkrun, and am gearing up for longer events.

Where can I find out more?

You can email me catherine2.palmer@northumbria.ac,uk or find me on Twitter @catherpalmer


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