Rebecca Olive: Cultural Studies as Practice

Like so many, I came to cultural studies after my undergraduate degree, my own being in international relations and anthropology at the University of Sydney. I moved back to the northern rivers, and it was at Southern Cross University where I was introduced to cultural studies by Baden Offord at Southern Cross University. I had been seeking an advisor for an Honours project on surfing as a practice of intercultural connection. My project wasn’t revolutionary, but Baden’s guidance – along with that of Erika Kerruish, Adele Wessell, Kim Satchell, and Rob Garbutt – towards theories and methods that emphasised the role of ethics, care and lived experience, were my introduction to what cultural studies could be.

Further shaped by feminism and queer theory, the politics and requirement for activism that underpins these areas emphasised the activist aspects of cultural studies to me. The cultural studies teaching program at Southern Cross University really is wonderful.

It was this grounding that led me to understand cultural studies as a practice – it is something I do rather than a field I am in – that impacts the decisions I made about research questions, methodology, relationships, and research translation. As someone who went on to spend many years in sport and exercise science Schools and Departments (including for my PhD), thinking of research as a practice has been essential for maintaining clarity about my research focus and parameters while working outside of a HASS institutional context.

Cultural studies’ focus on everyday life meant that sport, exercise and leisure offer rich worlds to explore. Sport, exercise and leisure intersect with diverse contexts and issues, including identity, subjectivity, literature, media, policy, education, health, environments, industry, and so much more. My own contributions to the knowledge in these sport-focused disciplines has about everyday experiences of recreational sport, exercise and leisure, and the ways people make meaning of their lives, and of the world, through various forms of participation.

Thinking of cultural studies as a practice has strongly influenced how I’ve approached teaching. Working in sport and exercise science contexts meant that when it came to teaching, my students were focused on their vocational goals. A degree is a pathway to accreditation. Students working in physiology and anatomy labs, largely took HASS courses only because they were compulsory. Understandably, most of these students didn’t care what cultural studies is. And yet, the critical questions about definitions, histories, discrimination, and inclusion that were raised in these courses were essential to students’ education as future allied health professionals and sport facilitators.

Following Graeme Turner’s advice, I embraced the unruly-ness of cultural studies to ‘generate excitement amongst students about what cultural studies can do for them’, and always kept in mind Baden Offord’s reminder that pedagogy can ‘activate students’. That is, to help students discover methods and forms of analysis and communication that they can apply in their work (and lives) to improve things for the benefit of diverse people. This was also a productive a way of learning about sport for me, because in their excitement, students shared so much about their own sporting lives in classes.

Th ethical imperative I found in cultural studies – that we should be engaged with the effects of our research and teaching – has been essential to my scholarship. It constantly reminds me that what we produce is as important as what we know and how we came to know it.

Bio: Rebecca Olive is a Senior Research Fellow at RMIT University. Her research explores recreational sport and leisure in everyday life with a particular focus on swimming and surfing in coastal and ocean ecologies. Influenced by feminist cultural studies approaches, Rebecca is interested in how people navigate in their relationships to other people and to the multispecies communities they’re immersed in. Her work advocates for the importance of recreational sport and leisure in human-environmental health and wellbeing. You can read more about this work at

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