Susan Birrell works from a critical cultural studies perspective to study sport and leisure. Her early work was centered on feminist analyses of sport, including articles that called for more serious scholarly attention to this neglected aspect of a girls' and women's experiences. She is the author of an ethnographic study of a feminist softball team "Is a Diamond Forever? Feminist Transformations of Softball." She has also examined the meanings and contradictions in the male to constructed female transformation of tennis player Richard Raskind/Renee Richards in an article co-authored with Cheryl Cole, "Double Fault: Renee Richards and the Construction and Naturalization of Difference." Her edited collection of essays, Women, Sport and Culture, (co-edited with Cheryl Cole) documents the state of the art of feminist analyses of sport in the early 1990's.
Her most recent work focuses on the ways that particular discourses generated within the world of sport work to consolidate dominant relations of power in the culture at large. "Reading Sport Critically," co-authored with Mary McDonald, reviews the historical development and provides the epistemological grounding for an increasingly popular methodology for understanding sport in contemporary society which they call "reading sport." The method is important, they argue, because it provides a concrete grounding for examining the intersecting lines of power emanating from gender, race, class, sexuality, age, disability, nationality, religion, and ethnicity. Their focus is on the discourses, popular and critical, that circulate around particular incidents or celebrities in sport. In their edited book, Reading Sport: Essays on Power and Representation (2000), they have collected 10 readings of particular sport celebrities including Michael Jordan, Dennis Rodman, and Nancy Lopez and particular incidents in sport such as the Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan controversy and the Lisa Olson locker room incident.
Her current project is an interrogation of the discourses that surround the climbing of Mt. Everest and how Everest serves as a site for intersecting relations structured around race, class, ethnicity, nationality, and gender. She is also interested in the cultural meanings generated in and through the vacation and the ways that the vacation serves as a site for the consolidation of class and gender privilege.
Women, Sport and Culture
The American Vacation
Sport in US Culture
Inequality and Sport