Chapter Ten: Unobtrusive research

Are female and male athletes at the professional and college levels treated equally? You might think decades after the passage of Title IX (the civil rights law that prohibits sex discrimination in education including athletics) and with growing visibility of women athletes in sports, such as golf, basketball, hockey, and tennis, that the answer would be an easy yes. But in the early 2000s, Professor Michael Messner’s (2002) unobtrusive research showed otherwise, as did Professors Jo Ann M. Buysse and Melissa Sheridan Embser-Herbert’s (2004) content analysis of college athletics media guide photographs.

In fact, Buysse and Embser-Herbert’s unobtrusive research showed that traditional definitions of femininity were fiercely maintained through colleges’ visual representations of women athletes as passive and overtly feminine (as opposed to strong and athletic). In addition, Messner and colleagues’ (Messner, Duncan, & Jensen, 1993) content analysis of verbal commentary in televised coverage of men’s and women’s sports showed that announcers’ comments varied depending on an athlete’s gender identity. Such commentary not only infantilized women athletes but also asserted an ambivalent stance toward their accomplishments. Without this unobtrusive research we might have been inclined to think that more had changed for women athletes in the 30 years since it passed than actually had changed.

Chapter Outline

  • 10.1 Unobtrusive research: What is it and when should it be used?
  • 10.2 Strengths and weaknesses of unobtrusive research
  • 10.3 Unobtrusive data collected by the researcher
  • 10.4 Secondary data analysis

Content Advisory

This chapter discusses or mentions the following topics: sexism, racism, depression, suicide, and cognitive impairment among older adults.


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Foundations of Social Work Research Copyright © 2020 by Rebecca L. Mauldin is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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