Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Global Inclusion and Social Development

First Advisor

Gillian MacNaughton

Second Advisor

Laura Hayden

Third Advisor

Karen Ross


This dissertation uses a human rights lens to examine the lived experiences of youth through their athletic participation in Boston’s inner city. Previous studies have focused on youth participation in sports in low-income settings and on the human rights impact of global level competitions, like the Olympics. To date, however, no studies have examined the material conditions of youth sport participation in urban settings through a human rights lens. To address this gap, I conducted a multi-sited ethnographic study, combining interviews, field site and participant observation, community mapping, and document review to examine the link between youth’s lived experiences and human rights. In what ways does their athletic participation realize or neglect their human rights, specifically the human rights to sports, freedom from violence, and health? Grounded in the transdisciplinary research process, I explore this overarching question by drawing from the fields of human rights, international law, sport sociology, philosophy, psychology and education.

First, the findings show how a competitive and exclusive culture rooted in the institution of sports, existing alongside the inequitable distribution of athletic resources, often affected the material and normative conditions of everyday athletic practices. Over time, these “institutional pathologies of athletic competition” formed an ingrained structure of exclusion and inequity that did not aim to fulfill sports as a human right for all. Despite these institutional forces imposed on young people’s lives, they and their communities have created conditions to “exercise” their right to freedom from various forms of violence that are often structural and state sanctioned. I learned that athletic performances of youth are characterized by a collective commitment of adults to care and act with due diligence, both in and outside the athletic courts, allowing the youth to be fully present in the athletic activity in itself, to feel freedom from within. I also learned that inner-city youth in Boston go onto the mats and courts, not just to simply play, but to affirm and reclaim their authentic selves in the present moment in which the voiceless but “ascetic” affirmation of their existence turns into embodied healing and self-determination.


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