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Creating academic dialogues for female athletics

ASU undergraduate Jake Dean conducts research on women’s soccer

Jake Dean photographer in front of a window

Undergraduate senior Jake Dean. Photo courtesy of Jake Dean.

August 10, 2020

Representation matters a great deal when it comes to culture. When groups don't get the attention they deserve or need, it can lead to them being forgotten or disregarded, such as women in professional sports.

Arizona State University senior Jake Dean has many interests, the most recent being the way women are represented in sports. He is a student in Barrett, The Honors College with a double major in anthropology and earth and space exploration, with a concentration in astrobiology and biogeosciences as well as a double minor in history and sustainability. He is also pursuing two certificates, one in sports, cultures and ethics, and the other in energy and sustainability. 

Dean’s current project is working to bring research and literature about female athletes to the academic conversation. 

“I decided that a project on the fandom, sociocultural implications and political elements surrounding women's sports would be a valuable addition to this research space,” Dean said. “Specifically, I believe that female sports deserve and need significantly more representation in media, whether that be popular or academic.”

Most of his research experience has been in Andean archaeology. Dean has been a part of the Andean Paleo Mobility Unification Project, housed in the Archaeological Chemistry Lab and run by National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellow Beth K. Scaffidi. 

This new focus on women’s sports was his first independently designed research project and is an effort to move into the sociocultural research sector.

Dean has always been interested in sports, playing almost any sport you can think of growing up.

“Throughout my travels and study abroad trips, soccer has pretty much been the one constant in every place I visit,” Dean said. “I have attended games in Canada, Mexico, Peru, Ireland and China, as well as many games in the United States. However, until college, I did not have an 'academic' interest in sports.”

His perspective changed during a semesterlong exchange to the University of British Columbia where he started his anthropology degree.

“For my final project in my cultural anthropology class, I had to conduct a direct-participant observation study and construct a brief ethnography of a cultural space in Vancouver,” Dean said. “I chose the rituals and behaviors of the supporters' group for Vancouver Whitecaps FC.”

When he returned to Arizona, Dean wanted to continue the research because it was an interesting way to analyze the difference in cultural behaviors. He realized the research that has been done is overwhelmingly focused on male athletics.

“This research project specifically works to combat the overrepresentation of male fans in the burgeoning academic field of fan studies,” Dean said. “This work also seeks to comparatively analyze men’s and women’s fandom for teams who field squads of both genders, ensuring the project has implications for understanding broader soccer culture.”

He presented his research at the ASU Virtual Humanities Symposium in a flash talk in spring 2020 and recently published an opinion piece on his research in El Universal, one of the biggest dailies based in Mexico City.

“My experience writing for El Universal was very enlightening and exciting,” Dean said. “I have very minimal experience in opinion piece writing, as most of my writing comes in the form of academic papers. So, this was a nice change of pace and a great opportunity to expand my communication skills.”

Dean has had many advisers for his research at ASU including Clinical Assistant Professor of history Victoria Jackson, Dean of humanities Jeffrey Cohen, the team at ASU's Convergence Lab CDMX, including special adviser to the president Professor Andres Martinez and staff member Mia Armstrong.

“Jake Dean has imagined and taken on a very ambitious project surveying the global landscape of women's football fandom, including beginning work to build out a huge database including information about leagues, clubs, players, stadium attendance, supporters' groups, TV viewership, social media following, brand partnerships and more,” Jackson said. “His motivation is twofold: because these numbers simply don't exist together anywhere, and also to be of service to the women's game, helping to grow support and give teams and leagues ideas for promotion and marketing.”

Jackson is one of the faculty members in the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies who teaches classes within the sports, culture and ethics certificate Dean is pursuing. She has been Dean’s primary adviser and biggest champion throughout the course of his research.

“He is the type of student President Crow evokes when he talks about how undergraduate students should double, even triple major and act like sponges, soaking up all they can while in school,” Jackson said. “His thirst for knowledge and creative thinking inspires, and I'm looking forward to the very near future when I get to learn the brilliant things Jake is doing.”

As Dean continues his research and prepares for his final year as an undergraduate student, he is looking forward to more projects and opportunities to launch him into his career.

“I hope to be releasing a podcast on women's soccer throughout the globe, ideally through an ASU outlet, like the Global Sports Institute, and I am in the process of developing a database of information on female pro leagues and fans around the world,” Dean said. “After graduating from ASU, I hope to pursue a PhD in sociocultural anthropology with an emphasis on political economy or political ecology. My long-term goal is to join the academic community as a professor in anthropology, American studies or a similar liberal art. In fact, I'd love to eventually return to Tempe to be a member of the ASU faculty.”

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