Susan Birrell, Ph.D.

Professor Emeritus

Susan Birrell is a Professor in the Department of American Studies and the Department of Gender, Women’s, and Sexuality Studies. She has a B.A. in English from St. Lawrence University and an M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Massachusetts, which was the first graduate program in sport studies in the U.S. She joined the American Studies faculty after many years in the UI Department of Health and Sport Studies.

She is an interdisciplinary scholar who focuses on sport from a critical cultural studies perspective. She was an early proponent of applying feminist analyses to the study of sport, authoring numerous articles on the topic and co-editing the anthology Women, Sport and Culture, with C.L. Cole (1994). Her more recent work has focused on the cultural power of public representations of sport. With Mary McDonald, she co-edited a collection of essays addressing that topic, Reading Sport: Essays on Power and Representation (2000). She is currently working on a book about Mount Everest that uses critical narrative analysis to investigate the cultural production of the history of climbing the mountain, and she has also begun to publish in her most recent area of interest, sport and film, particularly women and sport films.  

Research Interests: 
  • Critical cultural analyses of sport and leisure
Courses Recently Taught:
  • SPST:1000 First Year Seminar: Exploring Mt Everest
  • SPST:1074/AMST 1074 Inequality in American Sport
  • SPST:2078/GWSS 2078 Women, Sport and Culture
  • SPST:2084/AMST 2084 Sport and Film
  • AMST:2174/SPST 2174 The American Vacation
  • SPST:5002 Critical Theories for Sport
  • SPST:6276 Sport in US Culture
  • SPST:6072 Seminar: Cultural Studies of Sport
  • SPST 7070 Graduate Research Workshop
Recent Publications:
  • Birrell, Susan (2014). “The Loneliness of Learning to Labor: The Dilemma of Resistance,” Journal of Sport History 41:1, pp. 401-411.
  • Walton, Theresa and Susan Birrell (2012). “Enduring Heroes: Hillary, Bannister, and the Epic Challenges of Human Exploration,” Journal of Sport History 39:2, pp. 211-226.
  • Birrell, Susan and Mary McDonald (2012).  “Break Points: Narrative Interruption in the Life of Billie Jean King,” Journal of Sport and Social Issues 36:4, pp. 343-360.
  • Birrell, Susan (2008). “Reading the Olympic Games: Critical Incidents, Critical Inquiry,” Illuminating the Legacy of the Seoul Olympic Games, Proceedings of the 2008 International Congress, Seoul, Korea: KAHPERD, pp. 84-95.
  • Birrell, Susan (2008). “Approaching Mt. Everest: On Intertextuality and the Past as Narrative,” Journal of Sport History 34:1: 401-422.
  • Birrell, Susan. (2006). “Sport and Sport Studies,” in Chris Rojek, Susan Shaw, and Tony Veal eds. The Handbook of Leisure Studies, London: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 335 - 353.
  • Birrell, Susan and Peter Donnelly. (2004). “Reclaiming Goffman: Erving Goffman’s influence on the sociology of sport,” in Richard Guilianotti, ed. Sport and Modern Social Theorists, London: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 49-64.
  • Birrell, Susan. (2000). "Feminist Theories for Sport."  In Handbook of Sport and Society. Jay Coakley and Eric Dunning, eds. London: Sage Publishing Ltd, pp.61-76.
  • McDonald, Mary and Susan Birrell. (1999). “Reading Sport Critically: A Methodology for Interrogating Power. Sociology of Sport Journal, 16 (4): 283-300.


Reading Sport: Critical Essays on Power and Representation
Women, Sport and Culture
Human Kinetics Press


The Loneliness of Learning to Labor: The Dilemma of Resistance
Journal of Sport History
2014, 41:1 401-411

Break Points: Narrative Interruption in the Life of Billie Jean King
Journal of Sport and Social Issues
2012, 36:4 343-360

Enduring Heroes: Hillary, Bannister, and the Epic Challenges of Human Exploration
Journal of Sport History
2012, 39:2 211-226

Approaching Mt. Everest: On Intertextuality and the Past as Narrative
Journal of Sport History
2008, 34:1 401-422

Susan Birrell
Ph.D., University of Massachusetts, (1978, Human Movement, Sociology of Sport Concentration)
Contact Information

722 Jefferson Building (JB)
Iowa City, IA 52242
United States