Swimming in the Deep End: Youths’ Social, Material, and Bodily Senses of Immersion in an English Competitive Swimming Club

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Swimming in the Deep End is an ethnographic examination of competitive swimming as it is experienced by youth in England. This thesis is about immersion as the material, social, affective, and emotional aspects of participating in a lifeworld. In it I sketch out the theoretical aspects of immersion as practice, process, and method. The practice of immersion is about getting in and experiencing for oneself the bodily aspects of swimming. The set of processes that operate as part of immersion are belonging and becoming, where the social worlds of the athlete are taken in concert with the shared experiences of swimming. Immersion as method is an apprenticeship in the lifeworlds of our interlocutors guided by anthropological sensibilities and precepts. This thesis therefore follows the anthropological tradition of ethnographic immersion, a holistic participation in the lives and activities of our interlocutors which includes in-depth observations, discussions, interviews, readings, and participation in swimming or other embodied activities of those we learn to live alongside. All three theoretical aspects of immersion are entangled and rely on a phenomenological approach to personal and social experience, in this instance, the embodied sensory experiences of youth competitive swimmers. Viewed this way a phenomenological understanding of youths’ perceptions of their bodies in particular environments become central to my arguments in this thesis. Immersion helps orient our understandings of the ways youth perceive and experience their worlds through the cultivation of a sensory schema defined by feel and touch and the privileging of haptic sense modalities. It is from this orientation that the shared practice of swimming can be viewed as an intersubjective experience of perception, embodiment, pain, and emotion. Youth share immersive experiences of being-in-the-water through the bodily practices associated with swimming and through shared sensory schema. I argue that immersion is much more than a metaphor for “entering into” all manner of situations and activities. Immersion as presented through the lens of competitive swimming is an active set of sensory perceptions, practices, and experiences in a distinctly different material world, which is key to grasping the processes of becoming and belonging through the socio-cultural meanings and understandings of what it means for youth to be, or rather, become homo natator (the swimming human).
Date of Award2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Brighton
SupervisorThomas Carter (Supervisor), Alex Channon (Supervisor) & Gary Brickley (Supervisor)


  • immersion
  • swimming
  • touch
  • emotion
  • pain
  • the body

Cite this