Seven years ago, leading American feminist anthropologist Joseph Wilson had never heard of netball, a chance meeting subsequently leading to Te Wānanga o Raukawa Pulse becoming front and centre of his latest book.
Specialising in researching women’s sport around the world, Wilson has conducted ethnographic research on FIFA soccer, WPRA rodeo, FIE fencing, WSL surfing, NWSL soccer and WNBA basketball, resulting in eight published books.
In a significant first, the Pulse are the centrepiece of what will be his ninth publication, Wilson’s ethnographic research focussing on netball’s relationship with the culture of New Zealand, with the women of New Zealand and the overall narrative of the athletes in the sport and how their stories shed light on the experiences of women in New Zealand.
``American anthropology is kind of unique because we take an ethically-based approach to research,’’ Wilson said.
``It’s not my job to try to uncover anything, it’s not my job to be a journalist or anything like that. Basically, I try to understand how you guys see the world through your eyes and then I communicate that with other people.’’
Originally from Missouri, Wilson has called Alaska home for several years and conducted much of his research from the far away extremes of northwest America, a country where netball is mostly unknown.
``My first research trip was on the Women’s World Cup (football) in 2015 in Canada and I ran into a woman from New Zealand who suggested I should write about netball, which I had never heard of before,’’ Wilson said.
``So, I put it on the list of sports to write about and eventually reached netball on the list and started looking at the New Zealand teams, found the Pulse, started watching and then realised `okay, I definitely need to write about this’.
With games free to watch online outside of New Zealand and at a friendly hour, Wilson became an avid viewer of the ANZ Premiership and the Pulse, in particular.
``Usually when I pick a team to write about, I look for whoever’s the second-best team at the time and when I started watching the league, that year the Pulse had the second most wins in the league but then that got skewed because as I was watching, you guys became the No 1 team,’’ he said.
Wilson was originally set to come to New Zealand and follow the Pulse for the entire 2020 season but Covid-19 scuppered those plans and three years later, he finally got to see his first live game when the Pulse played the Steel last weekend.
In the intervening years, he had collected most of the data needed by watching the games online while also interviewing coach Yvette McCausland-Durie and several of the players. He met and talked with the current team last week.
``I was going to feel guilty about writing a book about a team I’ve never met in person which is contrary also to American anthropology, so I had to get here and this is my follow-up visit to finally get to a live game,’’ he said.
And how has Wilson found netball as a sport, and its people?
``It’s been really interesting, I started watching the team in about 2019, you guys won the championship that year which was huge,’’ he said.
``I thought, `oh man, I’ve watched the team win’. And ever since then, it’s actually become my favourite sport to watch.
``I like watching surfing, soccer, basketball and my teams and players in those sports but sometimes things get in the way and I have to miss a game but I make sure I don’t miss watching a Pulse game.’’
Wilson is concluding his research by getting ``more into the into the minds of women athletes from New Zealand,’’ with reading a copy of Straight Up by leading women’s rugby player Ruby Tui top of the list.
Looking to have a rough draft of the New Zealand netball book completed by April/May, Wilson is hoping it will be published in June.
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