Humanities Institute: Resident Lecture Series – Michelle Sikes

Humanities Institute: Resident Lecture Series – Michelle Sikes

Michelle Sikes, Assistant Professor of Kinesiology, African Studies, and History

"Choosing to Run: Gender, Ethnicity, and the Pioneers of Kenyan Women’s Distance Running"

Kenyan men have claimed Olympic medals, world records, and international titles since the 1960s. In contrast, competitive success for decades eluded female Kenyan runners, though a select few were able to win major races, travel the world, and gain economic independence and social status beyond the norm. This study asks how and why these women, with economic resources thrust upon them, chose to reproduce patronage politics of ethnicity and with what consequences. The study builds on Africanist historiography, in particular John Lonsdale’s influential ideas around moral ethnicity, to understand the nature of social cohesion, gendered roles, threats to stability, and responses to those threats, which together create an opportunity to see how women negotiated new roles as competitive athletes and community patrons. It is a story of challenge, trouble and triumph, and a very important ostrich feather.

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