Women's Softball in Iran: An Autoethnographic Journey

By Sarah J HillyerUniversity of Tennessee - Knoxville

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Exercise and Sport Sciences

Major Professor

Joy T. DeSensi

Committee Members

Dulcie Peccolo, Ronald Taylor, Lars Dzikus


This autoethnographic dissertation recounts numerous untold stories about my journeys into the Islamic Republic of Iran as a sports consultant and women’s softball coach for Global Sports Partners (GSP). Autoethnography as defined by Ellis & Bochner (2000), is “an autobiographical genre of writing and research that displays multiple layers of consciousness, connecting the personal to the cultural…Autoethnographers vary in their emphasis on the research process (graphy), on culture (ethnos), and on self (auto)” (pp. 739-740). Autoethnographers, writing within a branch of narrative inquiry (Ellis & Bochner, 2000), believe in the power of story and that humans learn through stories lived and told (Ellis, 2004). To date, the majority of the literature devoted to Iranian women in sports has been written from a critical feminist perspective, detailing the “oppressive” societal structures associated with sport in an Islamic Republic (Hargreaves, 2000; Pfister, 2003; Pfister, 2006). While understanding the structure in which Iranian women compete is important, it does not closely reflect my experiences with the way Iranian women define their own sport participation. The purpose of this autoethnography is (1) to confront my previously held stereotypes and reveal my personal transformation, (2) to provide a counternarrative that “extends sociological understanding” (Sparkes, 2002), (3) to demonstrate the use of sport in fostering cross-cultural respect, appreciation, and dialogue, and (4) to offer new ways of knowing and telling (Ellis & Bochner, 2000; Richardson, 2000b).