The 2012 Cultural Studies Association of Australasia (CSAA) conference kicks off next week. The theme for this one is Materialities: Economies, Empiricism and Things. They like big conceptual words in cultural studies, the nuances of which are always sure to open up some insightful research and conversation about things we often overlook in day-to-day life – like what it is to be a person in the (pumping, shifting, ever-changing) world, or how groups of people make sense of moments, events and trends in particular times and places.
This conference appears to be one of the best organised that I have attended, too. It even has it’s own app. Monday kicks off with a postgrad/early career researcher event. Along with sessions on grant and journal writing, topics like academic use of social media will be interesting to hear about as well. The conference proper runs from Tuesday to Thursday.
It’s a great feeling when you look through a conference program in advance and get excited about several different panels at once. It means your own research is crossing a number of conceptual boundaries and that there are countless opportunities to develop this thinking in relation to the thoughts and findings of others.
I’ll be talking about endurance mountain bike riding as a way into a broader discussion on the perception and management of fatigue.
Body-As-Object and the Materiality of Fatigue
“I’ve had some hard races and pushed myself before; I’ve been dizzy and had tunnel vision, I’ve gone deep enough that I could taste metal in my mouth from protein break down… but none of those experiences even comes close to this race. There is a line somewhere in the sand, and this time I crossed it and went too far.” 
24 Hour Solo is a rapidly growing discipline within the sport of mountain bike racing where participants ride from midday one day until midday the next. For some athletes it’s the difficulty of the competition that attracts them to the challenge. For others, they are curious to find out how far they can push their bodies: what new knowledge will they discover about its motivation and materiality that they can’t find out in their regular day-to-day?
Science provides clear insights into the reasons for experiences like McAvoy’s above and explains why some racers finish looking fresh, while others may fail to finish at all. What interests me is that hundreds of people line up at the start line to experience it for themselves. A process that, regardless of any objective knowledge of what may happen, must be phenomenologically policed.
It is easy to shake our heads at this type of competition and label it as irrational or odd. But this behaviour is nothing new; human kind has long sought out ways to test the limits of their material selves. This paper asks what we might learn from people’s reports. I will explore some of the strategies riders use to monitor and overcome these situations and discuss new ways of looking at theories of embodied cognition and action that come up as a result.