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From Henley to the Thames: institutional entrepreneurship, corporate social responsibility and the Oxford-Cambridge University women’s boat race

School of Psychology and Sport Science

About the Project

Research Group: Cambridge Centre for Sport and Exercise Sciences -

Proposed supervisory team: Dr Mathew Dowling (),
Dr Anna Stodter () Dr Justin Roberts ()

Theme: Sport Policy and Management

Summary of the research project

The Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race is a rowing race that has been contested since 1856 making it one of the oldest sporting institutions. The first women’s event was held in 1927, but until recently has always been contested separately from their male counterparts (Kingsbury & Williams, 2015.) In 2015, this changed largely due to the sponsorship intervention of Helena Morrissey (Chief Executive of Newton Investment), with the first ever Oxford-Cambridge Women’s Boat Race taking place on the same day and the same course as the men. The Boat Race became the Boat Races.

One theoretical approach that can explain this process of change is institutional theory, which has a well-established tradition within the sport management literature (Washington & Patterson, 2010). Institutional analysis emphasizes the importance of social structures and mechanisms of social order (i.e., institutions) that enable and constrain organisational behaviour (Scott, 2004). From an institutional perspective, the boat races can be viewed as an institution in that it contains “cultural-cognitive, normative and regulative elements which are stable and bring meaning to social life” (Scott, 2001).

The current project aims to examine the institutional processes surrounding the creation of the boat races and crucially how actors were able to influence these processes, which ultimately resulted in one of the oldest sporting institutions to change. In doing so, the project will enhance our knowledge and understanding of how institutional processes work within sport. In particular, how actors can influence sporting institutions.

Potential avenues of inquiry include (i) field conditions that enabled the initiation of the women’s boat race, (ii) how actors navigated their interpretive struggles surrounding the oxford-cambridge boat race, and (iii) the intervention strategies adopted by actors within and surrounding the boat race to enable institutional change.

This research may adopt a range of methodologies tailored to the specific research questions, including interviewing, document analysis, qualitative inquiry, and learning histories.

Where you’ll study:

Cambridge (


This project is self-funded.

Details of studentships for which funding is available are selected by a competitive process and are advertised on our jobs website ( as they become available.

Next steps

If you wish to be considered for this project, you will need to apply for our Sport and Exercise Sciences MPhil, PhD ( In the section of the application form entitled ’Outline research proposal’, please quote the above title and include a research proposal.

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