Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Date of Award

January 2019

Degree Type


Degree Name




First Advisor

Heather Dillaway


Modern roller derby operates as a “by the skater, for the skater” business model, where participants are not paid but must devote a certain amount of time, effort, and money to sustaining their sport and respective organizations. At the same time, while derby is grounded in anti-corporate values, a growing industry has sprouted to support the sport, the larger share of which consists of small business retailers selling gear, apparel, and other accessories. I use the context of modern roller derby to examine the changing natures of work and leisure, specifically how they operate as greedy institutions and emphasizing the lack of boundaries between them. Simply put, what happens when a leisure activity intended to be done “for fun” becomes more like work? I answer the following research questions: How do roller derby participants make sense of their everyday experiences performing paid and unpaid labor for the sport? As derby is currently dominated by women (a rarity within other alternative sports subcultures), how are these experiences gendered? I draw on interviews conducted between 2016-2018 with 51 total participants across two sub-groups: 23 leaders of derby leagues and governing bodies, 23 derby-related entrepreneurs, and 5 who serve in both roles. I find that first, both leaders and entrepreneurs perform their derby labors out of passion for the sport. However, for entrepreneurs, working for derby (and therefore for passion) is precarious work that requires certain societal privileges in order to have this career option in the first place. Second, passion for derby and the ideal worker norm can lead to the expectation that derby participants give all of themselves to the sport, making derby a greedy institution in itself. Leaders experience fatigue, guilt, and obligation as they attempt to carve out non-derby boundaries for themselves. Finally, derby’s foundational values such as autonomy, anti-corporatism, do-it-yourself (DIY), and serving the collective may actually hinder the sport’s sustainability and growth. I conclude that derby and sport in general is a vantage point from which to examine overwork, the speedup of work, the dangers of passion work as exploitative, and the creep of work-like productivity and labor into leisure.