Sport Has Never Been Modern

University dissertation from Göteborg : Acta Universitatis Gothoburgensis

Abstract: Sport has often been understood as a set of formalised physical contests, and moreover as something inherently modern. New conceptions of the term implicates that sport ought to comprise all physical activity. However, the studies and approaches that describe the range and tension between those positions are lacking. The thesis addresses this lacuna and suggests that the aforementioned conceptions could be inquired as the narrow (physical contest) and the broad (physical activity) understanding of sport. The work presented in this thesis sets out to outline a theoretical and methodological framework that could comprise the different conceptions of sport. This framework is laid out with inspiration from Bruno Latour’s symmetrical anthropology. The empirical material was collected from an array of sources with a broad range of ethnographical methods. Four sporting practices (break time football, parkour, eSport, and company table tennis) that embody the tension between the broad and the narrow are inquired into in the articles. The comprehensive framework that the thesis seeks to outline takes form in shape of the different concepts (“dromography,” “minor sport,” and “the art of tracing”) constructed within the articles. It is concluded that the broad understanding of sport threatens to hollow the term. However, the narrow understanding of sport tends to downplay the material dimension of modernity. It is argued that the connection between the material and the social dimension of sport, with regards to categories such as age and gender, mustn’t be neglected in the study of sport. Furthermore, it is argued that the competitive element of modern sport is related to modern science in an unexpected way that adds new understanding to the ontology of modernity in general.

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