Few activities bring together physicality, emotions, politics, money, and morality as dramatically as sport. In Brazil’s stadiums or China’s parks, on Cuba’s baseball diamonds or Fiji’s rugby fields, human beings test their physical limits, invest emotional energy, bet money, perform witchcraft, and ingest substances. Sport is a microcosm of what life is about. The Anthropology of Sport explores how sport both shapes and is shaped by the social, cultural, political, and historical contexts in which we live. Core themes discussed in this book include the body, modernity, nationalism, the state, citizenship, transnationalism, globalization, and gender and sexuality.
Interview (podcast) with Susan Brownell on the New Books network
As my first guest, I’d would like to introduce Susan Brownell, Professor of Anthropology at the University of Missouri – St Louis, one of the authors of The Anthropology of Sport: Bodies, Borders, Biopolitics (University of California Press, 2018). During the course of the interview, we covered the subfield of sport anthropology, the marginalization of traditional games, the recent Caster Semenya case, and the contemporary transnationalism of sport.
In The Anthropology of Sport, understandably, the authors enlighten us about what the subfield entails, how anthropology is well suited to dissect the nature of sport, and provide us with ample anecdotes and observations of the world of sport through an ‘anthropological gaze.’ The chapters are structured in a way that cover all the relevant aspects in the study of sport, including history, class, race/ethnicity, sex/gender, nationalism, and globalization. Two important additions to the field of sport studies include a chapter on sport, health, and the environment (3), as well as sport as a cultural performance (6). In the former, which can be taken as a foundational text on the subject, the history of sport medicine and non-Western perspectives on sport and the body are enlightening, with anecdotes about the history of yoga and the Falun Gong movement. In the latter, the performative turn and ritual theory are used to dissect the contemporary global sport mega-event infrastructure. In conclusion, the authors point out that “more than any other form of human activity, sport embodies some of the fundamental questions that anthropology poses” (258), and this book lives up to its lofty title.
Brownell, Besnier, and Carter’s work is a new text in a yet undefined field – it may be the start of something new. If interested in the global nature of sport today, The Anthropology of Sport is a necessary read.