Somaesthetics and Sports: Call for Papers

Call for Papers:

Special Volume on “Somaesthetics and Sport”

Sport offers opportunities for the integrated experience of human embodiment.  At the same time, sport occurs within, shapes and is shaped by a sometimes vexing tension in which individual desire unfolds and contends with various broader converging forces such as physical limitation, natural and artificial environments, technology, institutional norms, cultural attitudes and stereotypes, social circumstances, and political struggles.  Scholars in disciplines from the natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities have all shed important light on these different dimensions of sport. For this volume in the series Studies in Somaesthetics, we intend to develop a mutually illuminating and enriching dialogue between sport, broadly conceived, and the interdisciplinary methods of somaesthetics.

Richard Shusterman, who coined the term, has defined somaesthetics  as “the critical study and meliorative cultivation of the soma as our medium of perceptual appreciation and performance but also as the site of our expressive self-fashioning” and as “concerned with a wide diversity of knowledge forms, discourses, social practices and institutions, cultural traditions and values, and bodily disciplines that structure (or could improve) such somatic understanding and cultivation.”

(For more on somaesthetics and the series Studies in Somaesthetics, please see the series page on Brill’s website.)

As such, somaesthetics describes at once topics and perspectives that might emerge from any discipline in the arts, humanities, social sciences or natural sciences and that may be brought to bear on any sporting phenomenon from organized mainstream sports (soccer, American football, tennis, etc.) to so-called action sports (Parkour, surfing, hang gliding) and from recreational sports (pickup basketball, squash) to wellness activities (yoga, swimming, pilates) to curricular initiatives in physical education.

We welcome contributions from scholars, from any discipline and on any aspect of sport, with an interest in cultivating the dialogue between sport and somaesthetics. We are interesting not only applications of somaesthetics to sport, but in ways that the study of sport may contribute new questions, topics, and methods to somaesthetics. With that in mind, some possible topics, foci, lines of tension, and questions potential contributors may consider:

  • How do the respective somaesthetics experiences of spectator and participant differ? How are they similar? How do they mutually shape one another?
  • What role may somaesthetics play in developing curricula in wellness and physical education?
  • What are the somaesthetic qualities of athletic training and performance?
  • How do emerging scientific and technological discourses and practices relating to sport impact the somaesthetics of sport?
  • To what extent and in what way is there a role for explicit, critical body consciousness or reflective somaesthetic awareness in sports? Is it limited to training or does it extend to competent or high-level performance.
  • How might a somaesthetic perspective approach the risk, prevalence, and impact of injury in sport (for example, but not only, of concussions and concussion-related brain trauma)?
  • How might somaesthetics shed light on the position of the sporting body as a site of social difference and political struggle, and vice-versa?
  • What are the somaesthetic dimensions of disability sport? What sort of light can the study of disability sport shed on the topics and methods of somaesthetics?
  • How do situational variations in sport (informal/recreational vs. institutionalized/commercial; individual vs. team vs. collective) impact the kinds of somaesthetic experiences available to spectators and participants?
  • What roles do different media (news, broadcast, instructional, social) play in shaping the somaesthetic dimensions of sport?
  • How do different spaces and environments—public or private, massive stadiums or informal playgrounds, urban, suburban, rural, or natural, indoor or outdoor, —shape the somaesthetics of sport?
  • How are the somaesthetics of sport impacted by the varied conditions of sport—from private, individual or group recreational activities to elaborately staged, commercial spectacles?
  • What relationships exist between the arts (literature, visual arts, music, cinema) and the somaesthetic dimension of sport?
  • In what ways might somaesthetic dimensions of sport, or somaesthetic approaches to sport, shed light on any of the functions regularly attributed to sport (e.g. escape, social bonding and identification, ideological interpellation, cultural struggle, and/or art and creative self-expression)?

Information about abstract and paper submissions.

  • Authors should submit a separate cover page indicating: author’s name, institutional affiliation, paper title, abstract of 250 words, word count, keywords, and contact information.
  • Abstracts due **November 15, 2018**
  • Papers should be between 6,000 and 8,000 words and prepared for blind review. They should also be prepared according to the publisher’s style guidelines as indicated on the Brill website.
  • Final papers due early Fall, 2019.
  • All submissions should be sent to Professor Yago Colás (ycolas@oberlin.edu). Please put “Studies in Somaesthetics Submission: Somaesthetics and Sport” in the subject line.

For More, and Better, Sports Narratives

Is the sports media sphere being overrun by narratives? Are they getting in the way of facts and the truth?  A couple of recently published essays (one by Phil Daniels, writing in The Cauldron, and the other by Zach Lowe, writing for Grantland) lamenting the dangers of sports narratives might lead readers to just this conclusion.  And, while I share their dismay over the proliferation of bad narratives (I’ll come back to what I mean by “bad”), I can’t get on board with the idea that narrative itself is the problem, somehow by nature an obstacle to or at odds with the truth. Read more

What 'Sheed Says When He Says "Ball Don't Lie!"

“Pistons Sheed”
(Nathan McKee, 2014, Giclee Print, 13 x 19)

In my post yesterday, I analyzed the structure of a foul call in an NBA game to show that a foul doesn’t cause the whistle to blow (as the rules prescribe); the whistle blowing causes a foul to come into being.  But neither the rules of the game nor basketball common sense acknowledge the real nature of the foul call or the quasi-divine power NBA refs enjoy to actually constitute (not just identify) illegality.  And, if this power isn’t acknowledged, it cannot be challenged.  This is where ‘Sheed and “Ball Don’t Lie!” come in.

In fact, I consider his 317 career technical fouls a rough index of his ability to convey to referees his intent to expose and challenge their power. It may seem at first glance that, like basketball common sense, “Ball Don’t Lie” also mistakes the referee’s speech act as a descriptive statement, one with which ‘Sheed (or, actually, “Ball”) merely disagrees. But I believe the outraging power of “Ball don’t lie!” goes beyond simply countering one description of reality with another. It may do that. But its power and danger lies in drawing attention to the power of the referee to create a reality within which the players must play and which they must accept without question.

“Ball Don’t Lie” does this by offering us the possibility—however fanciful it may seem—that other powers, greater even than that of the referee, are weighing in as well. And this implicitly reminds us of the referee’s powers. Indeed, the very absurdity of the “ball” making a call draws our attention to the fact that the referee was not actually objectively describing a play but exercising what are within the universe of basketball quasi-divine powers to bring a foul into being.

‘Sheed isn’t just disagreeing with the call, he’s exposing these powers and in exposing these powers he is also calling into question the hierarchical structure of the sport whereby a referee is uniquely endowed with the powers to define reality. Indeed, I think ‘Sheed’s 2012 ejection from a Knicks-Suns game  occurred not because ‘Sheed applied “Ball don’t lie!” to an ordinary personal foul call whistled against him, but because he applied it to a technical foul call: in other words, he challenged the referee’s authority to enforce conformity with his decisions.

So Rasheed Wallace lays bare and challenges the power dynamics of the NBA, but he also affirms a positive alternative.  The phrase “Ball don’t lie!” comes from the culture of recreational or “pickup” basketball played on urban playgrounds. In such settings, without referees, players referee themselves, calling their own fouls and violations. Of course, just as in any formal game, disagreements may arise. One way these are often settled is by one of the disputants taking an uncontested shot from the top of the key. If the ball goes in, his or her claim is upheld, if it doesn’t go in, his or her claim is rejected. Though some grumbling may continue, the dispute is definitively settled because, well, as everyone knows and accepts: “Ball Don’t Lie!”

By introducing a phrase from this setting into the NBA, ‘Sheed reminds us that players can and do play basketball without refs and their transcendent powers. Viewed from this angle, “Ball Don’t Lie!” doesn’t so much invoke a transcendent power higher than that of the referees. It rejects the very idea of transcendent power. Instead, it invokes a lower power—or, more accurately, a power that circulates horizontally among equals rather than vertically from the top of a hierarchy to its bottom: that is, the immanent, self-organizing autonomous power of basketball players. I share with Rasheed this belief in the crucial importance of the self-organizing autonomous power of players. In fact, I’ve tried to let this power guide my my approach to basketball history in my teaching and in writing Ball Don’t Lie!

But the urban playground is more than just the site of “informal” play outside the sanction and control of hierarchically organized institutions. It also signifies within basketball culture the big city and, via an associative chain, impoverished urban neighborhoods and the residents of those neighborhoods, who early in the 20th century were already playing pickup ball because, with its relative simple requirements where space and equipment were concerned, basketball lent itself to cramped and crowded spaces and limited resources. Over the course of the middle of the 20th century, as ethnic immigrants migrated out of America’s urban core and African-Americans migrated in, and especially in the second half of the 20th century, urban pickup basketball came to be associated with African-Americans in the American cultural imagination.

When ‘Sheed yells “Ball don’t lie!” then, we should imagine the phrase as a kind of kite pulled onto the center of the NBA’s stage.  Attached to that kite is a string of associated phenomena: not only player autonomy, but also both the stereotypes and the real material conditions that link urban Black males with basketball. Beginning with its integration in the 1950s, but in a more marked way since the mid-1980s the NBA, as Todd Boyd, David Leonard and others have shown, has sought to profit from the black bodies of its players (and from some of the stereotypical images of black male urban culture) while simultaneously maintaining a “safe” distance from the less broadly marketable images associated with Black urban males. The NBA treats “Blackness” and its stereotypical signifiers as a kind of fluid cultural currency: it wants that currency to flow into the NBA in the form of talent and marketable cool, but it wants to control the flow.

“Ball don’t lie!” then also brings the playground into the mainstream arena of American culture, but in a way that resists defusing appropriation because it appears as a direct challenge to the authority of that culture as embodied in the referees and the league and its vertical, hierarchical power arrangement. The political importance of “Ball don’t lie!” then, resides, in its affirmation of the autonomous self-governance of intersecting populations (basketball players, the poor, urban dwellers, African-Americans in general and young black males in particular) whose capacity for self-governance public policy and popular culture attempts to hamper and then denies exists.