The Philosophy of Sport: Advances, Contours and Potentials of an Academic Discipline

Kenneth Aggerholm
Department of Sports Science and Clinical Biomechanics, University of Southern Denmark

Cesar R. Torres (red) The Bloomsbury Companion to the Philosophy of Sport 470 sidor, inb. London: Bloomsbury 2014 (Bloomsbury Companions) ISBN 978-1-4081-8257-4
Cesar R. Torres (red)
The Bloomsbury Companion to the Philosophy of Sport
470 sidor, inb.
London: Bloomsbury 2014 (Bloomsbury Companions)
ISBN 978-1-4081-8257-4

The point of departure for Cesar Torres’ edited volume The Bloomsbury Companion to the Philosophy of Sport is the establishment of the Philosophical Society for the Study of Sport (PSSS) in 1972, which in 1999 was rebranded International Association for the Philosophy of Sport (IAPS). This institutionalisation formed an academic discipline with a clear scope and programme, which the editor of the volume, Cesar Torres, in the introduction narrows down to “the interrogation and analysis of what sport means and how it contributes to a good or meaningful life.” (p. 5) Torres is a former president of IAPS and he describes that the aim of the companion is to

  1. provide an overview of the historical advances in the philosophical understanding of sport,
  2. express the discipline’s present contours and key issues (state of the art), and
  3. speculate about potential future disciplinary directions.

These aims are covered in three parts (1, 3 and 4), the most extensive of which are the latter two. In addition to this the volume has a part (2) on research methodologies where the traditions of analytical, continental, eastern and pragmatic philosophy are outlined, a part (5) on key terms and concepts with a very brief description of 19 key notions, and two concluding parts (6 and 7) that provide a list of resources, career opportunities and literature in the discipline. Within this structure the companion contains short chapters covering a broad range of topics and written by some of the leading scholars in the field, with the Nordic countries represented by Vegard Fusche Moe, Sigmund Loland and Gunnar Breivik.

In the first two chapters of part 2, Kretchmar (chapter 3) and Moe (chapter 4) elegantly outline the contributions of analytical and continental philosophy to the philosophy of sport by highlighting their strengths and weaknesses, and clarifying their different methods and styles. More innovative (and rather surprising to me) is the joint presentation in chapter 5 of Eastern Philosophy and American Pragmatism. I must admit that I am not well read in either of these and I have no doubt that they share similarities that can, as the authors claim, bring new ways of understanding philosophical quandaries regarding sport. But since they, as the authors also say, differ regarding methods and thematic interest they might have deserved a chapter each.

Part 3 on current issues features 12 essays including some of ‘the usual suspects’ in the discipline, but also some emerging topics that have previously received less attention. It is for example interesting to follow Jones’ considerations regarding disability and disabled sport (chapter 9), and Welter’s suggestions for a ‘ecosophical’ and ‘metanoetical’ renaissance of sport (chapter 11). In general this part of the book stands out as not just the largest but also the most comprehensive. It is organised thematically (i.e. not by traditional divisions in philosophy) and comprises short but well articulated chapters on topics such as fairness, performance enhancement, risk, aesthetics, knowledge, ideology, morality, spirituality and violence. It should be noticed that the scope of the chapters is to present theoretical and conceptual clarifications. Hence, the link to practice is generally not prioritised and even if the chapters touch upon ways in which the philosophy of sport can contribute to a deeper understanding of this field of practice, it is in most cases up to the reader to make this connection.

It provides an accessible and clear overview of the academic discipline and covering most of the important issues within this it is a valuable resource.

Part 4 ventures to propose three central issues that will shape the disciplinary landscape in the future. These concern philosophical reflections on the technological development that continues to influence sport (chapter 18), suggestions for new horizons of equality in which race, sex and class do not stand in the way of equal opportunities for participation and competition (chapter 19), and a critical examination of how the logics and values of markets pose a danger to the social practice of sport and threatens to corrupt it (chapter 20). This part also contains a brief stroll through the development and regional characteristics of sport philosophy around the world (chapter 21). It is restricted to selected benchmarks and a narrow sense of the philosophy of sport (i.e. scholars and publications related to IAPS), but rather than criticising the lack of detail and depth I want to highlight how the ambition of this chapter is sympathetic and reveals an openness to develop the discipline in the non-English speaking world.

Part 5 clarifies a selected variety of key terms and concepts, each of which is treated in two pages. I do not envy these authors, who had to spell out contested terms such as embodiment, play and sport in such brevity, but the result is a potentially valuable starting point for new scholars in the area who can be introduced to central concepts and find key sources and suggestions for further reading in the notes section.

The two final parts of the book consist of three chapters that provide a list of resources, career opportunities and literature in the discipline. The resource guide (chapter 22) thematically lists books published in the field. It also lists relevant journals, associations, electronic resources, email lists, blogs, videos and twitter accounts. This is a great means for navigating in this area, which could fruitfully be integrated into the IAPS website, for instance, to make it available to a larger audience and keep it updated in the future. The chapter (23) on career opportunities will, except maybe for a list of academic conferences in the field and suggestions for academic courses in the philosophy of sport, have little relevance for a Nordic audience. The final chapter (24) presents an annotated bibliography with summaries of samples from literature within the philosophy of sport. It appears as an attempt to provide a kind of sport philosophical canon and I am uncertain about the reasons and motivation for this. The outline of the books and papers is well presented by the authors and might be helpful for new scholars in the field, but at the same time a canonical list is bound to give rise to critique and disagreements regarding the selection (and omissions).

In relation to this concern, some readers may have difficulties with the way the companion in general presents this academic discipline as the philosophy of sport. This can appear slightly odd (imagine, for example, a companion to the psychology of sport or the sociology of sport) but is defensible in this case, since the scope is restricted to the branch of sport philosophy related to IAPS and the advantage of this narrow understanding of the discipline is that advances and contours within it appear more clearly. Still, the question is whether this is the most fruitful way to describe a field of research, as it denotes a rather restrictive and definitive understanding of philosophical studies of sport. A term such as ‘sport philosophy’ would arguably have a more inclusive tone.

These concerns should not overshadow that in general the book is suitable and recommendable for students and scholars in the field of, or with an interest in, sport philosophy. It provides an accessible and clear overview of the academic discipline and covering most of the important issues within this it is a valuable resource. As this review appears in a Nordic context it must, however, be mentioned that since the philosophy of sport as an academic discipline emerged and has flourished in the English-speaking world and in particular in North America, the book has an overweight of Anglo-American perspectives. The editor of the volume, Torres, expresses his awareness of this limitation in the introduction and has done a good job in alleviating it by including authors from 11 countries and devoting a chapter (21) to present philosophy of sport around the world. He also expresses a hope that developments in the non-English speaking world will affect the future of the discipline in positive ways. Several scholars from the Nordic countries, especially Norway, have already contributed to the field and from the discussions in this forum and other signs of interest in the academic environment (e.g. Møller’s and my own Ph.D. graduation in the field last year) there are good reasons to believe that Torres’ call will be answered by Nordic voices in the future.

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