The relationship between sport and psychoanalysis offers a unique, yet underexplored, account of the intrapsychic and interpersonal dimensions that underpin our sporting lives. Win or lose, the sporting event exposes a form of repetition that proves unconsciously satisfying (‘there’s always next year’). Be it in professional or amateur performances or in the time spent watching live sporting events, sport can yield both devotion and admonition from fans and detractors alike. Amidst an arbitrary array of sporting rules and regulations, it is within the bounds of sport’s consigned limitations that a variety of irrational fantasies meet the utter insignificance of the sporting achievement and its protracted endeavour. In fact, such contentions work to undermine the rather simplistic assertion that sport offers nothing more than a mere escape from routine, mundane reality. Instead, it is in the psychoanalytic study of sport that the contradictions inherent to the subject can be avowed; or, to put it another way, what we disavow in our sport spectatorship or participation affords us an opportunity to see how our unconscious minds are structured. By critically exploring the meaning behind this sporting (in)significance, this special issue of Psychoanalysis, Culture and Society will draw together key insights from psychoanalysis (including its various schools, approaches, and theories) in order to examine the cultural, social and psychic significance of sport—both for the subject and society.
Whether performer or spectator, sport remind us that the nature of our embodied agency is one that is defined by limits. It is in the reaching, disappointing or surpassing of a goal that we experience joy and failure. Whether one is a community center basketball player, weekend coach for a youth hockey team, season ticket holder for the Los Angeles Lakers, fantasy sport enthusiast or critical of the corrupting influence of the athletic world, sport always contains a transgressive fantasy, allowing us to push at the boundaries of ‘fair play’, ‘sportsmanship’ and ‘equality in competition’, while, at the same time, balking at the remote possibility of these ideals ever being realised outside of sport itself. Accordingly, despite the possibility of sporting success, every victory remains fleeting: we lose more than we ever win. Whether it be the prospects of the forthcoming fixture or the possibility of the knockout punch, success is haunted by its failure and an unconscious desire to tolerate, overcome, and repeat loss. It is in our sporting fantasies for a past (nostalgia) or future (utopia) of plenitude that we are confronted with what we don’t have. It from this foundational place of the lacking subject that psychoanalysis begins theorizing from and where every sportive endeavour begins.
Whether it be the prospects of the forthcoming fixture or the possibility of the knockout punch, success is haunted by its failure and an unconscious desire to tolerate, overcome, and repeat loss.
Just as various sporting activities allow for the unique structuring of victorious fantasies and their frustration, each major school of psychoanalytic thought also provides its distinctive accent in accounting for the origin, character, and fate of our wishes. As spectator and participant, the arena of sport showcases Freudian Oedipal plots to aggress toward an omnipotent rival, Kleinian paranoia of the other’s attack and envy of its surplus, Kohutian aims toward merger with the idealized other, and the Lacanian jouissance of what remains inherently, but tantalizingly unresolved. At the same time, sport can challenge Bionian conceptions of group life assumptions, expand Winnicottian notions of play and creativity, and query relational emphases on recognition and mutuality.
With its unquestionable massive global monetary and cultural appeal, contemporary sport provides an unlimited but underutilized resource for the theoretical exploration of how our subjective sense of incompleteness, which fuels our desires, is grounded within a social matrix that is undoubtedly contingent. Fulfilment and loss are inextricably phrased in the desire of the Other, fantasies of the Other’s enjoyment and the obstructing or facilitating role the Other takes in the conscious pursuit of satisfaction.
Thus, we invite papers that use sport as a medium to explicate psychoanalytic ideas, and ideally go beyond this to dialectically think sport and psychoanalysis together. It is our contention that rather than simply applying psychoanalysis to sport, sport may ask questions of psychoanalysis as well. It is in this potential of thinking psychoanalysis and sport together that we hope to actualize the mission of Psychoanalysis, Culture and Society in this volume and show the richness of a theoretical examination of the social, cultural, and political.
In light of the above, this special issue seeks to provide scope to interpret the relation between the various forms of sport and schools of psychoanalysis. A brief sampling of the topics that could be pursued individually or interconnectedly are:
- Sportive enjoyment and interpassivity
- The appeal of creativity and destruction in sport
- Developmental trajectories of sporting activities and fanship
- Body narcissism and phallocentrism
- Care and concern in sport
- The idealization and demonization of the athlete
- Fanship as desire or drive
- Teamwork, nationalism, and other experiences in sporting groups
- Sport as a site of exclusion (misogyny, racism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, etc.) par excellence
- Imagination and play in sport
- Sport as site of emancipatory protest
- The professional athlete in relation to the ideal ego and ego ideal
- Sport, repetition and the objet petit a
- Capitalism, colonialism and exploitation of the athlete of color
- Is there an ethical way to be a fan of sport?
Situated at the intersection between psychoanalysis and the social world, submissions are expected to fulfil the mission statement of the journal in mobilising the psychoanalytic toolkit to bring about positive social change, through analysis and/or proposals of models for future practice (https://www.palgrave.com/gp/journal/41282/authors/aims-scope).
Authors will be notified of the outcome of their proposal in AUGUST 2022. First full drafts will be due in FEBRUARY 2023.