Beard and circuses!


Soon the new season of Game of thrones is here. But that is not the cause of the sudden growth of beards on and among men in Sweden. Besides those beards belonging to inner city hipsters adhering to the freshly coined moniker of male sexuality, ”Lumbersexual”, ice hockey playoffs are here again to sow what isn’t to be reaped until last man is standing.

The legend (ok, ok, Wikipedia…) has it that playoff beards first could be seen in the 1980s on the chiseled jaws of the players of the New York Islanders. Due to the tight schedule of the playoffs, they didn’t have the time to shave. The prowess demonstrated by winning is reflected and enhanced by the manliness of the furry chins. The hairier the better.


But we will not wield Occam’s razor just yet, or put on display other sporting sexualities, such as the purported ”Spornosexual”, and, naturally, cleanly shaved appearance of Cristiano Ronaldo. Instead we will turn to science and Bruno Latour’s take on what separate the men from the boys when it comes to the trials of the laboratory.


This siamese scientist is a frequent player in Bruno Latour’s seminal book ”Science in Action”. Modeled as a Janus-Face, the evolution of scientific facts is marked by the growth of beard. The longer the beard, the surer the scientist, and, also, the truer the fact. Whereas uncertainties still are in abundance when science is made (Are instruments trustworthy? Could the experiments be repeated? Is this a real substance or an artifact? etc.), the reiterated fact becomes solid, and therefore less and less acknowledged as something that is manufactured.


I have elsewhere elaborated with the idea that science and sport both are practices that are conditioned as a series of trials set up to properly and systematically eliminate uncertainty and to reveal a final result. This thesis is also turned to in Heather Reid’s book about the affinity between philosophy and athletics in Antiquity. But what about the beard? Let’s cut to the chase.

Whereas playoff beards in sports are emblems of superstition (and invocations of Man as deity?!), i.e. reactions to an uncertain situation, the bearded gent in Latour’s figure reiterates statements with an exponentially growing certainty. In patriarchal sport (team ball games played by men) then, the growth of beards thus equals the increase of what philosophers of sport refer to as the ”sweet tension of uncertainty of outcome”, while the splendor of the beard of a papal professor rather denotes an already acquired mastery.





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