Published 6 June 2007 | Updated 6 June 2010

Close to the Body:
Danish Sports Science
in Focus



The study of sport can approach the topic “sport and the human being” in very different ways, and each of these has developed a disciplinary context and a language of its own. At two extreme pools, one finds the sociological–structural approach and the historicist approach. The first: Sport is a multiplicity of organized structures and processes that make up a field, which can be described in rather abstract systemic terms. The second: Sport is a series of competitions and meetings at specific times, which can be reconstructed as a consecutive chain of concrete events, connected as historical development.

Both disciplinary approaches have their specific legitimacy and advantages, and both are applied in Danish research. And yet, Danish humanistic sports research during the past three or four decades has demonstrated reluctance to adhere to this disciplinary split-up. Cooperation between historians and sociologists, with anthropologists and psychologists as important co-players, has led to the emergence of a third approach, the narrative of “body culture studies”.

This third approach also includes the phenomenological approach reflecting how to move close to an enactive incorporation of bodily knowledge. Knowing is actively articulated through shared action. In a process of reflection, the human being is challenged to work with certain aspects of the whole experience. And yet, the researcher in the field of movement aims at finding specific methods that may capture a living, expressive interdependent complexity.

The present edition of intends to present this Danish approach – in its diversity. The collected articles in the present update, as well as those scheduled for publication in the fall of 2007, show different directions within the study of body culture and body cultures.

Sport is bodily movement in space and at certain places. The bodily character of sports is, thus, manifest in their topography. This is what Niels Kayser Nielsen from the University of Aarhus develops as an argument of cultural-ecological character.

Sport is not just one field, not even football is one field, when scrutinized in a body cultural perspective. Peter Mindegaard from the University of Southern Denmark uses methods of configurational analysis to differentiate between the standard model of soccer sport and different forms of popular football. This contributes to an ethnography and sociology-anthropology of sports.

Sport – especially where it is practiced for health – has potentials of mindfulness, of alert attention and spiritual presence. Reinhard Stelter from the University of Copenhagen tells of and interprets a case of meditative therapy. By working with subjectivity, the study contributes to body psychology.

Seeing movement and the body–mind–world as multidimensional phenomena and presenting narratives from movement pedagogy and dance therapy, Helle Winther, also from the University of Copenhagen, argues for the need of a psychology of movement.

Lis Engel, from the same university, writes about experience analysis with focus on the performative and the experiential. Analysing a video of Chris Cunningham, she throws light on the relation between body, movement, time and space.

The study of body culture raises questions about the fundamental relations between the “material” basis of human bodily practice and the “idealistic” superstructures of meaning. Henning Eichberg from the University of Southern Denmark points towards some dimensions of body philosophy.

All in all, when moving “close to the body”, research is challenged by the connection between body-active, experiential and discursive dimensions of bodily and societal organisation. Or by their disconnection?

The articles do not only show new possibilities of analysis inside the given “world of sports”. They also widen the scope of attention towards activities, which so far have remained marginalized or even neglected in conventional sport science. Play and game, meditative therapy, outdoor life, dance and rhythmic movement deserve attention. Body culture turns out to be more than the one sport – as movement cultures in plural.

Further texts from Danish research of body culture are expected in later editions of during 2007–08.


Henning Eichberg | Lis Engel | Helle Winther

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