Exciting new anthology helps us understand sporting activities better

Anne Tjønndal
Nord University, Norway.

Shawn E. Klein (red)
Defining Sport: Conceptions and Borderlines
259 pages, hardcover.
Lanham, MD: Lexington Books 2017 (Studies in Philosopy of Sport)
ISBN 978-1-4985-1157-5

Shawn E. Klein, philosophy lecturer at Arizona State University, and blogger at SportsEthicist.com, has edited the anthology Defining Sport: Conceptions and Borderlines. This book is a volume in the Studies in Philosophy of Sport series by Lexington Books. The series encourages scholars from all disciplines to inquire into the nature, importance, and qualities of sport and related activities. The Philosophy of Sport series aims to encourage new voices and methods for the philosophic study of sport, while also inspiring established scholars to consider new questions and approaches in this growing field. These new voices bring innovative methods and different questions to the standard issues in the philosophy of sport. Well-trodden topics in the literature will be reexamined with fresh takes and new questions and issues will be explored to advance the field beyond traditional positions.

Defining Sport is not about the many ways the term ‘sport’ is used. Rather it is about sport as a concept, about the range of activities in the world that we unite under the idea of ‘sport’. The editor argues that it is through trying to define sport that we can come to understand these activities better and how they relate to other social spheres and human endeavors. The anthology is meant to inspire further thought and debate on just what sport is and what we can learn about ourselves through the study of sport.

The volume is organized in two parts: ‘Part I: Conceptions of Sport’ and ‘Part II: Borderline Cases’. Part I examines several of the standard and influential approaches to defining sport. Part II uses these approaches to examine various challenging borderline cases. Particularly part I is highly useful to read for scholars, young researchers and students, from disciplines outside of philosophy and the philosophy of sport. In this review, I have decided to summarize two of the contributions I personally enjoyed reading the most in this volume. I have chosen one contribution from part I and another from part II.

In part I, chapter 4 ‘Defining Olympic Sport’, Heather L. Reid (professor of philosophy at Morningside College) discusses what makes something an Olympic sport. Reid draws on the history of the Ancient Olympic Games and on the values and ideals of the modern Olympic Movement in her discussion. Being in the Olympics is often seen as a sign of being a ‘real’ sport. In her chapter, Professor Reid argues that the term ‘Olympic’ is an honorific term with moral import. In other words, that to call something Olympic ought to convey something about the value of that activity. As the author states: ‘I would like to argue that what makes a sport Olympic are its values, goals, and philosophy’ (pp.68). Reid proposes three fundamental parts of Olympic sport: 1) focus on human excellence, 2) commitment to fair play and 3) the promotion of peace. She concludes the chapter by saying that ‘Olympic sport should focus on human excellence, make a commitment to fair play, and promote peace’ (pp. 75).

From part II, I really enjoyed reading Brian Glenney’s chapter ‘Skateboarding, Sport and Spontaneity: Toward a Subversive Definition of Sport’ (chapter 9). Brian Glenney is an assistant professor of philosophy at Norwich University in Vermont. Unique to his chapter, Glenney argues that the definition of sport must include rule-breaking aspects that reflect the inevitability of cultural change and evolution. Furthermore, Glenney emphasizes that almost all theories of sport focus on rule-governed activities. Using skateboarding as an example, Glenney brings a different perspective on the definition of sport by arguing that the subversion of rules is essential to understanding and playing sport. While this might sound as innovative ways of cheating in sport, Glenney focuses on creative spontaneity that pushes sport to evolve, rather than individual choices to cheat to gain competitive advantage.

Defining Sport: Concepts and Borderlines is comprised of thirteen chapters (and an introduction by the editor) written by nineteen contributing authors. The book is meant to reach a wide range of readers, including scholars in philosophy of sport, history, communication, sociology, psychology, sport management, cultural studies and physical education. In my opinion, it has great potential to be a standard tome for many of these groups of readers. If you are looking for a book to give you a short but full introduction to theories of what sport as a concept is, and empirical contributions based on these theoretic approaches, this is the book for you.

This appears to be the first book in the series on Studies in Philosophy of Sport series from Lexington Books, of which Shawn Klein is series editor, meaning that we can expect new and exciting titles to come in the future!

Copyright © Anne Tjønndal 2017


Table of Content

  1. Introduction
    Shawn E. Klein

Part 1: Conceptions of Sport

  1. A Three-Pointer: Revisiting Three Crucial Issues in the “Tricky Triad” of Play, Games, and Sport
    Chad Carlson
  2. Broad Internalism and Interpretation: A Plurality of Interpretivist Approaches
    Francisco Javier López Frías
  3. Hopscotch Dreams: Coming to Terms with the Cultural Significance of Sport
    Kevin Schieman
  4. Defining Olympic Sport
    Heather L. Reid
  5. Early Modern Athletic Contests: Sport or Not Sport?
    John McClelland
  6. The Impact of Mass Media on the Definition of Sport
    Keith Strudler

Part 2: Borderline Cases

  1. Borderline Cases: CrossFit, Tough Mudder, and Spartan Race
    Pam R. Sailors, Sarah Teetzel, Charlene Weaving
  2. Evolution of the Action Sports Setting
    Chrysostomos Giannoulakis, Lindsay Pursglove
  3. Skateboarding, Sport, and Spontaneity: Towards a Subversive Definition of Sport
    Brian Glenney
  4. Bullfighting: The Mirror and Reflection of Spanish Society
    Teresa González Aja
  5. Why Some Animal Sports are Not Sports
    Joan Grassbaugh Forry
  6. The Mainstreaming of Fantasy Sport: Redefining Sport
    Brody J. Ruihley, Andrew Billings, Coral Rae
  7. E-sport: Video Games as Sport
    Joey Gawrysiak

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.