In anticipation of the Olympics starting this weekend, we wanted to share some of our books and special issues on sports. Did we touch on all of your favorites? Let us know in the comments.
In the most recent issue of Radical History Review, “Historicizing the Politics and Pleasure of Sport,” (#125) contributors explore how and why sport, paradoxically, leads to empowerment and disempowerment, inclusion and exclusion, unity and division. The issue features cutting-edge research on gender and sexuality, sport in the Global South, neoliberalism, race and ethnicity, and stadiums as sites of urban politics and national identity. The issue also includes a reflection on sport and art, book review essays, contemporary analysis on #BlackLivesMatter and sport, and a forum of scholars who use sport to teach radical history. Read the introduction, made freely available.
A 2006 issue of SAQ: South Atlantic Quarterly, “The Pleasure Principle: Sport for the Sake of Pleasure,” (105:2) is a great read to prepare for the 2016 Olympics. Sport represents a singular source of social belonging and communal enjoyment—sometimes as intense as religious faith. “The Pleasure Principle” contributors address the issue of sport as a form of pleasure, contending that sport, like any form of popular culture, reveals a lot about the society in which it appears. Examining sports through various theoretical lenses, including Marxist, feminist, and poststructuralist, and from numerous disciplinary viewpoints—history, sociology, cinema studies, literature, and cultural studies—this special issue demonstrates the complexity of contemporary sports culture. Read Amy Bass’s “Objectivity Be Damned, or Why I Go to the Olympic Games: A Hands-On Lesson in Performative Nationalism” to learn why the events that transpire in a fortnight of international athletic competition should never be underemphasized, simplified, or dismissed merely as performative pomp and circumstance, or check out the introduction to the issue by David L. Andrews.
Many of the athletes competing in the games will be truly transnational citizens, playing on a team in one country, while trying for Olympic glory under the different flag of their birth. Sports like soccer, baseball, and golf have tremendous global appeal. Rachael Miyung Joo’s book Transnational Sport: Gender, Media, and Global Korea looks in particular at Korean athletes and events and explores how global sport has helped shape what it means to be Korean.
The last time cricket was played at the Olympics was in 1900, but players and organizers are trying to get it included in a future games. To understand cricket, both the game and its cultural context, read C.L.R. James’s classic Beyond a Boundary, originally published in 1963 and republished in a handsome 50th anniversary edition in 2013. Writing in The Nation, Mark Naison called it, “a book of remarkable richness and force, which vastly expands our understanding of sports as an element of popular culture in the Western and colonial world.”
The Cuban baseball team has been the most successful national team at the Olympics since 1992, winning the gold medal three times and the silver twice. The Quality of Home Runs is Thomas F. Carter’s lively ethnographic exploration of the interconnections between baseball and Cuban identity. Suggesting that baseball is in many ways an apt metaphor for cubanidad, Carter points out aspects of the sport that resonate with Cuban social and political life: the perpetual tension between risk and security, the interplay between individual style and collective regulation, and the risky journeys undertaken with the intention, but not the guarantee, of returning home.
Enjoy the games!