Body Studies in the Sociology of Sport: A Review of the Field

Cheryl L Cole. Handbook of Sports Studies. Editor: Jay Coakley & Eric Dunning. 2000. Sage Publishing.

The conversations accompanying the current surge of work in body studies tend to cast the historical relationship of the body and sociology in terms of absence or neglect. Efforts to explain that exclusion have turned to themes variously related to the mind-body dualism and its manifestation in academic divisions of labor (cf. Franklin, 1996; Hargreaves, 1987; Turner, 1984; Waldby, 1997). The well rehearsed and commonly accepted diagnosis—summarized by Loy, Andrews and Rinehart (1993) as the ‘non-body bias of sociology in general and sport sociology in particular’—leads, somewhat predictably, to calls for ‘embodying’ or bringing the body back into sociology and the sociology of sport. Although ‘body studies’ and a distinctive sub-area called ‘sociology of the body’ are recent developments, the coordinates of exclusion (‘absence’ and ‘imperative embodiment’), at least by my view, misconstrue the historical appearance of the body in sociology, including the sociology of sport. Indeed, Loy et al. hint at the ambiguity and confusion embedded in the ‘non-body bias’ claim by identifying the ‘rediscovery of the early writings of Norbert Elias’ and the ‘re-reading of essays by Erving Goffman’ as indispensable to the development of the contemporary intellectual body enterprise (1993: 71).

These prominent narratives of neglect present two interdependent problems: they effectively locate scholars as agents of intervention and thereby encourage the displacement of the historical affinities between the body and sociological themes. My purpose in drawing attention to the limitations of this past-present logic is not to advocate a ‘presentist’ reading of classical sociological texts. Instead, I mean to draw attention to the historical specificity of perception—which is to say that, where, when and how bodies appear and how they are perceived are intimately bound to historically specific dynamics and pressures. To some (perhaps, even a great) extent, contemporary concern with the body has been shaped by medical and health crises, particularly AIDS, new reproductive technologies, epidemics of addiction and genetic engineering, in a context marked by the general privatization of health and citizenship. These historical and culturally specific events foster anxieties and contribute to wide-ranging political contests organizing and organized around various bodies. Moreover, these dynamics and events challenge apparently clear-cut distinctions between self and other, give rise to disputes around traditional forms of authority and knowledge, and destabilize modern foundations.

Emily Martin (1992) articulates and affirms the thesis of the historical specificity of bodily appearance when she proposes that contemporary interest in the body is inextricably bound to economic and technological transformations. Martin, like the scholars I review below in the ‘modern bodies and modern sport’ section, views one of ‘Fordism’s’ primary effects to be the organization of the collective nature of bodies. That is, factory-based production and corporate capitalism, which created new demands for a new kind of worker, enabled and were enabled by new forms of discipline permeating sexuality, reproduction, family life, leisure and consumption. Recalling Lévi-Strauss’s (1967) proclamation that phenomena become the object of acute analysis precisely when they are ending, Martin argues that the newly invigorated academic body industry is an expression and effect of the transformation from Fordism to post-Fordism. Drawing on David Harvey’s (1989) characterization of post-Fordism, she describes contemporary conditions in terms of just-in-time production, constant innovation, accelerated labor processes, requisite deskilling and reskilling, time-space compression, and the continual flow of capitalism across borders. These late-twentieth-century characteristics of production and consumption, by Martin’s view, reconfigure and produce a contradictory bodily formation rooted in ‘the ability to respond to constant change in the environment and the nature and kind of work one does in a context of widespread fear of mortal loss of employment, status, housing, and health’ (1992: 129).

Moreover, theoretical resources are like technologies delineating the body’s appearance. Works inspired by feminism, Foucault, Bourdieu, de Certeau and Deleuze exemplify mutually reinforcing ways of thinking and lines of inquiry shaping contemporary body studies. Feminism, perhaps more than other theoretical developments, has stimulated far-ranging debates as it has shaped sociology’s and sport studies’ self-consciousness about the body. While early feminist work tends to cast body issues in familiar terms of repressive power, a self-authorial-self contained within the body (that is, the liberal individual), and liberation aimed at throwing off repression in the name of self-sufficiency and will, more recent feminist criticism builds on Foucauldian interventions in traditional ways of thinking about power. Indeed Foucault’s conceptualizations of the normalization of power and the power of normalization have been central to advancing arguments about the body. (Andrews, 1993, Rail and Harvey, 1995, and Theberge, 1991 provide strong overviews of Foucault’s application to sport-body studies. Defrance, 1995, Laberge, 1995, and Shilling, 1993 provide provocative analyses of Bourdieu’s theoretical influence on body-sport studies.) Despite prominent theoretical directives to examine everyday operations of power and the body, to investigate relationships among power, bodily practices, gestures, motions, habits, styles and location, and the body politic, what it means to study the body and sport, to subject the body-sport relationship to the analytic gaze, remains far from settled.

In this chapter, I discuss the broad, diverse and theoretically incongruent investigations of the body and sport. Given the rapid growth of body studies, the review I offer is neither definitive nor comprehensive; instead, my aim is to introduce some of the most productive trends in body studies. My approach to this literature is generally thematic and is organized around three (despite the wide continuum of possibilities) primary, but interdependent, corporeal manifestations: the modern sporting body; deviant/transgressive bodies; and commodified bodies. Because the body-sport coupling is deeply enmeshed in modern beliefs and dynamics, I begin by reviewing literature that contemplates the relations among bodies, sport and modernity. In the second section, I examine research on deviant and transgressive bodies, emphasizing those investigations that challenge commonsensical or more familiar formulations of deviance and violence. I conclude by surveying the research on commodified, spectacular fit and athletic bodies, the sort of desires and practices such bodies incite, and their extension into the political realm. The final section directs attention to the potent force of mass produced and commodified bodily images.

Sporting Bodies and Modern Processes

Scholarship whose fundamental concern is modern processes and practices, sport and the body tends to address a wide range of questions related to the stabilization of modern state formation, industrialization, urbanization, colonialization and normalization. It draws attention to the place of sport and the modern athletic body in securing ‘our’ sense of ‘selves’ as particular kinds of individuals, people and nations; it investigates the implication of science and technology in the production of modern sporting bodies—including multiple expressions of the normal and abnormal; and, it examines how modern moral discourses and corporeal norms are implicated in producing responses of fascination and horror to various athletic bodies. The overview of the historical sociological examinations of sport, bodies and the modern state and contemporary investigations of modern science and sporting bodies provides a useful background, as well as multiple possibilities, for making sense of various corporeal expressions discussed throughout this chapter.

Modern Bodies and Modern Sport

The role of sport in the modern project of producing desirable and normalized bodies is examined by Dunning (1993), Dunning and Sheard (1979), Gruneau (1993), Gruneau and Whitson (1993), Hargreaves (1986, 1987), Harvey and Sparks (1991), Kimmel (1990) and Messner (1992). In general, they investigate the various ways in which sporting practices, within a context defined by the values and dynamics of modernity, are indissolubly connected to what might be called the ‘somatization of social stratification.’ That is, they seek to understand how sport, as a physical activity, is related to observable bodily movements and postures embedded in the social order and bodily competencies associated with the needs defined by capitalism.

In an exceptionally suggestive essay, Harvey and Sparks (1991) contend that adequate accounts of modern sport and the body must address ‘fundamental questions about the political status of the body and the processes of politicization of the body … the political ends the body serves and the political means used to secure those ends’ (p. 164). To this end, and following Defrance (1987), Holt (1981, 1982) and Rosanvallon (1990), Harvey and Sparks examine the development of nineteenth-century French gymnastics. By locating gymnastics in this context, they show how bodily practices, like gymnastics, were shaped by concrete and practical struggles to unify the nation, secure state authority and force, and manage a society of individuals. Initially, gymnastics was banned as a practice that potentially undermined the state’s struggle for authority and its active production of citizens; that is, gymnastics was banned because it potentially endowed bodies, particularly working-class bodies, with capacities at odds with the state, while providing a space to promote republican ideology. But, Harvey and Sparks show how the state’s position on gymnastics changed when external threats made clear the state’s needs for physically fit and obedient military bodies. Inspired by gymnastics’ capacity to enhance national goals, the state sanctioned and expanded military gymnastics to schools and public fairs. Gymnastics, according to Harvey and Sparks, became part of a disciplinary regime—a pedagogical instrument—for encoding and enacting a sense of individual and collective duty and responsibility.

A collective body of sociological literature examines athleticism in English public schools and bodily production. Hargreaves (1987) considers sport as a technology of the gentleman’s body; Dunning and Sheard (1979) examine the civilized body; and Gruneau (1993) and Hargreaves (1987) discuss the effects of sport and the worker’s body. As Hargreaves, among others, notes, athletics were a means of expanding the authoritative gaze of non-school work activities to the ‘soul’ of the students; they were bodily and emotional practices constitutive of the gentleman’s body. These practices, Hargreaves explains, were never ‘simply’ about the cultivation of proper values, gait and posture. Instead, the cultivation of the bourgeois sporting body was a means of marking bodily differences which delineated and rationalized hierarchies of privilege. Moreover, by Hargreaves’s view, these bodily activities were vital to the cultivation of an English self and all that entailed: the bodies produced were positioned as naturally superior to internal subordinate groups such as the working class and women as well as to Continental foreigners and the external colonialized in the context of empire.

Gruneau (1993) and Hargreaves (1987) describe the political effects of asymmetrical bodily resources and bodily practices by examining the distinction between team sport (an instrument for confirming class superiority) and physical exercise and rationalized sport (deployed as technologies to produce new and respectable workers’ bodies). While Gruneau and Hargreaves both identify military and national efficiency as central concerns shaping disciplinary bodily practices, Gruneau privileges the concrete struggle around sport’s early association with spectacle, vice and moral depravity. He discusses how the ideologies of civilizing amateurism and health were used to inflect sport with moral and economic utility; that is, he examines how ways of thinking about sporting practices were reshaped through modern metanarratives, particularly those directed at the body. As Gruneau states clearly, ‘The objective in all this was not just the pursuit of better sporting performances, it was to participate in a certain kind of culture and live life in a certain way’ (p. 90). The division between rationalized physical activity, a positive force invested in social improvement and the production of bodies capable of performing the tasks required in industrial societies (Gruneau, 1993; Hargreaves, 1987; Kimmell, 1990) and other sport forms associated with unruly practices, ‘valueless diversionary spectacle,’ and hedonistic distractions like idleness, gambling, drink and violence (Gruneau, 1993: 86; Hargreaves, 1986, 1987), established moral parameters which fragmented the working class. For Gruneau, it is telling that even sport defined through civilizing amateurism, muscular Christianity and healthy bodies was easily subject to commercialization.

While Kimmel (1990) builds on premises similar to those discussed above, he pursues the making of white middle-class masculine bodies in and through modern sport. Most specifically, he stresses the relationship between the crisis of masculinity in late nineteenth-century America, sport as a bodily practice, and the characteristics of modernity. For Kimmel, the changes associated with modernism, the erosion of traditional foundations, women’s gains, the increasing number of immigrants in urban-industrial areas, fear of effeminacy associated with urban areas (its visible homosexual subculture) and loss of economic and workplace autonomy, played a large part in the crisis of masculinity. Modern sport, particularly baseball, was a practice used to contain and relieve anxieties associated with white middle-class masculine insecurities. Kimmel is quick to note that sport did not simply relieve anxieties nor simply bolster white middle-class identities, but functioned as a disciplinary apparatus that instilled submission to authority, bodily ideals and the values of the workplace.

In fairness, I need to say that although the above research acknowledges antagonisms and resistances generated through the bodily practices associated with modern sport, I have stressed the prominent dynamics (in order to clarify them) discussed by these scholars. Yet, it is curious that while all recognize sport as a disciplinary domain, and recognize the relation between sporting practices, bodily posture and deportment, and social hierarchy, none systematically interrogates the interdependency of corporeal identities. This notion of interdependency is key to much of the work (particularly post-structuralist) on the body. Moreover, while the research reviewed implies the position of modern science in sport (through categories such as hygiene, social improvement and allusions to the coupling of the machine and the body), modern science is not a central concern. Science, the production of corporeal identities and their interdependency are more explicit objects of analysis in the next section and throughout the chapter.

Modern Sport, Science, and the Body

Although a rapidly developing area of body studies, science studies is ‘just’ beginning to influence the body-sport literature. In this section, I discuss the literature related to science studies that is useful for understanding the body-sport relationship. I divide this work into two categories based on the larger problems that direct their research: those studies concerned with the negative effects of scientific interventions into natural human bodies and those that presume that scientific productions of the natural body are expressions and effects of modern power. It is the second project that offers the most potential for guiding studies of the body-sport relation.

John Hoberman is author of two of the few book-length studies (Mortal Engines and Darwin’s Athletes) which interrogate scientized athletic bodies. Here, I focus on Mortal Engines (1992) because in it Hoberman traces what he calls the unknown story of scientific sport. In his routing of history, he divides the science-sport relation into two moments distinguished by the science-body relation: the age of scientific truth-seeking, which sought to reveal and record; and the Age of Calibration (marked by preoccupation with measurement and transgression of natural limits), which emphasized science’s capacity to enhance performance. Hoberman characterizes the early science-sport relation as dominated by a mode of perception and optical techniques aimed at revealing and clarifying natural laws of the body. This ‘pre-modern science,’ Hoberman suggests, includes the anthropology of racial biologies which questioned the relationships between intelligence and physical attributes, civilized and savaged bodies; the work of Brown-Sequard (the forerunner of modern endocrinology) which considered the biological and regenerative significance of testicular abstracts; physiologist and inventor Etienne-Jules Marey’s photography which rendered movement visible in ways not accessible to the human eye; Galton’s eugenics; and Taylor’s fatigue research. Hoberman’s concern is with those sciences that most enthusiastically interrogated sport performances. Most specifically, Hoberman is interested in the manifestation of scientized corporeal violences of the self: the mutant identities developed through high-performance sport. ‘Human identity’ (which is Hoberman’s self-defined concern) is breached when the source of performance is other than the original self or the exercise of that self, as it would be with the hidden hand of science and prosthetics. By Hoberman’s view, scientized sport is dangerous and pathological to the extent that it calls into question or violates human identity.

Whereas Hoberman (1992) presumes neutral and universal categories of the human and self that are then pressed upon by science, much of the social study of science and sport examines the implication of modern science in the production of bodies, boundaries and truths which it claims to simply reveal. Cecile Lindsay (1996) concretizes the historical development of seemingly ahistorical categories by drawing attention to scientific attempts to order bodies at the turn of the century. She argues that the display, and popularity of such displays, of unnameable and anomalous bodies (for example, freak shows) were a response to scientific observation, classification and ranking of bodies. She explains the fascination with extraordinarily strong and muscled bodies:

Although a number of important studies have demonstrated the establishment of restrictive cultural norms (particularly gender roles and appearance) at about this time, it also seems clear that the era of the freak show was in some ways more receptive to the transgression of such classificatory categories than twentieth-century culture has become. For although Gould and Pyle [authors ofAnomalies and Curiosities of Medicine] considered Eugen Sandow’s muscular development to be anomalous enough to merit photographic plates in their work, they also praise his beauty and grace. … At a time when the conventional distinctions and categories by which we have come to order existence were crystallizing, a measure of ‘play’ still existed within and between classes of beings. (p. 360)

Rony (1992) examines the documentation of bodily movement of ethnographic subjects through the chronophotographe, a device invented by physiologist Etienne Jules-Marey to record serial movement (a device crucial to time-motion studies and the development of capitalist workers). Her investigation of the visualization of bodily movement and its implication in the taxonomic ranking of peoples clarifies the broader political implications of posture and movement which legitimated modern sport practices, discussed by Dunning and Sheard (1979), Gruneau (1993), and Hargreaves (1987). Most specifically, Rony examines the films made of West African bodies by French physician Felix-Louis Regnault (who believed that film was the ideal scientific medium to study race because film would capture ‘the raced body’ as it was revealed through movement). Her work suggests more than scientific bias; it suggests that science is inseparable from narratives of evolution governing in the films. As Rony points out, the representation of the savage through movement was simultaneously a means of identifying Westerners as the civilized and normal and of teaching Westerners how to read bodies and bodily movement for signs of the primitive and savage.

The role of science in the production of the natural body in sport and through exercise has been discussed by Cole (1998), Cole and Orlie (1995), Derrida (1993), Franklin (1996), Hausmann (1995), Sedgwick (1992) and Urla and Swedland (1995). In outlining the paradoxical dimensions of modern sport, Franklin (1996) focuses on the contradictions made apparent through appeals to the natural. She compares, for example, the contradictory logic of ‘the natural’ guiding the deployment of steroids and sport and new reproductive technologies. In the discourse of new reproductive technologies, the natural body is preserved through the use of steroids, while in sport-drug discourses, prohibitions of steroids are implemented in the name of preserving the natural body. Along similar lines, Derrida (1993) and Sedgwick (1992) address the problematic modern logic of absolutes that distinguish sport/exercise (the embodiment of free will) from drugs/addiction (the embodiment of insufficient free will). Derrida does so by foregrounding the discourse of ‘drugs’ and the concept’s historical and cultural inscriptions and its moral-ethico valuation. Derrida argues that the scientific policing of chemical prosthetics in sport denies and persistently elides the body’s technological condition; he complicates the practice of drug-tracking by challenging which substances are—and are not—labelled drugs; and, finally, he argues that sport is a drug—intoxicating and depoliti-cizing. Sedgwick considers the invention of the exercise addict, which she views as the limit-case of addiction because the object of addiction is replaced by the self (the self addicted to the self), as an expression of the crisis of modern logic—its outmoded absolutes of the organic body, free will and the natural. For Sedgwick, steroid-man (the cyborg), not the organic body, is a sign of our contemporary cultural condition. For both, scientific attempts to visualize interior spaces of purity and authentic performances, exemplified in sport domains, are efforts to conserve conceptual oppositions that no longer hold in late modernity.

Susan Birrell and I (1990) examine the case of male-to-female transsexual Renee Richards to investigate fissures and disruptions in the sex/gender system. Our analysis acknowledges how such fissures and disruptions are incorporated under the sign of the ‘natural’ through the scientific category of gender dysphoria and technologies of gender; yet, our focus remains on the media’s negotiation of the problems posed by Renee Richards. In short, we suggest the media obscure the historical relationship between women and sport by staging the debate through essentialist and liberal terms. We conclude that these at time correspondent and at times contradictory liberal and essentialist claims represent women through their appearance as suitable objects of masculine pleasure. In Changing Sex, an investigation of the historical development of scientific and medical technologies that sustain the medico-legal regulation of transsexuals, Bernice Hausmann (1995) turns to academic analyses of Renee Richards to demonstrate dominant research patterns which emphasize the reproduction of gender to the exclusion of technologies. She draws attention to the Barr body test in order to demonstrate how scientific technologies ascribe values to ‘chromosomes as the supposedly undeniable signifiers of sex’ (p. 12). In so doing, Hausmann makes the crucial point that ‘technology impinges on the constitution of “women” as well as transsexuals’ (p. 12). Hausmann’s theoretically and empirically rigorous study is an exemplar of post-Foucault (1980a) and post-Laqueur (1990) scholarship: her historical insights into the centrality of scientific technology in the constitution of sex will no doubt help shape body studies as it advances through science studies of sport.

Most obviously, Hausmann’s argument is related to academic investigations of sex-testing technologies in high-performance sport. Although these examinations have provoked much public debate and remain an ongoing source of controversy, the Barr body and other ‘gender verification’ tests have received only limited attention by academics. Jennifer Hargreaves (1994) situates her examination of gender verification within a larger narration of the historical discrimination faced by women since the beginning of the modern Olympic Games. By her view, sex testing is yet another symptom of the more general backlash directed at women in the Olympics. Although she offers numerous criticisms of the procedures, her criticisms coalesce in what she identifies as the public and private indignities suffered by the women subjected to the various technical practices.

Hood-Williams (1995) approaches gender verification by considering the limits of the analytical construct of gender deployed in feminist work on gender verification. By his view, the feminist distinction between sex and gender conceals the discursive construction of sex. Ultimately he endorses an ahistorical constructionist position which erases the materiality, the historical, cultural and structural formation of sex, and limits our understanding of the relations among sex and other identities. M. Ann Hall’s (1996) comments regarding sex testing demonstrate how universal constructs erase historical understanding of the body and categories grounded in nature. While trying to avoid the power relations implicated in one category (woman), Hall argues for a continuum of sex, suggesting that the two-sex system itself is a defiance of nature. This argument, appealing as it seems, positions the body outside of history, and actively participates in the elision of power relations by invoking the liberal notion of personhood. Much important criticism has been directed at the notion of personhood as it has been invoked to replace women (for example, Brown, 1996; Gatens, 1996; Pateman, 1988) and as it has been produced by science.

My own work on gender verification (Cole, 1995) is based on the assumption that universal categories like sex accrue meanings in particular contexts. Therefore, I argue that to understand the political significance of ‘sex tests’ we need to radically contextualize our object of study. For example, my research examines ‘sex tests’ in the context of Cold War America: it attempts to unravel the mass media’s presentation of Soviet athletes, particularly in terms of how they differ from American athletes. In this case, I show how the bodies of Soviet athletes were made to appear different and deviant and, specifically, how they were made to represent the anti-democratic body and ‘creations of a filthy workshop.’ The deviant female Soviet athlete was one of these creations. Such makings (through photography and narrative) show how the Soviet body served as a phantasmatic space on which anxieties, speculations and fantasies were projected in order to imagine the American body, the operation of power in America, and the body’s implication in democracy. In the context of the Cold War, scientific probes for sex in high-profile sport, I argue, cannot be separated from popular constructions of democratic and communist bodies. Sex testing brings together numerous dynamics woven throughout this section. It is deployed to render visible suspected deviance in ways that establish the normal and desirable: it is implicated in the production of national identity, a sense of self, and even who counts as human. Indeed, much of the research on normalization of feminine bodies bridges work on science, sport and bodies in the realm of the popular. The deviant body, the necessary other of the normal, is interrogated in the next section.

Embodied Deviance and Sport

The modern dynamics of identity (normal/abnormal) discussed previously help us make sense of what otherwise might be the puzzling regular appearance of non-normative bodies in a domain ostensibly dedicated to universal humanity and bodily perfection. Indeed, in the sporting realm, images of immoral and/or evil bodies are not atypical but are routinely conjured up through a proliferation of categories and images related to the aberrant, abject, anomalous, corrupt, criminal, cyborg, grotesque, hybrid, monstrous, queer, subversive, unruly and violent (Halberstam, 1995). Such bodies appear controversial and threatening; they are represented as social problems which, in particular moments and cases, unsettle familiar models of humanness and modern categories of existence. Not surprisingly, science is typically called upon to render visible and treat such bodies. Our understanding of scientific visualizations and inscriptions of embodied normative violations and the possibilities created through these inscriptions is indebted to science studies (for example, Terry and Urla, 1995; Treichler et al., 1998). Scholarship in this area does not in any simple way seek to prove science is sexist nor racist; instead, it attempts to illuminate the levels of mediation that participate in the presentation of ‘the Objective’ and ‘Nature.’ The exponential increase in investigations of deviant and exoticized bodies is not just attributable to science studies, but is a response to contemporary conditions, complex shifts in representation and the fascination, as well as the discomfort, such bodies mobilize.

Bodies, Violence, and Sport

The diverse and far-ranging literature related to bodies, violence and sport has been shaped by seemingly incompatible psychophysiological theories (Dunning, 1993). ‘Catharsis theory’ depicts as integral to the development of modern sport its sanctioned status for channelling otherwise instinctual aggressive, unproductive and criminal drives and desires. The pervasiveness (as well as the implication) of this way of thinking about sport and bodies is demonstrated in contemporary theories of criminal biology, research and public policies. For example, Wilson and Herrnstein (1985) provide evidence of the decidedly racist motives advanced through the articulation of violence, character and bodily appearance. In their words,

An impulsive person can be taught greater self-control, a low-IQ individual can engage in satisfying learning experiences, and extroverted meso-morphs with slow autonomic nervous system response rates can earn honest money in the National Football League instead of dishonest money robbing banks. (quoted in Dumm, 1993: 103)

Thomas Dumm (1993) clarifies the implications of such ways of thinking in his analysis of the Los Angeles Police Department’s abuse of Rodney King.5 As Dumm explains, such a theory assumes that King was predisposed to violence and responsible for the choice he made: in this case, King’s crime was his ‘decision’ not to play professional football. Wilson and Hernnstein’s declaration is an expression of what I identify in my research as a central dynamic governing the national imagination in 1980s America—the sport/gang dyad (Cole, 1996).

In the context of 1980s America, sport, posited as a bodily activity vital to crime control, simultaneously produces and legitimates racial representations of bodily deviance and dangers. These monstrous representations, which signify crime out-of-control, justify increased investment in the police/control industry. Accruing momentum during Reagan’s war on drugs, national discourse linked racially coded, bodily sporting practices to social order and utopic possibilities and non-sporting alternatives (appearing most vividly in the figure of the gang), with breakdown of law and order. A crucial effect of this discourse is the sort of violences, particularly those associated with transnational capitalism and its economic reorganization like those noted by Martin earlier, that it obscures (Cole, 1996). Jay Coakley (1997) and Toby Miller (1997) offer insightful discussions of the need to rethink our commonsense image of violence as simply acts performed by particular bodies. Coakley and Miller both call for attending to violences that are not so easily imagined. We begin to understand why it is difficult to think about and see violence in other ways—in less embodied forms—when we consider the dynamics of modern logic and the categories of act/identity (what/who) governing the national imagination.

Related to the representation of dystopic and violent bodies is the belief, as described by Dunning, ‘that we are living today in one of the most violent periods in history. A not insignificant part of this belief consists in the widespread feeling that violence is currently increasing in, and in conjunction with, sports’ (1993: 39). The violences associated with sport, particularly those associated with masculine display, have been investigated by Messner (1992) and Gruneau and Whitson (1993). Such research documents not only the bodily violence directed at others but the sorts of violence enacted on one’s own body (Connell, 2000; Kimmell, 1990; Messner, 1992). Gruneau and Whitson (1993) also discuss the aggressive masculine physicality of hockey as a requisite practice for deflecting aggressive behaviors of others. Moreover, they suggest that economic class is intertwined with and shapes ideal masculine physiques, notions of appropriate strength and expressions of force. The complex relationship among social location, bodily ideals, expressions of strength and force, is elaborated in work influenced by Bourdieu (see, for example, Bourdieu, 1986) and, most prominently by Loic Wacquant’s ethnographic studies of boxing.

By examining ‘the pugilistic point of view,’ Wacquant (1995, 1998a) strives to disrupt tropes of violence that reduce boxing to an excessively brutal and uncivilized activity and its practitioners as naturally predisposed to violence. Multiple and interrelated dimensions shape the pugilistic point of view. Boxers view their practice as a highly skilled bodily craft distinct from street violence; as a skill compelling sophisticated technical and tactical know-how; and as a career which enables earning a living. Physical excellence in the ring is understood to be a display of character; evidence of hard work and discipline; a sign of overall moral excellence and commitment; and a means to otherwise elusive symbolic capital. In this sense, boxing, for its practitioners, is a vehicle for ontological transcendence—a practice and form through which fighters can fashion themselves into new beings who transcend social determinations. Wacquant neatly summarizes his point:

to outsiders it stands as the penultimate form of dispossession and dependency, a vicious and debasing form of submission to external constraints and material necessity. For fighters, boxing represents the possibility of carving out a margin of autonomy from their oppressive circumstances and for expressing their ability to seize their own fate and remake it in accordance with their inner wishes.’ (1995: 501)

In short, then, a pugilist is not simply a ‘doer’ but the ‘doing’ (‘doing’ refers to the acts associated with corporeal acquisitions) affectively manifest in ‘self.’ Wacquant (1998a, 1998b) summarizes the moral conduct proper to professional boxers through the category of ‘sacrifice.’ Sacrifice is defined in terms of a series of relations: a relation in which one gives over body and soul to the sport and the reorganization of series of relationships of self and others and self to self.

In his research on the intense practices fighters engage in (that is, labor on the body) to convert bodily into pugilistic capital, Wacquant draws attention to the numerous knowledges and skills accrued by fighters. Among those skills is the capacity to ‘read’ bodies—the ability to instantaneously assess opponents’ bodies, to locate vulnerabilities, in order to determine strategies that should be deployed. Questions related to ‘reading’ and ‘recognizing’ bodies (as mentioned explicitly by Rony [discussed previously] and implied in many of the investigations reviewed herein) continually surface in body studies and constitute crucial dimensions of the investigations of bodybuilding, particularly female bodybuilders which I discuss below.

Bodybuilding and the Un/Making of the Natural Order

Abject bodies, those which unsettle conventional couplings and distinctions related to sex, raise compelling questions. In so doing, they create occasions to examine typically concealed operations of power as they render visible the contests that maintain proper boundaries. Scholarship on abject and abnormal bodies builds on theories that undermine the illusory autonomy of bodies and identities as bodily property (the self-contained self) and investigate the dynamics that enact, encode and enable these illusions (dynamics associated with classificatory systems, threat, containment, resistance, moral codes, self/other identities, and social order). Although this scholarship shares a critique of universal and absolute categories foundational to modern ontological claims, critical interpretations of such disruptions and claims about their subversive implications depend upon the theoretical perspectives (particularly the conceptualization of power) underlying the analysis.

Although recognizably normal bodies are bound up in bodybuilding practices (Feher, 1987), my focus in this section is on scholarship concerned with public competitive bodybuilding culture, a culture that explicitly seeks to produce and display physiques wilfully transformed in terms of size, shape, definition and tone (Linder, 1995). Given the immense amount of research concerned with the relationship between sport and representations of women’s bodies as foundationally weak or defeminized and masculinized, it is no coincidence that the hypermuscular female bodybuilder, a vivid illustration of disturbances or boundary breaches, has been taken up as an object of study across disciplines. Numerous investigations trace the range of practices and techniques of production of the female bodybuilder as well as the possibilities that she holds for destabilizing the heteronormative equation of body, sex, gender and sexuality: lines of inquiry have been dispersed around a wide-ranging set of issues related to consumption and capitalism; transformation, resistance and empowerment; recuperation or normalization of the threats posed by the muscular female; complex stigmatizing processes; identification and desire; and the performativity of gender.

Bolin (1992a, 1992b) and Mansfield and McGinn (1993) investigate the tensions generated through bodybuilding’s promise of agency and empowerment. They contend that bodily transformations among women bodybuilders are powerfully enabled and constrained by beauty culture. By Bolin’s view, a racially regulated beauty culture mediates and governs women’s bodybuilding experiences as it complicates (and produces inconsistent) judging and shapes the ideal that practitioners seek to approximate. Bodybuilding culture, again by Bolin’s view, is gendered in ways which contain deviations associated with masculinizing effects in order to maintain the female body as an object of male desire. Mansfield and McGinn (1993) similarly conclude that beauty conventions ‘make safe’ bodybuilding for social, cultural and economic consumption; but they draw attention to the maintenance of the feminine through a masquerade akin to the hyperbolic feminine codes adopted in drag.

Drag, performance and shock are central themes organizing the analyses of women and bodybuilding. Kuhn (1988) and Schulze (1990) call attention to the performative dimensions of gender arguing that, in women’s bodybuilding, it is muscle (rather than hyperbolic feminine codes) which functions as drag: ‘while muscles can be assumed, like clothing, women’s assumption of muscles implies a transgression of the proper boundaries of sexual difference’ (p. 17). Patton (2001) points to the irony of dressing up women bodybuilders in order to erotize them and make them appear like the girl next door. ‘The girl next door with muscles,’ Patton writes, ‘looks so much like the presumably male models who populate ads for transsexual phone lines in both heterosexual male and gay male sex magazines that one wonders how heterosexuality can survive its own gender construction’ (p. 12) Haber (1996) examines the recuperation of the bodies of female bodybuilders, particularly those who remain proximate to consumer culture. She maintains that the bodies of women bodybuilders hold more subversive potential than the other female athletic bodies because of bodybuilders’ elevated ability to disturb phallocratic ways of seeing. By Haber’s view, subversion is an effect of ‘shock’ produced by a radically altered aesthetic code that makes spectators aware of the artificiality of sexuality, sex and gender.

Because the Pumping Iron films encapsulate the contradictions and questions animated by bodybuilding, they are key objects of social criticism. In Pumping Iron II: The Women, the visible struggle over the line demarcating the normal and deviant woman bodybuilder is represented by a contest between the feminine Rachel McLish and muscular, mannish Bev Francis (Balsamo, 1996). Robson and Zalcock (1995) examine ‘radical elements of reading gender’ by focusing on Francis’s unruly and deviant female body. By their view, the film’s emphasis on ‘gender trespass’ demands that the audience reconsider what it is to be a woman.

Holmlund (1989) compares and contrasts the narrative structures of the two Pumping Iron films. She contends that, although apparently parallel, the narratives are driven by asymmetrical questions: Pumping Iron is primarily concerned with who will win, while Pumping Iron II is fundamentally concerned with visualizing sexual difference. Indeed, Robson and Zalcock argue that the questions of ‘Who will win?’ and ‘Who should win?’ are indissolubly paired through the filmic narrative and simultaneously undermine any sense of a dispassionate selection of the winner. That is, by their view, the typically concealed mechanisms that fix heteronormative femininity are rendered visible by the film. Viewing the film, according to Robson and Zalcock, requires witnessing the reconstruction of the female body in ways that erase its reproductive signs. Given this, they conclude that the abject bodybuilder violates not only the biological but the social program.

In their analyses of Pumping Iron II, Kuhn (1988) and Balsamo (1996) consider the interceding position of Carla Dunlap, the only African American competitor and winner of the contest. Kuhn contends that Dunlap’s position as mediator signifies the film’s failure to resolve the conundrum of the female bodybuilder. Balsamo, however, suggests that Dunlap’s position clarifies the interarticulation of racial and sexual difference. As sexual difference is less easily seen, Balsamo argues, attention is directed to seeing racial difference. Questions of visible sexual difference are fundamental to those investigations informed by psychoanalysis. In these studies, the emphasis clearly shifts from the effects of the sport on the female body to masculine desire, the politics of looking at masculine and feminine bodies, and the psychic dynamics produced by the masculine, muscular female.

Patton (2001) suggests that the partial erasure of differences between men’s and women’s bodybuilding (comparable contest procedures and musculature) is reinscribed through judging ‘metastandards.’ These meta-standards draw on conventions of sport and spectacle to govern pleasure and looking at bodies. The pleasure associated with sport is governed by objective ideals through which bodily performances are judged (through knowledges reducing the body to an effect of judging) and identification with particular players; the pleasure associated with the spectacular is achieved through the simple act of viewing the body. Based on this distinction, Patton offers an explanation for the inconsistent judging noted by other researchers. The vacillation between sport and spectacle in women’s bodybuilding is an effect of the recognition of the sexual dimension of judging—a dimension repressed in male bodybuilding. Similarly, Pelligrini (1997) contends that in male bodybuilding same-sex identification is foregrounded while same-sex desire is pushed to the background. As Patton (2001) explains, ‘the erotic pleasure derived from viewing women athletes makes visible the possibility of the male viewer’s pleasure (homosexual desire) in viewing male athletes’; thus, the vacillation between spectacle and sport functions to contain and relieve male spectatorial crisis. Schulze (1990) agrees that the danger to male heterosexuality lurks in the implication that any male sexual interests in the muscular female body is not heterosexual at all, but homosexual: not only is she ‘unnatural,’ but the female body builder has the power to invert malesexuality’ (p. 40).

Questions of desire and deviant bodies, of course, exceed competitive body bodybuilding and sexuality. For instance, in his article ‘The desire to punish,’ William Connolly (1995) asks about the multiple codes of desires circulating through us: specifically, Connolly is concerned with the conditions of the desire to punish, the ways in which desire is embedded in revenge, and the desire for particular identifications and bodies. Questions of desire—desire’s multiple and far-reaching forms—are central to the investigations of celebrity bodies which follow.

Celebrity, Bodies, and Deviance

Reeves and Campbell (1994) suggest that sport, like Hollywood, functions as a ‘chrono-tope’ (a term borrowed from Bakhtin (1981) to explain the narrative relevance of setting). Sport, like Hollywood, evokes magical transformations, individual triumphs, boundless opportunity and exhilarating freedom. These utopic themes are visualized through the bodies of the Hollywood or sport star. Given this, disruption to ideal embodiment—the result of a star’s participation in some event or act which challenges the ideal—results in scandal. In this section, I review research that examines the bodies of sport celebrities and scandal, drawing attention to ways in which these studies consider the political dimension of representations of corporeal deviance.

Several studies have examined how Leonard Bias (an African American basketball player who died from cocaine-related causes within 48 hours after being drafted to play for the Boston Celtics) was made into a central figure in Reagan’s war on drugs. Indeed, Reeves and Campbell (1994) claim that Bias was positioned as ‘the chief transgressor of the cocaine narrative’ and functioned to elevate fear of black males and to justify enactment of repressive policies (1994: 67, see also Baum, 1996). They examine the media’s coverage of Bias’s death through the sequential stages of ‘social drama’ (breach, crisis, address and separation). In addition to demonstrating the symbolic capital of the racially coded athletic body, they show how each stage of social drama necessitated and produced visible embodiments. By their view, these visualizations worked to locate and contain deviance in the bodies of others, to identify threat and justify interventions at bodily levels.

Research on Magic Johnson’s public announcement that he tested positive for HIV antibodies, like that by Reeves and Campbell, underscores the media’s active production of corporeal deviance. Rowe (1994) defines the Magic Johnson crisis in terms of a ‘robust sporting body acquiring the virus’ and investigates how contradictory meanings and the potential unmaking of celebrity were managed. King (1993) considers how popular conjectures about ‘mode of transmission’ (associated with moral depravity and perversion) challenged the specific meanings that a sports hero’s body must carry to maintain commercial value. By Rowe’s account, Johnson’s appeal and marketability were jeopardized because the virus potentially reinstated the requisite displacement of hierarchies of difference (racial difference and the burden of racist stereotypes of bodily sexual excess). Studies of the Johnson-AIDS media coverage demonstrate how ‘the family’ performed a double function by temporizing Johnson’s deviance and making the bodies of women (groupies) bearers of infection of both athletes and family (Cole and Denny, 1994; Crimp, 1993; King, 1993; Rowe, 1994). Cole and Denny (1994) show how the prominent narrative around Johnson worked through a logic of containment to visualize threat, infection and criminality on the bodies of African American professional athletes and the more general African American community.

Samantha King (2000) builds on and contributes to these insights, particularly those concerned with the deviant body and the body politic, in her detailed examination of Skate the Dream, a Canadian AIDS fundraiser held in 1992 to pay tribute to Canadian skater Brian McCall. As King points out, while McCall’s AIDS-related death would appear to raise anxieties about stigmatized sexualities (given the continual maintenance of the non-normative masculinity crucial to figure skating’s high national profile and commercial success, see Adams, 1993), Skate the Dream is, most explicitly, a public display of compassion and kindness. King’s project considers how the encoding and enactment of heteronormative codes (and corresponding performances of compassion and kindness) function to secure Canadian identity and citizenry. She shows how identification with heteronormative figures makes this illusion possible by erasing Canada’s internal struggles and historical responses to AIDS. The analysis also raises questions about the political implications of the representations of the body of the child-citizen (a primary means of representing McCall) and the dead body.

Mechanisms for visualizing deviance in and through the body, a central feature of modern power, are made evident in analyses on media coverage of O.J. Simpson. Several scholars have discussed the ways in which ‘the unimaginable’ was made ‘imaginable.’ Of particular interest is the 27 July 1994 cover of Time ‘featuring a “photo-illustration” of O.J. Simpson’s mug shot that darkened his skin, blurred his features, and thickened the stubble on his chin’ (Gubar, 1997: 169). Gubar intimates the encoding and enactment of two tragedies: domestic violence, allegedly culminating in the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman; and the historical racial violence against black men. In the latter case, Gubar directs attention to the interplay of ‘blackface’ and character assassination. ‘Blacken the man, Timemagazine implies, and you simultaneously drain him of his moral discernment while accentuating his physicality, thus intensifying brawn even as you criminalize it’ (p. 169). The bodily—racial and athletic—performances which fostered Simpson’s popularity and profitability are discussed in various ways in Morrison and Lacour’s (1997) Birth of a Nation’Hood. Popularity, profitability and the modern dynamics of corporeal subjectivity are foregrounded in the remainder of the chapter.

Sporting Bodies and Consumer Culture

As suggested above, the imperatives of industrial capitalism, including the development of science, shaped the relations among modern power, sport and body. In this section, I review research that concentrates on and seeks to provide insight into another dimension of industrial capitalism—the growth of consumer culture. Most specifically, I review those studies that advance our understanding of the dynamics that govern desire, ways of seeing bodies, and those that, in general, direct the relations among sport, bodies and consumer culture. The questions raised and addressed by the research reviewed in this section bring together the multiple dynamics and issues previously raised throughout this chapter (particularly those concerned with the somatization of social stratification and our sense of self as it is made over and against those marked as deviant).

Modern Bodies, Sport, and Consumption

Boscagli (1996), Featherstone (1982), Gruneau (1993), Hargreaves (1987), Lears (1989) and Mrozek (1989) describe and problematize the privileged position of the early modern sporting body in advertising. Each argues, in different ways, that the durability and cultural strength of the bodily aesthetic generated at the intersection of sport and consumer culture cannot be understood in purely economic terms. Rather than reducing the commercialized sporting body to a means of consumer expansion, each explores various dimensions of the social and political in order to more fully explain the capacity of the sporting body in securing consumers. Gruneau (1993) profiles the sporting body as a sign of happiness, success, health and youthful masculine vitality in advertising, the narrowing boundaries of the healthy body and the stress on social improvement in the context of early industrial capitalism. As Gruneau shows, the values associated with and displayed in ‘civilized sport’ are not sealed off from advertising. Instead, the values are appropriated by advertising in ways that have facilitated the anxieties and aspirations mobilized through the bodily codifications associated with civilized sport and have constituted larger markets based around emergent forms of social distinction. In general, Gruneau’s project can be characterized as a study of the pedagogic function of the sporting figure in advertising and its relation to a new way of being in the modern world.

Lears (1989), like Gruneau, acknowledges the relationship between the sporting body in advertising and the elevated preoccupation with health, self-improvement and cleanliness which accompanied early modern industrialization. However, Lears is more interested in the connection between the iconography of the athletic body in advertising and wide-ranging racial relations. He underscores the ways in which racial ideals embedded in colonial relations were expressed through the body and associated products. Moreover, he shows how the multiple meanings engendered by the ideal body are deeply embedded in comparative categories like nature/culture and civilization/barbarism. Lears also draws attention to the connections among athletic ideals, advertising, fears of immigrants, threats to bodily boundaries and beliefs in scientific progress. In sum, he shows how capitalism and colonial knowledges intersect to shape bodily practices and consumer behavior.

John Hargreaves (1987) provides the most explicit discussion of modern strategies of power in the context of sporting advertisements. Building on Foucault, he invokes discipline as a meta-concept to explain the general dynamic which informs the relations sport, consumer culture, the mobilization of desire, and consumption. In short, he argues that the desires generated through such advertisements stimulate ‘individuals’ to enthusiastically discipline themselves in ways that endorse ‘the modern, “normal” individual’ (p. 141). That is, he conceptualizes commercialized among sport and fitness and the consumption of products as normalizing practices of the self. At the same time he invokes discipline as a meta-concept, Hargreaves underscores the importance of context in understanding how particular values and identities are mobilized through commercialized fitness industries.

Boscagli (1996) considers Eugen Sandow, the most famous of Edwardian bodybuilders, to examine the reformulation of masculine physiques, ways of thinking about bodybuilding and modern consumer culture. On one level, she explains this developmental phase of bodybuilding in terms of the zoo’s invention. The zoo, a space in which wildness and nature are strategically displayed, was a product (a space for looking and consumption) of the ‘rationalization of urban space and modern culture of consumption’ (1996: 102). Just as mechanization reduced the use value of animals, mechanization along with Taylorism decreased the use value of the body and the cultural authority of masculinity: bodybuilding, then, served as a monumentalization of the masculine body. Boscagli adds another dimension to her explanation by building on the Nietzchean notion of ‘beast of prey.’ She uses Nietzche’s concept to imagine ‘kitsch spectacles of eroticized masculinity’ and the forms of consumption they incite. (Kitsch, in this case, is a category of representation that refers to an imitation in excess, aligned with ornamentation.) Finally, she points to the use of photography by Sandow to incite consumer participation in commercialized fitness practices and to promote the sales of other products (for example, cigarettes and beer). The profitability of Sandow’s athletic clubs, the popularity of the training tools he devised, his best-selling handbooks, and his position as a physical trainer of kings and queens, serve as evidence of the marketability of knowledge and expertise of the body. Along related lines, Mrozek (1989) examines Barnarr McFadden’s and Charles Atlas’s promotion of commercial physical culture. Mrozek argues that the shift from conversion (‘the banishment of the physical sin of muscular weakness’) through moral reflection or spiritual conviction to conversion through work on the body is crucial to understanding the profitability of their ventures. This theme is paralleled by Lears’ history of sport, self and consumer culture.

Featherstone (1982) extends Boscagli’s (1996) recognition of the role of communication technology in the commercialization of bodily practices. While Boscagli emphasized the use of photography by Sandow, the use of photography in the development of sports-cards and the emerging cult of the sports celebrity, Featherstone illuminates the pivotal position of the new media, particularly Hollywood cinema, in the normalization and commodification of the body. He addresses the relevance of higher wages and the reorganization of space and display in the commodification of the body; yet, he continually returns to the media’s pedagogic role, its reshaping of consciousness in terms of emotional vulnerability, and the self-scrutinizing encouraged by media representations of the ideal (the fit and sporting) body. Featherstone also highlights the heightened importance of the celebrity in media representations of the ideal and the contemporary politics of fitness. The theme of celebrity bodies and the present-day fitness industry is discussed in the next section.

Celebrity Bodies and the Fitness Industry

The contemporary crisis of health care and its corresponding images of public health have been mediated through the category of ‘lifestyle.’ Ingham (1985) characterizes the contemporary politics of lifestyle as a manifestation of the post-Fordist crisis of the welfare state. The category of ‘lifestyle,’ as Ingham explains, is a contemporary arrangement in which individuals are increasingly held accountable for their bodily conditions. By his view, the rhetorical conflation of individuals, unhealthy bodies and blame displaces broader social and political issues. Indeed, various scholars have identified this period as one governed by rhetoric of risk, independence and self-sufficiency. Kroker and Kroker (1987) call it ‘Body McCarthyism’; Singer (1989) discusses it as ‘the new sobriety’; and Wagner (1997) calls it the New Temperance. While Ingham (1985) focuses on these dynamics in the context of the US, Peterson (1997) examines these shifts in the Australia context. Research by Bunton (1997), Nettleton (1997) and Stacey (1997) consider the relations between popular knowledges and national and individual preoccupations with healthy bodies and lifestyle in the UK. Most specifically, Bunton and Nettleton highlight the interplay between the categories of risk and individual responsibility (for managing that risk) which shape knowledges and governance of the self. Glassner (1989, 2001) sees the increasing emphasis on fitness activities in the US as a tactic to manage the increasing contingency and instability which characterize the postmodern era. For Ingham (1985), the escalating concern with ‘the fit body’ as a sign of a healthy and productive citizenry is indissolubly tied to the ways in which social problems and dependency are translated into individual and characterological deficiencies.

According to Susan Jeffords (1994), ‘America’s’ concern with reinvigorating its economy during the 1980s is prominently expressed in hard, muscular male bodies, particularly film-celebrity bodies like Sylvester Stallone. Ewen (1988), Howell (1990, 1991), Jeffords (1994) and Willis (1991) concentrate on the mass circulation of images of fit, hard bodies in ways that echo Jeffords’s general argument. Ehrenreich (1990) and Sedgwick (1992) highlight the hard body’s inverse by interrogating expressions of dependency and the logic of addiction during the 1980s. The interdependence of fitness and addiction is discussed in terms of free will and discipline and insufficient free will and threat by Sedgwick (1992), Wagner (1997) and Cole (1998). All of the above work on hypermuscular celebrity bodies shows how such bodies are more than simple heuristic tools to imagine the healthy body politic: hypermuscular celebrity bodies are representations implicated in everyday associations of order and disorder. That is, these studies concentrate on the hypermuscular celebrity body as a sign of individual and national well-being, embedded in values which shape what and who count as other and a threat to the nation: embodiments of characterological failure defined through addiction, dependency and economic poverty.

Ewen (1988), Feuer (1995) and Howell (1990, 1991) explore ‘trickledown’ versions of the ideal, hard, masculine body which fueled the fitness industry by examining the links among consumer culture, individualism, yuppie lifestyle and the fit body. Advertisements which showed images of fit and hard bodies as well as fitness clubs, according to Ewen, were fundamental to ‘the middle-class bodily rhetoric of the 1980s. Such advertisements, taken together, represent a culture in which self-absorbed careerism, conspicuous consumption and a conception of self as an object of competitive display have fused to become the preponderant symbols of achievement’ (1988: 194). Willis (1991) draws a similar conclusion in her work on the spatial governance of contemporary women’s fitness practices. By her view, the workout, which she identifies as perhaps ‘the most highly evolved commodity form yet to appear in late twentieth-century consumer capitalism,’ promotes bodily rivalry and depoliticizes and isolates women (1991: 69).

The constitution of the new (1980s) yuppie fitness consumer is most explicitly elaborated by Howell (1990, 1991) in his examination of Nike. Howell shows how Nike built on and contributed to discourses which targeted Baby Boomers. Most specifically, he highlights the link between 1960s artifacts, bodily aesthetics, possessive individualism and consumer fitness in the discourses associated with Nike. By Howell’s view, the working-out yuppie is a symptom of a ‘consumerist definition of the quality of life’ that ‘encompasses a self-preservationist conception of the body’ (1991: 266, 267). Moreover, Howell explains the interplay between the fit body, political claims and related notions of character, morality and responsibility:

Individuals are encouraged to adopt instrumental strategies to biologically better themselves so as to avoid deterioration. … Such strategies are politically encouraged and applauded by state bureaucracies who seek to reduce health costs by educating the public against bodily neglect … The ‘lean-machine’ lifestyle of self-betterment gives the individual a sense of pleasure, freedom, success, mobility, and self-esteem. (p. 267)

Although cinema celebrities like Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford have been potent forces in the commodification of fitness (Featherstone, 1982), scholars argue that the celebrity body is elevated to new levels in 1980s and 1990s workout cultures. Indeed, multiple analyses of the articulation of self, agency and body facilitated through contemporary fitness culture (including popular feminism) have evaluated the pivotal position of celebrity (Bordo, 1991; Cole and Hribar, 1995; Radner, 1995; Urla and Swedlund, 1995). Indeed, Radner argues that Jane Fonda’s Workout Book represents ‘an exemplary moment in which exercise … becomes a central discourse of feminine culture’ (1995: 145). Radner argues that ‘doing Jane’ (an abbreviation meant to capture the relation among the celebrity sign Fonda, fitness practices, consumerism and nationalism) is a symptom of a reconfigured American femininity which offers women a model of agency and self-mastery directed at bodily appearance. Her reference to Fonda as ‘Citizen Jane’ offers much potential for new contributions to this literature; however, she offers a notion of contemporary feminine citizenship which depends upon a somewhat problematic assumption about the declining importance of reproduction in defining women’s bodies.

Hribar (1995, 1996) builds on and contributes to the analysis of celebrity, the marketing of transformations and self-mastery, and fitness culture. For example, she examines the discursive effects of the representations of Susan Powters’s transformations as they are promoted under her signature ‘Stop the Insanity’ (through seminars, infomercials and books). In order to do so, Hribar contextualizes Powters’s celebrity in a contemporary therapeutic culture dominated by self-help and New Age movements. Building on Wicke’s thesis that ‘[t]he celebrity zone is the public sphere where feminism is … now in most active cultural play’ (1994: 757), Cole and Hribar (1995) highlight the relationship between Nike’s celebrity status and women’s fitness. Most specifically, they are concerned with the ways of thinking that relationship encourages. Most recently, Hribar (1997) has considered the elaborate discourse of corporeal transformation ‘substantiated’ by talk show host Oprah Winfrey and its relationship to the constitution of ethical subjects. By drawing attention to work on the self in terms of the ethical subject, Hribar is attempting to use Foucault’s later writings (which remain relatively unexplored in sport studies) which redirect questions about subjectivity and power.

Late Capitalism’s Transcendent Celebrity Bodies

Just as the previously discussed work on celebrity scandal and celebrities and fitness illustrates how celebrity bodies are implicated in historically specific fields of gender, class and race relations, investigations of the ideal sports celebrity seek to show the ways in which representations of celebrity, including the celebrity body, are socially and politically motivated. Because ideal sport celebrities are habitually represented through bodily performances which defy historical forces and location, much of the work on ideal celebrities seeks to provide a ‘thick description’ of the historical and political conditions of possibility which ‘make’ celebrity and celebrity bodies. Here, I review research which considers the historical and political meanings and values associated with ‘Michael Jordan,’ perhaps the most recognizable celebrity body-image in the world. These investigations consider the complex and multidimensional forces behind the African American male body, contemporary capitalism and Jordan.

Michael Dyson (1993) argues that understanding ‘the use to which Jordan’s body is put as seminal cultural text and ambiguous symbol of fantasy’ requires investigating the wide range of influences shaping Jordan’s bodily aesthetic’s commercial viability and exploit-ability. Most specifically, he draws attention to the long history of sport in establishing community; the complicated relationship between racialized masculinity, physical prowess and black culture; and the processes of commodification in late capitalism. By Dyson’s view, exploring the tension between the ahistorical version of personhood advanced through Jordan and the ubiquitous influence of black culture embodied by Jordan is a productive means of advancing theoretical and empirical understandings of the Jordan phenomenon. Indeed, Dyson foregrounds the encoding and enactment of a black aesthetic as the key distinguishing motif in Jordan’s style of play. By black aesthetic, Dyson refers to three elements in Jordan’s play: the will to spontaneity (improvization); stylization of the performed self; and edifying deception (Jordan’s hang-time which seemingly disrupts the time/space continuum). On one level, Dyson explains the economic and symbolic migrations of the black bodily aesthetic and black cultural creativity—Jordan’s commodification—through ‘white desires to domesticate and dilute [the black male body’s] more ominous and subversive uses’ (p. 70). On another level, he addresses the complexity of desires mobilized through Jordan by discussing late capitalism’s exploitation of black youth’s preoccupation with style and the possibilities of resistance (however minimal) Jordan’s visibility might provide to black youth.

Mary McDonald (1996) addresses the uneasy tension between the historical profile of African American men and Jordan’s ability to mobilize consumer desire without arousing dread. McDonald’s investigation, then, is aligned with Dyson’s argument about white desires to domesticate the black male. Key to understanding Jordan, for McDonald, is the notion of the black male body as an ‘already read text’ and Jordan’s ability to comfort consumers. By McDonald’s view, consumer comfort is achieved as Jordan is made into an expression of the new right’s pro-family agenda. While Jordan appears in the ‘already read text’ in terms of natural physicality, McDonald shows how his athleticism is given supernatural status through various camera angles and slow-motion replays which exaggerate (even scientize) Jordan’s physical feats. At the same time, she illuminates the multiple practices are deployed to locate Jordan in the new right’s normalizing discourse of family values. This discourse has two effects: it distances Jordan from threatening images of a racially coded hypersexuality and it reinforces the notion of the ‘failed black family’ which is presupposed in the pro-family agenda. (The failed black family is a central element in the discourse which translates inner city poverty and crime into threatening images of black masculinity.) These tensions between Jordan’s celebrity and images of threatening African American masculinity is the primary concern of the final two studies I discuss.

In ‘American Jordan’ (1996), I examine how Jordan’s body functions to reproduce an image of ‘America’ as a compassionate and caring nation in a moment defined by defunding of social welfare programs and punitive resentment directed at urban black youth. It examines why Michael Jordan is such a profitable sign for Nike and prolific image for America by considering what Nike calls its ‘P.L.A.Y.’ (Participate in the Lives of America’s Youth) campaign. P.L.A.Y., which features Michael Jordan as America’s hero, is represented as a practical challenge to recent developments that deny ‘kids’ access to sport activities. Through P.L.A.Y. advertisements, Americans are invited to look at Michael Jordan to see the American mission, way of life, ideals and fantasies of childhood. America’s investment in Jordan is made evident when consumers are asked to imagine (through the sport/gang dyad) the dire consequences of an America without Michael Jordan. As Nike and Michael Jordan come to signify the themes of self-made success and ‘made in America,’ both are made into prominent signs of nation and national interests even as they are invested in and by transnational capital. This study shows how the sport/gang dyad and Jordan are used to advance understandings of urban America’s problems that render visible easily recognizable forms of violence and criminality. ‘American Jordan’ is used as evidence of the transcendent success promised by America while rendering invisible and unrepresentable the violences of the material conditions (inseparable from transnational capital and the erosion of the welfare state) that shape lived experience of already economically vulnerable populations.

Andrews (1995) traces the evolution of Jordan’s celebrity in relation to a genealogy of modern racism and its changing tactics (from early modern scientistic bases to a cultural racism advanced by moral panics and social science). Jordan’s celebrity image, Andrews contends, is not stable or consistent but is bound up in how ‘race’ is articulated in particular historical moments. Thus, Jordan, like race, is a ‘conjuncturally informed, and materially manifest, discursive construct’ (1995: 126). Using Jordan as a means to discuss the practices associated with contemporary racism, Andrews identifies four distinct and overlapping stages of Jordan’s racial signification. His work suggests that the shift from Jordan’s position as an up-and-coming star to his status as an All-American icon was accompanied by a shift in representations. At the representational level, Jordan’s physical achievements shifted from evidence of innate skill to evidence of exemplary character. This conflation of (achievement/character) works in tandem with discourses that deny the historical effects of racism. As accusations of gambling addiction surfaced and Jordan’s father was murdered, Jordan was cast as another black NBA player whose lifestyle slowed his productivity and who was—in general—suspect. However, in the final stage chronicled by Andrews, we see a series of exchanges of bodily deviance initiated by the arrest of two youths accused of murdering Jordan’s father: from Jordan to Daniel Green, alleged killer of James Jordan; Jordan, as the physically absent, but revitalized NBA superstar, taken up as a normalizing figure to demonize the new rank-and-file NBA players; the scrutiny of NBA bodies in search of (deviance/transcendence) the next Jordan. As Andrews summarizes his project, it ‘identif[ies] the discursive epidemics that delineate Jordan’s evolution as a promotional icon and that act as a marker of American cultural racism which oscillates between patronizing and demonizing representations of African American Otherness’ (1995: 153).

In sum, Andrews and the others who have written on Jordan show, albeit in various ways, how the claim of transcendence—the illusory body untouched by historical and political contexts (of which Jordan is the representative par excellence)—is itself an element of racial difference and a formative and formidable aspect of Jordan’s celebrity. It is in a context where everyday global pressures and forces are so difficult to see that Michael Dyson offers a description of the consumer who ‘symbolically reduces Jordan’s body to dead meat (McDonald’s McJordan hamburger), which can be consumed and expelled as waste’ (1993: 70). The depiction, meant to evoke images of bodies that discomfort, asks consumers to think about what is being socially and psychically consumed in a context dominated by transnational trade in bodies.

The Horizon of the Body

As I stated in the introduction, I have reviewed only a limited sample of the scholarship on the body which represents a productive direction for sport-body studies. The flood of work that has investigated bodies would seemingly address the concern articulated by Loy, Andrews and Rinehart which I discussed in the opening pages of this chapter. Yet, charges of neglect and criticisms about the absence of the body in scholarly work continue. Pamela Moore (1997) uses the introduction to her recently published collection Building Bodies to offer the latest variation of the theme of neglect and imperative embodiment. By Moore’s view:

Despite all this flurry of corporeal fascination, bodies—in the more traditional sense of muscles, nerves, genes, and blood—are strangely absent in contemporary academic discussions. This strain of body studies has reached an impasse. In doing away with biology, it has also done away with the ability to think of corporeality, rather than inscription or construction, in other than essentialist ways. It joins a contemporary abhorrence for aberrant flesh, whether fat bodies or the leaking corpus of AIDS. Abstract thought, social structures, or power are privileged over mundane flesh and blood. Uncomplicated, not an issue for those interested in politics, history, or language, bodies remain as they ever were—natural. Scholars are happier with cyborgs, which exist in the head, than with uncontrollable, resisting, fleshy bodies. Only the steely-eyed ones with their bodies firmly encased in plastic will do. (1997: 1)

How are we to make sense of Moore’s observation and prescription?

Moore contends that the genre of body studies is complicit with the historical neglect of the body. By Moore’s view, body studies facilitates an exchange of sorts: the body is exchanged and displaced as it is used as a means to think about some other end. In this chapter, the body has been linked to matters ranging from modern power, masculinity, femininity, desire, consumption, national identity, embodied deviance, celebrity and transnational trade in bodies. As Moore would have it, the body should be both means and end: using the body to address other matters, like subjectivity or technology, displaces, yet again, what she takes to be bodily matter—mundane flesh and blood. For Moore, a more advantageous perspective is achieved by focusing on the biological because it maintains the properly bounded object.

I agree with Moore’s contention that the study of the biological is crucial. Indeed, the biological is and will continue to be a crucial dimension of body studies. But, its importance is not attributable to its privileged status as or proximity to the real body (which seems to be implied in Moore’s quip about the scholarly fashionable cyborg). The biological body to which Moore directs attention is no more stable, bound, objective (in terms of clearly defined), nor grounded than the bodies investigated in the research discussed within this chapter. Whether we focus on the biological, individual bodies, or the body politic (all of which are related), the body is always already invested in a complex network of power which works, in part, by rendering itself invisible. Still, Moore’s comments are symptomatic of and raise questions about visualizing bodies and their continual elusiveness. While such anxieties and questions are symptoms of our historical condition, such anxieties and questions will inform and direct body studies for the foreseeable future.