Body Culture

Body Culture

This article was published in: Routledge Companion to Sports History, London 2010.

(This is the non-revised version).

Body culture

Henning Eichberg, University of Southern Denmark

Body cultures in meeting – a colonial case

Body culture consists of body cultures. And body cultures meet in history.

An introductory case shows such an encounter – and its problems. In the beginning of the twentieth century, people of the Mentawai islands at the west coast of Sumatra (Indonesia) entered for first time into contact with the Dutch colonial power, which was dominating Indonesia at that time. Living in longhouses and clans along the rivers in the equatorial rain forest, the Mentawaians hade kept to their in colonial jargon so-called ‘Stone-Age’ culture. The ‘mild savages’, as they were also called by Westerners, lived in an ‘original affluent society’, without villages, without chieftains, but rich of festivities and shamanic rituals. When the Mentawaians met with colonial authorities, this isolation was broken and lead to processes of cultural learning and astonishment. An old Mentawaian told about an episode with a Dutch military officer:

“But once we were not content with him. He said that we should come down to the coast and take bow and arrows with us. There they had prepared all very beautiful and waited for us on a large place. We got meal and drinking, and then they took a coconut and asked us to shoot after it. We did so, and when one of us hit the nut they cheered and screamed, as if we had hit an ape and not a coconut. At the end we received our reward and could go home again. But what was not correct after our opinion was that we did not receive equally. Some received a lot, and others did not receive anything at all. We all became a little bit angry in our hearts. But what should we do? They are as they are…”

When asked who those had been who received more, he answered:

“Yes, this is exactly what we did not understand. It was purely coincidental. It was quite independent from which clan they came.” (Communication by Reimar Schefold, 1989).

The story is about a misunderstanding. The Dutch had the idea to integrate the Mentawaians who were famous for their art of shooting, into a festivity to the honour of the Dutch monarchy. By bodily activity there should be built bridge between the cultures. (In a similar way, it is often said today that sport expresses an elementary, objective and universal body language, which – being far from linguistic troubles – may serve as an ideal medium of understanding across the borders and of bridging between the people.)

In real life, however, the encounter developed in another way, and this is what the old Mentawaian remembered. The well-intentioned meeting began friendly by festive decoration and meal. It turned into a ridiculous event as the Dutch cheered in a – for the indigenous guests – incomprehensible way about the arrow hitting a coconut. And it ended by an insult when the Dutch officer distributed the sports rewards. The prices were given according to the principle of achievement, and this conflicted with the artificial balance between the clans, which was basic for Mentawaian social relations. To give somebody more and somebody less, according to their shooting results, did neither correspond to the egalitarian pattern of this stateless society nor to the complex relations between the different longhouse clans. Bow-and-arrow shooting as a Mentawaian art of chase and bow-and-arrow shooting as a Western sport were two fundamentally different activities.

The case casts light on the complexity of bodily activity, body language and body culture. And it tells about how relevant body culture is for the understanding of society and cultural diversity.

Furthermore it tells about the interlacement between Western history of sport and non-Western history. History is not only the genesis and change of the one mainstream, which we call ‘sport’ (a standard work of this perspective: Guttmann 2004). It is also the history of ‘non-sports’ in thousands of Asian, African, Indigenous American and Pacific cultures. Their particular ways (in German: Sonderwege) throw light on, what there has been the sonderweg of Western sports. By body culture – and in this case especially by the clash between body cultures – cultural diversity becomes visible.

1. Work on the history of body culture so far

The attention of cultural and social studies to ‘the body’ started in the 1970s in a nearly explosive process. Sociologists, historians, philosophers and anthropologists, scholars from sport studies and from medical studies suddenly met in talking about “the return of the body” or its “reappearance” (typical: Die Wiederkehr des Körpers, Kamper/Wulf 1982). The new interest directed towards the body was soon followed up by the term ‘body culture’.

If trying to describe the history of this term and the related field of knowledge, however, one has to distinguish between three different lines of development: the line of ‘classical’ theories about the culture of the body, the history of the word ‘body culture’ itself, and the recent profile of discourse as well as the changes of social practice, which produced or promoted the new attention. These three lines lead to different historical periodizations.

1.1. Large theories on body and culture

When the attention to “the body” and to body culture had found its word, scholarly attention turned back to sociologists and philosophers who had earlier made studies in this field. These were – since the 1920/30s – especially Norbert Elias, the Frankfurt School, and some phenomenologists. Michel Foucault and Pierre Bourdieu built bridges towards the new studies of body culture.

The German-Jewish sociologist Norbert Elias (1939) unfolded the first sociology which placed the body and bodily practice in its centre. He started by a sociological analysis of table manners from the Middle Ages to French court society in Early Modernity. Elias described how people used knife, spoon, fork, and plate in a more and more formalized way. He directed sociological attention towards practices around handkerchief and disgust, night gown and nakedness, bathroom and toilet as well as palace and garden architecture. On the basis of this material, Elias built the theory about an over-all “process of civilization”, which was linked to Western state formation, the centralisation of power and the strengthening of social interlacement. Later, Elias (1986) incorporated sport into this theory of civilization and postulated a progressive, though sometimes irregular process of civilizing manners from ancient practices of chase to modern competitive sports. Furthermore, Elias (1989) studied the culture of duel in Wilhelminian Prussia in order to throw light on certain particular traits of the German sonderweg. By all these studies in body cultural change and difference, Elias aimed at a Menschenwissenschaft, which combined socio-genesis with psycho-genesis and explicated particular figurations between the human beings. Though the radicality of his approach was rarely fully realised among his disciples, who gave it some structural-functionalist and evolutionist undertones, the figurational sociology became productive especially in the field of sport studies (Dunning et al. 2004). Elias’ concept of process of civilization received, however, also a harsh critique from the side of a comparative anthropology of bodily practices (Duerr 1988/2005).

The Frankfurt School, also known as the Critical Theory, started in the 1920s as a cooperation of German-Jewish sociologists who combined Marxist and Freudian approaches. Bodily practice came soon into the focus, when for instance Siegfried Kracauer compared the scene dancing of the Tiller girls, a troupe of entertainment industry, with the capitalist rationalisation of industrial work. Mass ornaments of the commercialized bodies and mass production were related to each other. Walter Benjamin followed up by reflecting about the aesthetization of the bodily display in Fascist politics. In what is regarded as the main work of the Frankfurt School, Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno (1947) described the Western “dialectics of enlightenment” as including a sort of underground history of the body. The living body (in German: Leib), which had importance for the lord-servant relations in societies of slavery and feudalism, lost its living quality under capitalism and became a dead body. Now the corpus (in German: Körper) functioned as a commodity and private property on the market. Against the conservative cultural criticism, which dreamt of a return to the living body, against the aesthetic illusions of modern advertisement and against Nazism, which combined body aesthetization with violence, Horkheimer and Adorno underlined that there was no way back to the non-alienated Leib. Furthermore the Dialectic of Enlightenment pointed to the Jewish tradition, which avoided to measure the human body, because this measurement was applied to the dead corpse for the coffin. This critique could be read as a critical comment on sport and its craze of quantification. Later on, a younger generation of the Frankfurt School followed in the tracks of Adorno giving birth to the Neo-Marxist sports critique (Rigauer 1969) and developing alternative historical approaches to movement culture (Lippe 1974). Also historical studies about the body in industrial work (Rabinbach 1992), in transportation (Schivelbusch 1977), and in Fascist aesthetics (Theweleit 1977) as well as a philosophy of body and space in history (Sloterdijk 1998/2004) had their roots in this critical approach.

At the same time, philosophical phenomenology began to pay attention to the body. The German philosopher Helmuth Plessner (1941) studied laughter and weeping as fundamental human expressions. The French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1945) placed the body in the centre of human existence: It is by bodily existence that the human being is in the world and experiences the world. By his focus on the body as source of understanding, love and identity, Merleau-Ponty conflicted with Jean Paul Sartre, who saw the body as object of disgust, shame and alienation. But more influential became the conflict, which Merleau-Pontry displayed between the body-fundamentalist position of phenomenology and the traditional body-mind dualism of René Descartes. In another way, the philosopher Gaston Bachelard (1938) approached the bodily existence via a phenomenology of the four elements – fire, water, air, earth – and of space, starting with studies about the “psychoanalysis of fire”. Most of the phenomenological studies had their intellectual origin in the scientific studies of the German poet Johann Wolfgang Goethe, whose work Zur Farbenlehre (1810) can be regarded as the first phenomenological research. Goethe’s phenomenology of the colours was built up against the mathematical-reductionist approach of Newtonian science – and it included historical studies on the production of colours.

Based on phenomenological traditions, the French philosopher Michel Foucault (1975) undertook deep studies in the configurations of knowledge during Renaissance and the ‘classical age’ of Baroque in order to approach the post-1800 society of modern ‘development’ and panoptical control. His studies approached the body by analyzing the history of military discipline and the panopticon as a mechanism of control. The modern body moves in an ‘archipelago of prisons’ and is objected to what Foucault called the biopolitics of power. This approach became especially influential for sport studies in body, space, and architecture (Vertinsky/Bale 2004). But it also inspirited critical studies in the disciplined body of gymnastic and sport (Vigarello 1978, Barreau/Morne 1984, Vertinsky/McKay 2004).

While Foucault’s studies in bodily discipline tended to focus on top-down strategies of power, the French Sociologist Pierre Bourdieu directed his attention more towards bottom-up processes of social-bodily practice. He started by studying the Kabyl Berber people in Algeria, their houses and life practices, before entering into studies among different social classes in Paris and France. On this basis, Bourdieu (1966/67) developed the influential concept of habitus. Habitus is a sort of incorporated pattern, which became social practice by diverse forms of taste and distinction, by the display of the body – and by sports. Side by side with economic capital, the social habitus could be understood as a sort of ‘cultural capital’. Some of Bourdieu’s disciples like Jacques Defrance (1987) applied these concepts to the history of sports and gymnastics.

Also in the works of other ‘fathers’ of modern social thinking, ‘the body’ was recently discovered as being at least an underground category – in Karl Marx’ reflections of the ‘basis’ of human practice and social relations, in Max Weber’s analysis of the Protestant and capitalist “secular asceticism”, and in Marcel Mauss’ observation of “body techniques”.

1.2. The word and concept of “body culture”

Though the named ‘classical’ theories were centred about body and culture, they normally did not use the word ‘body culture’ itself. This concept had another terminological origin, which was derived from movement practices at the beginning of the twentieth century. Between 1900 and World War I, new bodily practices suddenly spread in Europe and America, which took the collective name of ‘life reform’ (German Lebensreform). This referred to the reform of clothing and of nurture. Life reform expressed itself especially by new bodily activities, which constituted a sort of third sector side by side with gymnastics and sport, the established practices of the nineteenth century. The main fields of the ‘third way’ of movement culture were nudism, rhythmic-expressive gymnastics, yoga and body building (Wedemeyer-Kolwe 2004) as well as a new type of youth wandering (Ras 2008). Though these practices were very diverse, they found a comprehensive term in the German word Körperkultur, in English ‘physical culture’, in French culture physique, and in Danish kropskultur or legemskultur. This concept of body culture contained – besides health and functionality – strong elements of aesthetical display of the body, which shifted according to the tendencies of Art Deco, Expressionism, New Objectivity and New Classicism (visible in the illustrations of Fischer 1928). Furthermore, body culture and life reform gave birth to an early and for long time singular study in the history of bodily positions and movements, a history of the foot posture written by the Austrian reform gymnast Karl Gaulhofer’s (1930). The classical article of the French anthropologist Marcel Mauss (1934) about the “techniques of the body” may be seen in this context, too.

German Socialist workers’ sport gave a prominent place to the concept of Körperkultur, while Nazi sport gave priority to Leib and Leibesübungen and detested Körperkultur as being materialistic, decadent and Jewish. It was probably by the way of German Socialist ‘body culture’, that the concept entered into the theory and practice of Russian Socialists under the name of fiskultura. After the revolution of 1917, fiskultura became an alternative to bourgeois sport, uniting the revolutionary fractions of more aesthetically oriented Proletkult and more health-oriented hygienists. Under the dominance of Stalinism, however, the contradictory terms were united under the formula “sport and body culture”. This continued in the Soviet bloc after 1945. Körperkultur was at that time re-imported into the German Democratic Republic, where the official review of sport sciences had the title Theorie und Praxis der Körperkultur, and the sports university in Leipzig was called “German High School of Body Culture” (DHfK).

During all these transformations, the concept of body culture was generally used in singular. Though at a closer view both historical change and cultural diversity became visible, one did not yet talk about body cultures in plural.

When the 1968 students movement revived Marxism in Neo-Marxist forms, the concept of ‘body culture’ – Körperkultur in West Germany, ‘somatic culture’ in America – re-entered into the sports-critical discourse, and its alternative accents were sharpened again. This is how the Danish term kropskultur obtained a new actuality during the 1970/80s, used by the sports-critical school of Gerlev Sports Academy (Korsgaard 1982, Vestergård 2003). In Finland, the concept ruumiinkulttuuri found a similar attention (Sironen 1995, Sparkes/Silvennoinen 1999). Quel corps? was the title of a critical review of sports, edited by the French Marxist educationalist Jean-Marie Brohm in 1975-1997.

Among some European scholars, this was supplied by the term ‘body anthropology’, as in the framework of the French-Danish-German Institut International d’Anthropologie Corporelle (IIAC, founded in 1987) (Barreau/Morne 1984, Dietrich 2001 and 2002). The review Stadion, Journal of the History of Sport and Physical Education (Cologne 1975 ff) chose for its title the terms Sport und Körperkultur in German language, and sport et culture physique in French. In Japan, the sociologist Satoshi Shimizu established a Centre for the Study of Body Culture at the University of Tsukuba.

1.3. Innovation in studies of body culture

As mentioned before, the concept of body culture met with a new scholarly interest in the human body since the 1970s. This innovation happened as a cross-disciplinary process.

From the side of philosophy, one began to talk about “the return of the body” with some ‘post-modern’ undertones (Kamper/Wulf 1982). The body in sport and Fascist aesthetics found philosophical-historical interest (Gebauer 1988), while an Aristotelian philosophy, critically directed against the Kantian rationalism, paid attention to bodily feelings and emotions in sport like pain, hubris and schadenfreude (McNamee 2002/06).

In anthropology, the classical article of Clifford Geertz (1972) about Balinese cockfight received worldwide attention, and during the 1970s, an anthropology of the body was drafted (Blacking 1977). Susan Brownell (1995) delivered important body-cultural studies of sport in China, and G. Whitney Azoy (2003) showed by analysis of the Afghan game of Buzkashi, how power and violence was embodied in the situation of playing.

In ethnology, the Tübingen School in Germany around Hermann Bausinger contributed with studies among others about the upright posture (Warneken 1990). Danish ethnologists launched the body-near concept of life-form analysis (Højrup 1983), and the Swedish ‘cultural analysis’ approached modernity as a transformation of bodily practice (Frykman/Löfgren 1979). The Birmingham school of the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS, 1964-2002) obtained broad international attention by its studies in youth cultures, sport and rock music.

Though sociology was traditionally focused on institutions and abstract societal processes, several sociologists have followed in the tracks of Elias, Adorno, Foucault and Bourdieu. Brian S. Turner (1984) and Chris Shilling (1993) presented overviews over the body in society, and the Department of Cultural Sociology in Copenhagen gave birth to several body-near studies.

Psychology had some problems to extend its perspective from the bodiless soul or psyche towards the body. The German Communist psychiatrist Wilhelm Reich was the first, during the 1920/30s, to give the body a central place in therapeutic practice and in psychoanalytical theory, especially ‘body armour’ and orgasm. He used this approach for a body-political critique of Fascism. His work was rediscovered after 1968 and lead to new forms of therapy, especially in California, at the Esalen Institute and in the new field of Somatics. In Finland and the UK, the body, its subjectivity and its culture was approached by narrative and autobiographic methods (Sparkes/Silvennionen 1999). David B. Morris (1991) presented an important study in the “culture of pain”.

All this influenced the field of education. Under the heading of ‘body anthropology’, educationalists from France, Germany and Denmark cooperated (IIAC 1987 ff) and undertook case studies in traditional games as well as in ‘scenes’ of new urban body cultures (Barreau/Jaouen 1998, Dietrich 2001 and 2002). ‘Movement culture’ became a pedagogical keyword in German pedagogical thinking (Moegling 2001/2). The ‘non-sportive sport’, play and games, and diverse forms of Sport for all were regarded as an educational challenge for the sport-dominated culture of the body.

In linguistics, George Lakoff & Mark Johnson (1980, 1987) discovered the bodily basis of language, expressing a rich world of body metaphors. The linguistic dualism between German Körper and Leib, between having a body and being a body, which had already been the basis of Plessner’s (1941) findings, was revisited and reconstructed in English by the word-pair body and soma.

Even theology contributed. The French Jesuit Marcel Jousse (1974) tried to de-theorize the Christian message by pointing, in an original way, to the bodily narrative, the ‘living word’ as the core of Jesus’ message. The central point of Christianity was not the book, but the bodily gesture, la geste.

Among these diverse approaches, historiography found rich inspirations for hitherto neglected studies. Whether approaching from a more phenomenological historiography (Nitschke 1989, Dülmen 1998) or from a historical-statistical background (Imhof 1983), the culture of the body became central. The posture of the body (Vigarello 1978) and the bodily display (about tattoo: Oettermann 1979) as well as the bodily movements of transportation, automobilisation, and racing (Schivelbusch 1977, Sachs 1984, Borscheid 2004) found their historians. Links between body history and political history became visible on the levels of ideas (Hoberman 1984 about right-wing and left-wing body politics), literary imaginations (Theweleit 1977) and gymnastic practice (Vestergaard 2003).

Opposition, resource, recognition – the body discourse and societal practice

It is not yet clear, which change in the societal basis of bodily practice may have produced or promoted the new superstructure of research interests centred around body culture. At a closer view, different phases and sub-discourses can be distinguished.

The early ‘return of the body’ during the 1970s showed traits from alternative culture and hippie movement. New games of Californian type spread in practice, and so-called Somatics tried to create a theoretical superstructure in the spirit of New Age. (The magazine Somatics was published by Thomas Hanna from 1976 on.) In the context of counter-culture, the French critique of sports as a “prison of measured time” (Brohm) developed and was enlarged towards a discourse of body culture.

A further body discourse was about sexuality and gender, which had its basis in the feminist movement. This opened up for the awareness of another type of societal contradictions, contesting the industrial patriarchy.

In other words, the new approach to body culture saw the body as oppositional – and as a field of contradictions. ‘Body culture’ was a term of resistance.

Soon however, so-called post-modernism entered the field. Sharing the critique of system thinking and functionalism, proponents of ‘post-modernism’ joined the discourse of body culture and contributed by an increased attention to the multiplicity and diversity of body cultures in plural. Postulating the death of the great narratives, however, post-modernism itself produced a new ideology, now under the heading of that all was fragmented, coincidental and erratic – just briccolage. Bodily existence was seen as a world of tastes, group differentiations, and individual dispositions where anything goes. The body became a matter of choice and construction.

This superstructure – the ‘constructed body’ – expressed how market and health systems had occupied the terrain. On one hand, the fashionable body discourse was mainly about body shape and body image, about decoration and dressing, about tattoos and beauty surgery – the body, which we can buy. This corresponded to the current state of consumerism and merchandise, revealing the commodification of the body.

On the other hand, the body discourse became largely colonized by questions of health and illness, curing and hygiene. Recently, overweight, obesity and nurture have received alarmed the political world. This mirrored profound changes in the world of capitalist production, reproduction, and every-day alienation.

In other words, the post-modern and constructionist approach to body-culture referred to the body as resource. Body culture was a world of normalization – and at the same time a supermarket where the human being chooses according to its individual inclinations.

This profile of ‘the social body’ was illustrative, but too narrow. It was the static body – shape and health – that attracted one-sided attention, while the dynamic body in motion was neglected. The discourse about the body as a certain ‘being’ showed marks of reification forced upon it by the powers of production, consumption and reproduction.

What was neglected was the body as a field of dynamic human interaction, of movement – and movement cultures in plural. In movement, human subjectivity develops through bodily dialogue with others. This is where sports, dances and games have their special place. Body culture, thus, emerges as a field of movement practice where recognition and non-recognition are conflicting.

2. How studies in body culture contribute to wider historical debates

The study of body culture has enabled the study of sport to enter into broader historical and sociological fields of discussion, among others concerning modernisation, civilisation, industrialisation, and colonisation.

2.1. Civilisation, modernisation, disciplination

Studies of body culture enriched the analysis of historical change – but by conflicting terms. Norbert Elias (1986) studied sport in order to throw light on the civilizing process. In sports, he saw a line going from original violence to civilized interlacement. Though there were undertones of hope, Elias tried to avoid evolutionism, which since the nineteenth century postulated a ‘progressive’ way from ‘primitive’ to ‘civilized’ patterns.

Nevertheless, there remained a contrast between the concept of civilization, which had hopeful undertones, on one hand, and disciplination, which had more critical undertones, on the other hand. The concept of discipline could – following Foucault and the Frankfurt School – be based on the study of sport and body culture, among others studies of Baroque dance (Lippe 1974), aristocratic and bourgeois pedagogy of the spinal column in the eighteenth/nineteenth centuries (Vigarello 1978), and hygienic strategies, school sanitation and school gymnastics in the twentieth century (Augestad 2003). Military exercise in Early Modern times was a productive field for the body cultural analysis of discipline, too (Gaulhofer 1930, Kleinschmidt 1989).

In the field of sports, a central point of dispute has been the question whether sport had its roots in Ancient Greek competitions of the Olympic type or whether it was fundamentally modern. While the first was the hypothesis of nineteenth century’s Neo-Humanism, Classicism and Olympism, body cultural studies claimed that the patterns central to modern sports – quantification, rationalisation, principle of achievement – could not be dated before the early industrial culture of the eighteenth/nineteenth centuries (Eichberg 1978, Guttmann 1978). What could be found before modern industrial culture, were popular games, noble exercises, festivities of different character, children’s games and competitions, but not sport in modern understanding. The so-called Eichberg-Mandell-Guttmann theory about the uniqueness of modern sport became a matter of controversies and was opposed by several historians (Carter/Krüger 1990). An open problem remains to analyse the body culture of the competitive festivities in Olympia, Delphi, Nemea, Isthmia and other places of Ancient Greece in contrast to modern sports. Anyway, the emergence of modern sport was an eruptive innovation rather than a logical prolongation of earlier practices – a revolution of body culture. This transformation contributed to a deeper understanding of the Industrial Revolution.

What came out of the controversies between the concepts of modernization, evolution, civilization, disciplination, revolution etc. was that ‘modernization’ – if at all – only can be thought as a non-lineal change with nuances and full of contradictions. This is how the history of sport (Nielsen 1993 and 2005) and of gymnastics (Defrance 1987, Vestergård Madsen 2003) as well as the history of running (Bale 2004) have been described in body-cultural terms.

One of the visible and at the same time deeper changes in relation to the modern body concerns the reform of clothing in sport and society and the appearance of the naked body, especially in the years between 1900 and the 1920s. The change from distinguished pale skin to suntanned skin as a ‘sportive’ distinction was not only linked to sport, but had a strong impact on society as a whole. The change of appreciated body colour reversed the social-bodily distinctions between people and classes fundamentally. Organised nudism as ‘naked sport’ was an especially visible and radical, sometimes even sectarian expression of this body-cultural change (Wedemeyer-Kolwe 2004, Ras 2008).

Also the history of social and political movements appeared in a new light as soon as these were analyzed under the aspect of body culture. Studies in the literature of Pre-Fascist German ‘free-corps’ have shown how important body and gender were in the formation process of Nazi violence (Theweleit 1977). Differences between the right-wing and the left-wing view of the body have been subjected to detailed studies, which pointed towards a deeper level of politics than just ideology and interest. The right and the left wing differ not only in their relation to ideas like liberty and equality, but also and fundamentally to body-cultural practice and body display (Hoberman 1984). Most of these studies have so far mainly used literary sources, while practices like mass festivities, uniforms and dressing, styles of movement, sport and music still have to be analyzed in connection if light shall be thrown on the dynamics of political and social movements.

2.2. Social time

Modern society is characterized by the significance of speed and acceleration. Sport, giving priority to competitive running and racing, is central among the phenomena illustrating the specifically modern velocity (Eichberg 1978, Borscheid 2004, Bale 2004). The historical change from the circulating stroll in aristocratic and early bourgeois culture (König 1996) to modern jogging as well as the changes from coach traffic via the railway (Schivelbusch 1977) to the sport race of automobiles (Sachs 1984) produced new body-cultural insights into modern social time. On the basis of transportation and urbanism, blitzkrieg and sports, the French architect and cultural theorist Paul Virilio (1977) developed the provoking terms of ‘dromology’ (i.e. science of racing) and ‘dromocracy’ (power or dominance of velocity) to describe the knowledge and the politics of modern social acceleration. But the concept of social time embraces many more differentiations, which can be explored by comparing time-dynamic movements of different ethnic cultures (Hall 1984).

2.3. Social space

Bodily display and movement always create space – socio-psychical space. Bodily activities have during history changed between indoor or outdoor milieus, between non-specialized environment, specialized facilities and bodily opposition against existing standardized facilities or what was called ‘sportscape’. In movement, straight lines and the culture of the streamline were confronted by mazes and labyrinthine structures, by patterns of fractal geometry. All these patterns are not just spatial-practical arrangements, but they play together with societal orientations. Under this aspect, one has described the history of panoptical control (Foucault 1975, Vertinski/Bale 2004), of the parcellation of the sportive space, and of the hygienic purification of spaces (Augestad 2003). Proxemics (Hall 1966) – the study of bodily space – has a historical dimension.

This is also true for the understanding of ‘nature’. The ‘nature’ of body culture – of outdoor life, naturism and green movement – could in the course of history be a world of liberation and opposition, as in the periods around 1800 and after 1900. But it could also turn into ways of colonization and simulation, forming a ‘second nature’. And it can even be a virtual world, which is simulating people’s senses, a ‘third nature’. Anyway, the study of body culture contributed to a history of cultural ecology.

Body cultural studies also contributed to a differentiation between what in everyday language often is confused as ‘space’ and ‘place’ whose dialectics were clarified by the Chinese-American philosopher Yi Fu Tuan (see Bale 2004). Space can be described by coordinates and by certain choreographies. Spatial structures can be standardized and transferred from place to place. This is the case with the standardized spatial facilities of sports. The place, in contrast, is unique – it is only here or there. Locality is related to identity. People play in a certain place – and create the place by play and game. People play the place, and the place plays with the people.

2.4. Industrialization and production

When inquiring deeper into the origins and conditions of the Industrial Revolution, which in the eighteenth/nineteenth centuries transformed people’s everyday life in a fundamental way, the traditional common-sense explanations of industrialization by technology and economy as ‘driving forces’ showed as insufficient. Both economic interests and technological change had their basic conditions in human social-bodily practice. The history of sport and games in body cultural perspective showed that this practice was changing one or two generations, before the Industrial Revolution as a technological and economic transformation took place. What had been carnival-like festivities, tournaments and popular games before, became modern sport by a new focus on results, measuring and quantifying records (Eichberg 1978, Guttmann 1978). Under the aspect of the principle of achievement, there was no sport in ancient Egypt, in ancient Greece, among the Aztecs or Vikings, and in European Middle Ages, though there were games, competitions and festivities. Sport as a new type of body culture resulted from societal changes in the eighteenth-nineteenth centuries.

The genesis of sport in connection with industrial productivity called to attention the historical-cultural relativity of ‘production’ itself. Studies in the history of ‘the human motor’ and the ‘mortal engines’ of sport showed reification and technology as lines of historical dynamics (Rigauer 1969, Vigarello 1988, Rabinbach 1992, Hoberman 1992). Production became apparent not as a universal concept, but as something historically specific – and sport was its body-cultural ritual.

That societies also could choose diverse ways, was shown by the Japanese relation to the (Western) gun. From the seventeenth to the nineteenth century and on the basis of other body-cultural prioritizations inside the ruling samurai class, Japan dropped the gun and returned to the sword (Perrin 1979). The social body culture showed as stronger than the logic of military weapon technology.

2.5. State, market and civil society – and the trialectics of body culture

Body culture is a field of contradictions. Analysis of body culture has shown that these contradictions are not necessarily dualistic in character (Eichberg 2004).

Under the aspect of reification, state logic subjects the body to power, control, ‘evaluation’, and training of ‘competences’. This is the reification of bureaucratic control and ‘management’, as it is reproduced in state sports and state gymnastics.

Market logic, in contrast, subjects the body to instrumental use – the body being on one hand a means of production. By bodily practice, human beings produce results in centimetres, grams and seconds or points, as it is the case in sport. On the other hand, commercial logic makes the body a target for the appeal of consumption – it implies the reification of the body as commodity. The body is decorated, dressed, beautified, surgically transformed, ‘bettered’ by prosthetic devices and chemical means. These tendencies can be observed both on the market of professional sport and on the market of fitness.

A third logic side by side with public and commercial rationality can be found in civil society with its alternative body cultures as well as traditional movement cultures and popular games. Here, it is not so much the result as the process that counts. In civil logic, the body is a medium to confirm or contest one’s identity – inside and between self-organised and voluntary groups.

The spatial organisation of body culture points into these three directions, too. The public space of body cultures is marked by borders. Inside certain delineations of state borders, body culture is organized both in an inward-directed unifying way and in an outward-directed competitive way, in relation to other body cultures beyond the border. The market does not know this type of borders and does not recognize them. Under commercial logic, body models are rather organized and offered in series, differentiated according to different target groups. This is the order of the supermarket. In civil society, the order of body cultures is more ‘confused’, as body cultural practices follow the principles of self-organisation and distinction. Rationalist philosophers have deplored this as Neue Unübersichtlichkeit (Jürgen Habermas 1985 about the “new lack of survey” or “new non-transparence”). The space of sport in its historical development shows different combinations and nuances of these conflicting patterns.

This makes evident that the differentiation between public-political, commercial and civil logics is in some way connected with trialectical relations inside the world of sports (Eichberg 1998, Bale 1996, 2002 and 2004). The hegemonic model of Western modern body culture is achievement sport, translating movement into records. Sportive competition follows the logic of productivity by bodily strain and forms a ranking pyramid with elite sports placed at the top and the ‘losers’ at the bottom. Through sportive movement, people display a theatre of production.

A contrasting model within modern body culture is delivered by mass sport. In gymnastics and fitness sport, the body is disciplined by subjecting it to certain rules of ‘scientific’, social geometrical or aesthetic order (Roubal 2007). By rhythmic repetition and formal homogenization, the individual bodies are integrated into a larger whole, which is recommended in terms of reproduction, as being healthy and educative. Through fitness sport, people absolve a ritual of reproductive correctness and integration.

A third model is present in festivity, dance and play – it is popular assemblage. In carnival and folk sport, people meet people by festive movement. It is true that this dimension of gathering may give life to the top-down arrangements of both productive achievement sport and reproductive fitness sport, too. But the body experience of popular festivity, dance, play and game is a-productive in itself – it celebrates relation in movement.

Practices of sport in both their diversity and their historical change, thus, clarify inner contradictions inside social life more generally. The trialectics of body culture throw light on the complexity of societal relations.

2.6. The body and the people

Body-cultural studies have shown a certain relation between the body and what is called the people or the folk. Play and game, dance and festivity, competition and fight are fundamental for popular culture. By mock fight, carnival and laughter, people challenged the elites (Bakhtin 1968, Burke 1978, Davis 1994). In and by movement culture, people developed identity: Who are we? The body in movement is an identity marker (Hoberman 1997, Vestergård Madsen 2003). Like one’s name and one’s life history, the body tells ‘who we are’. As habitus, bodily display and practice marks class identity (Bourdieu 1966/67).

All this questions some dominating assumptions about who ‘the people’ are, the folk. Like the concept of ‘the body’, the term ‘the people’ has become colonized by hegemonic theories, mainly by substantialism and constructivism.

Traditionally, one has tried to define a given people by a certain substance, treating it like a material object. The ‘substantial people’ was objectified by criteria of ‘blood’, language, historical origin, territory, religion, customs, ‘national character’ and inner psychic disposition, state and constitution, common economy, community of communication or whatever.

The substantial view of the folk was opposed by interpretations of folk as an idea. The ‘people’ was said to be nothing but a construction, created by the propagandistic actions of leaders or intellectuals, typically nationalist ideologists. The assumption about the ‘constructed people’ was dominated by elitist connotations: The ‘people’ does not exist in itself, nor does it find itself – it is made from above, as an “imagined community” or an “invented tradition”.

Studies of body and movement culture question this dual pattern (Eichberg 2004). “We are the people!” was a basic saying of democracy since the time of the French Revolution. The call “We are the people!” meant: We are in motion! By reclaiming the street and by festivity, people reclaimed their individual and interacting bodies against ruling power elites.

2.7. The so-called ‘individual’ body

Studies in body culture have again and again shown that bodily existence is more than just ‘the body’ as an individual skin bag, which is under control of an individual mind. Bodily practice is going on between the different bodies. This questions two current types of thinking ‘the individual’ – the epistemological individualism and the thesis of ‘late-modern individualization’.

The methodological habit of counter-posing ‘the individual’ and ‘the society’ is largely disseminated in sociology. It was fundamentally criticized by Norbert Elias who underlined that there is no meaning in the separation between the individual as a sort of core of human existence and the society as a secondary environment around this core. No, society is inside the body. Elias used the paradigm of the waltz in order to demonstrate that an understanding of the dance could not be based on an intellectual strategy starting from the isolated individual. There is a wholeness in space and time, couple formation and social relations that makes the waltzing human being co-act together with others. In contrast, the epistemological solipsism treats human existence as if the human being was alone in the world – and was only in a secondary process ‘socialized’ (critically also: Sloterdijk 1998 vol. 1).

Another current assumption is of historical character. It says that individualization during ‘high’ or ‘late modernity’ has replaced all earlier traditions – religion, nation, class – and leaves ‘the individual’ alone with its body. The body, thus, gets a central position as the only fix-point of ‘self-identity’ left after the dissolution of the traditional norms. The individual chooses and makes its own body as a sort of “gesamtkunstwerk Ego” (Ulrich Beck in Dülmen 1998¸ see also Shilling 1993 with reference to Anthony Giddens).

Body-cultural studies can test – and challenge – also this assumption. They throw light on inter-bodily relations, within which the human individuality has a much more complex position.

2.8. Basis and superstructure

The body is the material basis of human existence. Studies of body culture contribute to fundamental philosophical orientation. On one hand, the body is a part of human life, which the individual cannot choose freely. On the other hand, the body is not determined from the very beginning. Between the given body on one hand and intentional body management on the other, body culture develops in a process, which is historical and collective. The study of body culture throws light on this process and its contradictions between ‘just doing’ and trying to steer and control. People ‘make’ their own body, but they do not make it of their own individual will. People say one thing, mean something other – and do something third.

Studies of body culture have shown the different levels of what is called ‘culture’ in human life. Body culture can be understood side by side with symbolic culture, which consists of the ideas, expressions and meanings of societal life, and with material culture, which is the world of human-made things, instruments and technology.

However, symbolic culture, material culture, and body culture do not just range on the same level. Bodily practice is the origin of material constructions as well as the basic reference of  symbols and language. ‘Understanding’ as under-standing refers to the upright position of the human being. The ‘standing’ body tells also about the ‘state’ of the things and about the political state, and the discourse about social ‘movements’ is based on an understanding of human bodily movement.

In this perspective, the study of body culture throws light on the history of philosophical materialism. In the origin of modern materialist thinking, among eighteenth-century’s encyclopaedists and philosophers of nature, the physical matter (materia) was seen as determining the world of ideas. The result was a physical materialism. In nineteenth-century’s political philosophy, certain modes of production, technological change and resulting conflicts of interests determined the history of institutions and ideologies. This gave birth to an economic materialism. If bodily practice is regarded as the basis of social identities, of conscience and historical change, a third, body-cultural materialism can be considered.

In this connection, the study of sport, dance and games, of bodily discipline and bodily production contributes with basic research to the history of human society and human philosophy.

2.9. Body cultures in plural

‘Culture’ in singular is an abstraction. The study of body culture is always a study of body cultures in plural. Body cultures show human life in variety and differences, assimilation and distinction, conflicts and contradictions. This demands a comparative approach to otherness, and this is the way several studies in body culture have gone.

The study of culture as cultures was already in the 1930s the approach of the school of Cultural Relativism in American anthropology (Ruth Benedict). Postcolonial studies have taken this pluralistic perspective up again (Bale 1996 and 2004, see also Brownell 1995, Azoy 2003, and Leseth 2004). The fashionable discourse in singular about ‘the body in our society’ became problematic when confronted with body cultures in conflict and tension.

The plurality and diversity of body cultures is, however, not only a matter of outward relations. There are also body cultures in plural inside a given society. The study of different class habitus, youth cultures, gender cultures etc. opens up for deeper insights into the differentiation of civil society.

And side by side with the terms of symbolic culture (ideas, meanings, arts) and material culture (things, instruments, technologies), body culture raises the question: What are cultures?

2.10. Three dimensions of movement

The body is not only a certain substance or materiality, as it was and is often treated in natural sciences. Nor is the body just a sign or construction, as recent theories of constructivism are claiming. By reducing the body to discourse, meaning, interpretation, symbolic expression, and semiotic patterns, constructionist thinking treated the body as a text, which can be ‘read’. Body culture, however, refers to a third category: practice in movement.

Bodies in movement practice, this is what the study of movement culture is about. However, the concept of ‘movement’ touches upon at least three very different dimensions of human life: bodily movement, emotional movement and social movement.

First dimension: People move in concrete bodily activities like sports and dance, games and meditation, outdoor activities and festivals. To understand bodily movement, the study of body culture touches the theory of practice, praxeology, which casts light on the culture of inter-bodily situations and relations. Many of the existing body-cultural studies have this main focus, both the history of sport (Guttmann 1978 and 2004, Nielsen 1993 and 2005) and of gymnastics (Defrance 1987, Vestergård Madsen 2003, Augestad 2003, Roubal 2007), which constitute two main fields of modern body culture – but not the only ones. On the limits between sports and non-sports, one finds fight, struggle, and martial arts (about the duel: Elias 1989, about festivities of popular boxing: Davis 1994, about Afghan equestrian games: Azoy 2003), running (Bale 2004), and practices of fitness (Wedemeyer-Kolwe 2004). Outside the hitherto defined field of sport, outdoor activities as well as play and game (Caillois 19958, Barreau/Jaouen 1998), dance (Lippe 1974, Midol 1995, Dyck/Archetti 2003) and meditative practices have found historical interest.

Second dimension: People are moved by feelings, emotions and humour. Emotions (i.e. e-motions), motives and motivations demonstrate that there is emotional movement – fascination and euphoria, anger and fear, pain and laughter (Bakhtin 1968, Morris 1991). This is what the psychology of social interactions and social relations is about.

Third dimension: People unite in social movements. They meet in associations and peer groups, informal networks and formal organizations. This is what the history of popular life is interested in (Burke 1978), but also the history of Fascism (Theweleit 1977). In this way, the study of body culture contributes to the discovery of civil society and its inner contradictions.

The three dimensions of movement are connected with each other – but how? There have been written not so few studies in the specific fields of body movement, emotional movement and social movements each for itself. What is needed, however, is a new type of comparative synthesis between bodily, emotional and social movement. It is hardly by chance that different languages use the same term for these different levels: movement – bevægelse (Danish), bevegelse (Norwegian), rörelse (Swedish), Bewegung (German), mouvement (French), movimiento (Spanish), and movimento (Italian).

3. Future perspectives of body culture studies

3.1. Thick description

The study of body culture begins by empirical description derived from historical sources and/or field observation. Rich of details, sensual, multi-facetted, and multi-dimensional, this living narrative can draw on anthropological traditions, which the American anthropologist Clifford Geertz (1973) called “thick description”. As any possible concept is culturally relative, a general definition cannot be the starting point, but analysis starts by a certain phenomenon in its complexity and historicity. The initial case is what in Danish is called ‘the good story’, i.e. a narrative including the research interest of the researcher and his or her amazement: Whow, isn’t this interesting?!

3.2. Comparison and contradictions

The study of body culture always includes an element of comparison. One given case of bodily practice will always contrast against other practices, for instance called ‘traditional’ vs. ‘modern’. Serious research raises this spontaneous and un-reflected comparison to culturally reflected understanding.

The comparison of diverse practices is supported by the construction of a terminology of contradictions. This is what philosophical tradition has called dialectical thinking. The trialectical analysis, as sketched above – between state, market, and civil society, between achievement sport, disciplining exercise, and popular festivity – is a non-dualistic version of this dialectical approach. How body cultures can be understood from out conflict became visible in the introductory case from Mentawai in Indonesia.

3.3. Configurational analysis

Though bodily movement may be experienced as a whole, it is the pattern, which reveals the inner tensions and contradictions of a given society. That is why the study of body culture has to focus on the configurations of movement in time and space, the energy of movement, its interpersonal relations and objectification. Above this basis, people build a superstructure of institutions and ideas, organising and reflecting body culture in relation to collective actions and interests (Eichberg 1978, Dietrich 2001: 10-32).

The time of bodily movement is marked – among others – by contradictions between acceleration and slowness, between living rhythm and mechanical pace, between linear-abstract and irreversible time, between cyclical, progressing and situational time. This clarifies specific tendencies of historical change as for instance the transformation from the noble exercises of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries with their circulating and formally measured patterns to modern gymnastics and sports with their new patterns of speed, acceleration, and flow.

The space of bodily movement is characterized by contradictory elements, too – contradictions between the straight line and the labyrinth, between connection and parcellation of spaces, between geometrical space, identitary place and intermediary space. The Foucaultian study of the panopticon as a specific modern way of organising the space of movement and the bodily visibility around 1800 has shown the societal depth of this analysis, which deserves to be followed up for other periods and societies.

The energy of bodily movement can be described by a multiplicity of different atmospheres, radiations, moods and modes of attunement. These have a right of their own in the study of body culture and cannot be reduced to the categories of space and time. For instance emerged modern Spannung (tension, thrill, excitement) in eighteenth and nineteenth century’s boxing at the same time as it appeared in criminal literature. This coincidence was illustrative for the configurational change towards industrial society. The same is true for the significance of laughter in Mikhail Bakhtin’s analysis of social tensions in Renaissance society.

The interpersonal relations in bodily movement tell about power and gender, about winners and losers, about the You and the We in motion. History of sports has especially been enriched by the attention to gender unbalances in body culture – this has to be followed up in nuanced and non-dualistic ways.

The objectification of bodily movement develops in the tension between process and result, between production, reproduction and a-productive encounters in bodily activity. The production of records by modern sports has been a central criteria for the understanding of modern industrial behaviour.

Above these basic body-cultural processes, the organisations and institutions of body culture deserve attention. Traditional sport history has, however, often one-sidedly focussed on the level of this superstructure. The same is true for the level of meanings and ideas, which were ascribed to bodily practices. The complex interplay between body-cultural practice and the superstructures of cultural ideas and conscience have to be elaborated more in-depth. This may be the main challenge of the concept of body culture to the established sport history.

3.4. Body politics and bodily democracy

The study of body culture has political dimensions. On one hand, Fascist and other undemocratic body cultures have been built on the basis of sport, gymnastic, military exercise, and violence. On the other hand, democracy can be understood as bodily self-determination and recognition, to which gymnastics and sports contributed in many ways. There are complex relations between the people of movement and the people of democracy.

This democratic relation of body studies to people’s democracy has at certain times made the study of body culture politically controversial. Power could regard body-cultural research as dangerous or subversive. In 1933, the Frankfurt School was purged in Nazi Germany, and after the youth unrest of 1968, the Critical School – being productive among others by the new sports critique – was again seen as ‘the enemy’. In Soviet Union, Stalinism ended the proletkult project of fiskultura and subordinated the critical concept of ‘body culture’ under the practice of state sport. Some research institutes particular active in critical studies of body culture were in recent times closed down or rejected further funding by right-wing authorities, as it was the case with the Department of Cultural Sociology at the University of Copenhagen in the late 1980s, the famous Birmingham School (CCCS) in 2002, and the Danish Institute of Sport Research (IFO) in 2003.

It is unlikely that the controversial character of body-cultural studies will disappear in future, but it may very well develop into new and unexpected directions. On the global level, the post-colonial meeting between cultures and their demands of recognition tends to result in clashes of body-cultural practices. More than on religious ideas, some forms of Islam focus on body-cultural regulations, from the veil of the female to the beard of the male, from the circumcision of children to the suppression of games, sport, dance and music (Khuri 2001). But also interests in ‘old popular games’ have arisen in the Arab world as well as in East Asia and have lead to some quest for body-cultural studies. Afro-American successes in certain sports have produced controversial bodily identifications with the ‘Black athlete’ (Hoberman 1997). Practices like Indian yoga, African dances, and Afro-Brasilian capoeira have contributed to what was called an “exotization of Western body cultures” (Nitschke/Wieland 1981). The renaissance of the particular in body culture gave rise to critical questions about the Western-colonial ethnocentrism of Olympic sport (Brownell 2008).

The questions arising from these political tensions and post-colonial innovations challenge the established knowledge of sport history. The question is no longer only about ‘sport’ as it had been established and taken for granted during Western industrial modernity and as it was projected back into its prehistory. The question is about the relation between sport and non-sports – dances, games, festivities, fighting arts, running techniques, outdoor activities, bodily meditation – i.e. about the broader field of body cultures. The introductory case about the colonial meeting of Mentawaian bow-and-arrow shooting and the subsequent misunderstanding, which it generated, has not lost its actuality.

Some keyworks

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