Olaf Stieglitz: Texts and Muscles: Discourse, Practice & the Writing of Sports History

During the last 12 to 15 years, the cultural turn has also reached the writing of sports history. Part of this development was the ›discovery‹ of the body as an important element of a research agenda that no longer rested only on the histories of well-known athletes, famous clubs or the politics of international sport organizations. Although bodies are pivotal to what constitutes sport and how it is understood and experienced, historians just now begin to realize and underscore the centrality of bodies for sport performances and achievements.
Among the historians who are now writing bodies actively into their narratives, most emphasize the regulation of bodies in and through sports, usually by deploying post-Foucauldian theory. While this approach both changed and enriched the outlook of sports history enormously, it nevertheless raised critical voices by authors who adopted insights from phenomenology and warned against the limitations of overemphasizing the discursive. Ideas introduced by Pierre Bourdieu seemed valuable for still other authors who tried to bridge the gap between discourse and the sporting practice.
This paper engages with the complex interplay of socially constructed / symbolic bodies on the one hand side and material, affective bodies on the other from the perspective of historical research that has to rely on traces from the past only. After briefly characterizing theoretical positions, it will deploy examples from U.S. sports history in order to discuss how praxeological approaches and discourse theory might be brought into dialogue.