French Post-Structuralism and the Critical Analysis of Contemporary Sporting Culture

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

In varying ways, then, the post-structuralists show the tensions within seeming truths, the difficulties involved even in seemingly ordinary understandings, the constant effort of construction involved in accepted truths, as well as the constant tendency of those truths to break down and reveal their internal inconsistencies and aporias. (Calhoun, 1995: 113-14)

The Zeitgeist of the modern era was based on the Enlightenment assumption of the inevitable progress and advancement of individuals, and hence society, resulting from the circulation of rational scientifically based knowledges, technologies and institutions. To many these foundations of modernity have conclusively failed to live up to their advanced billing. According to Stuart Hall, ‘The troubled thought surfaces that modernity’s triumphs and successes are rooted, not simply in progress and enlightenment, but also in violence, oppression and exclusion, in the archaic, the violent, the untransformed, the repressed aspects of social life’ (Hall, 1992a: 16). Rather than alleviating the social divisions of the pre-Enlightenment, premodern age, the production, circulation and institutionalization of modern knowledges has merely exacerbated the separation between the informed and the ill-informed, the empowered and the disem-powered, the exploiter and the exploited, the haves and the have-nots. Given the incestuous relationship between conventional social theorizing and the project of modernity—most deleteriously manifest in the modern search for objective and scientific analyses of human existence that would contribute to the ‘rational organization of everyday social life’ (Habermas, 1981: 9)—post-structuralism emerged as a loosely aligned series of philosophical, political and theoretical rejoinders to the unrest and turbulence that engulfed modernizing France during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Thus, from its roots within the popular responses to the perverse flowering of the Enlightenment project in postwar France, through its appropriation within North American, British, Japanese and Australasian intellectual cultures, the unifying element of post-structuralism’s varied strands has been the generation of the type of knowledge that would ameliorate the deindividualizing rationalities, and violent subject hierarchies, that have come to characterize the dystopian conditions of late modernity.

French post-structuralism’s extraordinary global diffusion is matched by its expansive migration across intellectual domains. Originally the preserve of literary studies and criticism, over the past 15 years post-structuralism has made its presence felt throughout the (sub)disciplinary structure of the fragmenting social sciences and humanities. Indeed, as evidenced by its appearance in areas as diverse as African studies (Pouwels, 1992), education (Usher, 1989), family studies (Fish, 1993), geography (Lawson, 1995), health (Lupton, 1993), Italian studies (Smith, 1994), rural studies (Martin, 1995) and social history (Steinberg, 1996), it is evident that post-structuralism has become a constituent feature of contemporary intellectual life. Despite such academic ubiquity, post-structuralism is only now beginning to make its presence felt within the sociology of sport. Indeed, until relatively recently post-structuralist-orientated research has been received with a perplexing mixture of defensive dismissal and haughty disdain by large sections of the sociology of sport community. While such sentiments persist among certain circles within the internecine conflicts that mark the sociology of sport’s intellectual maturation, there are significant rumblings which would suggest that post-structuralist texts are being read, and imaginatively appropriated, by a small group of scholars seeking to critically theorize the interplay between contemporary sporting formations, language, power and subjectivity.

As has long been established by advocates of contrasting theoretical frameworks (Brohm, 1978; Dunning and Sheard, 1979; Gruneau, 1988; Guttmann, 1978; Hargreaves, 1986; Ingham, 1978), the appearance of contemporary sport formations was inextricably bound to the careering institutional and ideological ‘juggernaut’ (Giddens, 1990) of modernity:

Sport, as we experience it, developed in response to and as part of the dynamics and practices associated with modernity. … Sport is celebrated for its diversity, individuality, discipline, order, and solidarity: as a mythic practice, sport is understood as a democratic and meritocratic site in which individuals compete. (Cole, 1995: 228)

Taking into consideration its preoccupation with the constitution and crisis of modernity, post-structuralism represents a legitimate alternative to the more established theoretical schools within the sociology of sport (see Jarvie and Maguire, 1994) for those seeking to examine the nature and influence of modern sport discourses, practices and institutions. As well as expressing modernity’s individualistic, rational and instrumental impulses, the formations and discourses of modern sport simultaneously embody the de-individualizing rationalities, and violent subject hierarchies, that characterize the unravelling modern condition. Paraphrasing Featherstone (1985), post-structuralism thus allows us to expose the dark side of sporting modernity by challenging the ethos of rational human progress embodied by—and within—modern sport culture.

This chapter is intended to provide an overview of the growing body of post-structuralist informed scholarship within the sociology of sport. Following a broad-based genealogy of the post-structuralist project, focused on its roots within French intellectual culture, this discussion concentrates on the work of three pivotal French post-structuralist theorists, namely, Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault and Jean Baudrillard. This list is necessarily short since the work of other post-structuralists (such as Georges Bataille, Gilles Deleuze, Emmanuel Levinas, Jean-François Lyotard) appears so infrequently, if at all, within the sociology of sport literature. In addition, while it is tempting to include the work of Pierre Bourdieu—who is of the same generation of French intellectuals, and has done important work on cultural (re)production, much of which discusses sport (see Bourdieu, 1978, 1984, 1988)—his work will not be discussed within this chapter. It is felt Bourdieu’s project exhibits significantly different intellectual antecedents and sensibilities to those displayed by the post-structuralists identified herein. As Bourdieu himself stated:

If I had to characterize my work in a couple of words, that is, as is often done these days, to apply a label to it, I would talk of constructivist structuralism or of structuralist constructivism, taking the word structuralist in a sense very different from that given to it by the Saussurean or Lévi-Straussian tradition. (Bourdieu, 1990: 123)

Returning to what is discussed in this chapter, the overviews of Derridean, Foucauldian and Baudrillardian theorizing will provide a necessarily brief summary of their respective post-structuralist approaches, and highlight the noteworthy studies which—to varying degrees—have appropriated these theories as a means of, and framework for, interrogating particular aspects of contemporary sport culture. The chapter concludes by offering some future directions for the burgeoning relationship between post-structuralist theory and the sociology of sport.

Far from being a definitive statement—something hardly appropriate in any post-structuralist orientated discussion—this chapter is intended to stimulate the all-important, and as of yet not fully realized, goal of critically engaging and evaluating the philosophical, epistemological and ontological significance of post-structuralism for the sociology of sport. In reference to the uncritical adoption of contemporary French social and cultural philosophy by North American intellectuals within an array of academic fields, Gottdiener has opined that such intellectual trends occurred without rigorous discussion ‘as if they [North American scholars] had sprung, like Athena, full-blown from some Gallic source of intrinsic truth’ (1995: 156). In order for the global sociology of sport community to avoid falling foul of such accusations, we are compelled to initiate an exacting debate pertaining to the merits, or otherwise, of post-structuralist theorizing as contributions to our body of knowledge. More than a decade ago, Kurzweil (1986: 113) announced that Derrida ‘is no longer discussed in Paris,’ and since there has long been talk of a post-post-structuralism (Brantlinger, 1992; Johnson, 1987), to many this call to evaluate post-structuralism would seem a passé project in the extreme. Nevertheless, we cannot, and indeed should not, feel any guilt or embarrassment for not having fully worked through this task. At the present time, what we should be conscious of is recognizing the need to rigorously engage post-structuralist thought before we either blithely relegate it to some intellectual wasteland, or blindly appropriate it as the next theoretical nirvana for the sociology of sport.

A Genealogy of the Discursive Post-Structuralist Subject

Overwhelmingly, the direction of post-structuralist thought has been to emphasize the ‘constituted’ nature of the subject—not merely aspects of the subject … but the very constitution of subjectivity per se. In locating this process of constitution at the level of language structure and acquisition, post-structuralist theory indicates both the inevitability of experiencing ‘subject-ness’ and also its unavoidable emptiness. (Macdonald, 1991: 49)

Before delving any further into the post-structuralist morass it should be noted that some commentators use ‘post-structuralism’ and ‘postmodernism’ interchangeably. Others acknowledge their interchangeable nature, yet choose to use derivatives of the more seductive term postmodern as an umbrella term for both (see Firat and Venkatesh, 1995; Grenz, 1996; Rosenau, 1992). This chapter studiously counters this trend. It is my contention that post-structuralism’s distinct intellectual lineage, and focus, render it too important to be subsumed under the broad and ambiguous banner of postmodernism. Although postmodern to the extent that they uniformly repudiate modern notions of the centred subject, and related claims to the existence of universal objective truths (Ashley, 1994), post-structuralists clearly differ in the extent to which they engage—or even acknowledge the existence of—the well-rehearsed manifestations of the postmodern condition (see Connor, 1989; Featherstone, 1991; McRobbie, 1994). Post-structuralists are linked by their mutual concern with radically problematizing modernity, utilizing their own interpretation of post-Saussurean theory, but they also differ markedly with respect to their particular engagements with the modern project: whereas Derrida deconstructed the philosophical foundations of modernity, Foucault excavated modern disciplinary knowledges and institutions, and Baudrillard effectively announced the end of modernity. In this manner, post-structuralism incorporates theorizing that respectively asserts that the modern project either should be in, is presently in, or has been deposed by, a state of terminal crisis. The focus of post-structuralism would thus appear to oscillate between modern, late modern and indeed postmodern conjunctures. Any uncritical conflation of post-structuralism and postmodernism would therefore appear to be misleading, inaccurate and thereby ill-advised.

It is a well-rehearsed dictum that French post-structuralism sprang forth during the late 1960s and early 1970s as both a political response to particular historical circumstances, and as a counter to the interpretive inadequacies of prevailing social doctrines. Regardless of the veracity of this assertion, if we are to truly engage both the complexities and vagaries of post-structuralism, we are implored—albeit briefly—to revisit the context of modernizing France, which spawned this ‘post-Marxian, postcommunist Left standpoint’ (Seidman, 1994: 201). Failing to do so would make us liable to the charges of indiscriminate theoretical pillaging (Bannet, 1989) that, within wider academic circles, has characterized much research aligned under the post-structuralist banner. This dubious practice is especially troublesome when researchers appropriate particular theoretical discourses and concepts without fully acknowledging, or perhaps even recognizing, the social, political, economic, technological and philosophical contexts which fashioned them, and which are necessarily implicated in their use. In mitigating against such a potentially debilitating tendency within the sociology of sport, this section contextualizes the post-structuralist project, and provides the foundation for the more detailed discussions of the work of Derrida, Foucault and Baudrillard which follows. More simply expressed, as one commentator noted, it is important not to overlook the ‘Frenchness of French philosophy’ (Matthews, 1996: 1-13).

As with the Enlightenment movement in eighteenth-century Europe—vanguarded as it was by French philosophes such as Voltaire, Diderot and Rousseau—the vibrancy and dynamism of French intellectual culture in the post-Second World War era played a significant role in the advancement of post-Enlightenment social philosophies. The attendant social, political, economic and technological modernization that followed France’s liberation from Nazi occupation wrought profound changes in the constitution and experience of everyday French life (Rigby, 1991). In order to account for these radical transformations which neutered the relevance of existing social philosophies, ‘New social theories emerged to articulate the sense of dynamic change experienced by many in postwar France, analysing the new forms of mass culture, the consumer society, technology, and modernized urbanization’ (Best and Kellner, 1991: 17). These social philosophies, emanating from the intense ferment of postwar French intellectual culture, could be collectively labelled postempiricist to the extent that they countered the dominant positivist empiricism, which asserted that knowledge can only be gleaned from that which can be experienced, and thereby verified, through sensory perception (Hamilton, 1992). It should be stressed, however, that ‘The unity defined by the very term postempiricist is defined by a shared opposition to positivism, rather than a settled agreement about the alternative’ (Morrow, 1994: 75).

The Enlightenment rational humanism that underpinned the mastery of the human sciences in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries provided the dominant stratagem for interpreting the structure and experience of modernity during the early and middle twentieth century. Nevertheless, existentialism in the 1940s, structuralism in the 1960s, and post-structuralism in the 1970s, sequentially developed as competing, and oftentimes contradictory, postempiricist responses to what Halton (1995) described as the ‘unbearable enlightenment of [modern] being.’ Although in very differing ways, existentialism, structuralism and post-structuralism all represent important epistemological and ontological challenges to the modern hegemony of the liberal humanist subject, which uncritically placed ‘man [sic] at the centre of history’ and made ‘him the privileged creator of meaning’ (Kearney, 1987: 119). Hence, from one vantage point, this section is centrally concerned with highlighting the changing understandings of the human subject and subjectivity in postwar French social thought, each of which offered contrasting explanations for the derivation of ‘the conscious and unconscious thoughts and emotions of the individual, her [sic] sense of herself and her ways of understanding the world’ (Weedon, 1997: 32).


In order to chart—in a genealogical fashion—the trajectories of postempiricist social theorizing, one is implored to briefly return to the rise of French existentialism within the late 1940s and early 1950s. The flowering of existentialism has been linked to the heroism of the French resistance movement which dominated the national popular imagination in the immediate postwar era. French public culture enthusiastically embraced the heroes and heroines of the resistance as selfless individuals who successfully challenged the violence and oppression imposed by the fascist totalitarianism of the occupying Nazis. These underground volunteers, willing to sacrifice their lives in the cause of French freedom, became an important source of postwar collective pride and identity. French intellectual culture could hardly be divorced from the ‘heroic ethos of the war resistance’ (Seidman, 1994: 199). Thus, within this context, existentialism’s celebration of the autonomous subject came to the fore as a critical response to the de-individualizing tendencies of both logical positivism, and Cartesian speculative philosophy:

In philosophy, especially since the end of the war, we have witnessed a general reaction against the systematizing mind, and perhaps even against science itself. It is probably because the passion for final and totalitarian truths has become so pervasive that the individual, threatened by the generality and abstraction which are shutting him in, is fighting a fight of the last hour against his imminent drowning in universal laws. (Campbell, 1968: 137)

Descombes described postwar French existentialists such as Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and Maurice Merleau-Ponty, as the generation ‘of the three H’s’ (1980: 2), because both the phenomenological and Marxist strands of existentialism were profoundly informed by varied appropriations of Hegelian dialectics, Husserlian phenomenology and Heideggerian hermeneutics (Descombes, 1980: 9-74; Morrow, 1994: 121-3). Although far from a unified philosophical doctrine—indeed, Macquarrie preferred to view existentialism as a philosophical style—there do exist some identifying tenets of existential philosophy which Macquarrie characterized as ‘family resemblances’ (1972: 18). Uppermost amongst these unifying traits stands the existential notion of the human subject as agent, which clearly counters the domineering presence of the Cartesian self as a thinking subject within Western philosophy (Macmurray, 1957). Existential ontology argues that human existence cannot be reduced to Descartes’s cogito ergo sum, rather it is prefigured on the understanding of a potentially absurd universe, populated by isolated individuals who are solely responsible for the creation of their own conscience, consciousness, actions and thereby existence. According to Sartre:

We mean that man first of all exists, encounters himself, surges up in the world—and defines himself afterwards. If man, as the existentialist sees him, is not definable, it is because to begin with he is nothing. He will not be anything until later, and then he will be what he makes of himself. (1956: 290)

In a political sense, this condition of radical voluntarism necessitates that individuals become responsible for their involvement in, and the stance they take toward, the world in which they exist (Cooper, 1990: viii).

Without question existentialism reached deep into the recesses of postwar popular existence. Primarily through the work of Jack Kerouac, existentialism was vaunted as a de rigueur intellectual accessory for the near-mythic Beat generation, and the sizeable cohort of predominantly young and middle-class, angst-ridden, black-enrobed disciples on both sides of the Atlantic (for a lighthearted synopsis of the relationship between existentialism and popular culture see Thorne, 1993: 220-1, 73-4). However, as with any popular movement, existentialism’s ascendance within the academy proved to be considerably less enduring. As befits the irrational process of epistemic evolution (Kuhn, 1970), in true adversarial fashion, structuralism surfaced as an attempt to wrestle the ‘role of the subject in social thought’ away from existentialism’s unscientific subjectivism (Poster, 1975: 306).


Once again, it is important to broadly ‘recon-textualize’ (Bannet, 1989) the epistemological and ontological shift from existentialism to structuralism in relation to the broader changes experienced within postwar France. While it continued to resonate with the French psyche, as the 1950s drew on, the cultural cen-trality of the resistance movement became subsumed under the weight of more immediate concerns. Similarly, the radical voluntarist subjectivity vaunted by existentialism became less germane to the changing experiences of the French populace. The French leader, General de Gaulle, had initiated an aggressive process of postwar modernization—based on the rapid industrialization, urbanization, commercialization and centralized bureaucratization of French society—with the goal of engineering France’s belated re-emergence as a global power to rival the United States and the Soviet Union. Although failing to reassert the world significance France had enjoyed during much of the nineteenth century, by the end of the 1950s, de Gaulle’s policies had wrought substantial changes in the experience of everyday French life (Rigby, 1991). As Ardagh recorded:

France went through a spectacular renewal. A stagnant economy turned into one of the world’s most dynamic and successful, as material modernization moved along at a hectic pace and an agriculture-based society became mainly an urban and industrial one. Prosperity soared, bringing with it changes in lifestyles, and throwing up some strange conflicts between rooted French habits and new modes. (Ardagh, 1982: 13)

It is perhaps too simplistic to attribute the ascent of structuralism solely to the birth of a French technocratic and neocapitalist state (Bannet, 1989). Nevertheless it would be foolish to think there were no connection whatsoever. Certainly, there would appear to exist a homologous relationship between de Gaulle’s modern French technocracy, and structuralism’s highly rationalized and scientific goal of constructing predictive models pertaining to the order and coherence of human existence (Seidman, 1994).

The man widely thought responsible for bringing ‘structuralism from the quiet halls of linguistic faculties to the cacophony of the philosophical marketplace was the anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss’ (Poster, 1975: 307). Formed within his earlier works (Lévi-Strauss, 1961, 1967, 1969), the publication of Lévi-Strauss’s The Savage Mind (1966b) in 1962 marked the beginning of the era in which structuralism dominated the French intellectual scene (Poster, 1975). Within the final chapter of The Savage Mind (1966b), Lévi-Strauss engaged in a rambling critique of Sartre’s brand of existentialism, and explicated the ontological and epistemological foundations of a structuralism defined in explicit opposition to existentialism. Existentialism posited a voluntarist ontology based upon the centrality of human agency, which Lévi-Strauss renounced for contributing nothing to the understanding of the nature of Being:

As for the trend of thought which was to find fulfillment in existentialism, it seemed to me to be the exact opposite of true thought, by reason of its indulgent attitude toward the illusions of subjectivity. To promote private preoccupations to the rank of philosophical problems is dangerous and may end in a kind of shop-girl’s philosophy … [which disrupts the mission of philosophy as being] … to understand Being in relation to itself, and not in relation to oneself. (Lévi-Strauss, 1961: 62)

In shifting the nexus of ontological understanding from subject to structure, Lévi-Strauss favored a radical antihumanism that dissolved or—to engage what became a (post)structuralist leitmotif—decenteredthe human subject through the assertion of objective, universal structures as the principal defin-ers of human existence. Lévi-Strauss honed this structuralist understanding under the tutelage of the renowned phonologist Roman Jakobson, whom he encountered at the New School in New York during his enforced exile from the antisemitism which accompanied the Nazi occupation of France. Jakobson drew Lévi-Strauss’s attention to the structural linguistics of the turn-of-the-century Swiss semiologist Ferdinand de Saussure, whose posthumously assembled Course in General Linguistics (Saussure, 1959) laid the groundwork for the linguistic turn that spawned structuralism and post-structuralism.

Saussure’s most important bequest to his theoretical heirs can be found in his repudiation of the rationalist view of language as a natural mechanism of naming, based on the existence of intrinsic and immutable links between words and material or imaginary objects. Instead of slavishly reflecting reality, Saussure argued that language actively shaped human consciousness, and thereby informed the understanding, and experience, of material and imaginary worlds. In conceptualizing language as a social—rather than natural—phenomenon, Saussure stressed the difference between la langue (the rules and depth structure of the language system) and la parole (the spoken product of individuals’ engagement with the language system). Or, as Sturrock put it, ‘If langue is a structure then parole is an event’ (1986: 9). Saussure asserted that language had to be analysed synchronically, with particular regard to what were identified as constant structural elements, as opposed to adopting a diachronic focus on the historical shifts in linguistic expression. This ahistoric synchronic approach to understanding the structure of language revolved around the identification of the bifurcated constitution of the sign as the primary mechanism of meaning construction, or signification. Saussure described the difference and interrelationship between the two intimately united elements of the linguistic sign—the signifier (the visual mark, acoustic expression, or sound-image of the sign) and the signified (the concept or mental image associated with the sign)—as an ‘opposition that separates them from each other and for the whole which they are parts’ (Saussure, 1959: 67).

Perhaps Saussure’s most profound statement, regarding furthering the understanding of language as a system of meaning, can be gleaned from his assertion of the differential relation between signs through which meaning is created, ‘Everything that has been said up to this point boils down to this: in language there are only differences … The idea or phonic substance that a sign contains is of less importance than the other signs which surround it’ (Saussure, 1959: 120). Leading on from this insight, Saussure stressed the importance of binary oppositions (his example being father and mother), in as much as the ‘entire mechanism of language … is based on oppositions of this kind and on the phonic and conceptual differences that they imply’ (Saussure, 1959: 121). Another of Saussure’s important dictates related to his understanding of linguistics centered on his assertion of the arbitrary nature of the sign. The sign can be considered arbitrary, because in almost all cases, there is no fixed or natural unity between the signified and the signifier. The arbitrary linkage between the two elements of the sign is based not on some necessary and immutable connection, but rather ‘every means of expression used in a society is based, in principle, on a collective norm—in other words, on convention’ (Saussure, 1959: 68). As Saussure pointed out, there is no preordained link between the letter ‘t’ and the sound with which it has come to be associated (Saussure, 1959: 119). Moreover, the sound-image, or word, ‘tree’ (to cite another of Saussure’s examples) is associated with the concept tree only because of the contingent conventions of the linguistic community in which the process of signification takes place.

In conjunction with selective readings of Mauss, Durkheim and Jakobson, Saussure’s ground-breaking insights provided the basis for Lévi-Strauss’s structural anthropology (1967), which revolved around the ‘systematic search for unconscious universal mental structures’ (Kurzweil, 1986: 113). This ahistoric project involved applying Saussurean linguistics to the analysis of the myths, totems, kinship patterns and exchange rituals of numerous primitive societies (see Lévi-Strauss, 1961, 1966b, 1967):

He transposed the structuralist conceptions to the study of anthropological data, relying on the sign as a central term. It was not simply an analysis of the transmission of signs which functions within sociality, but also a matter of envisaging structures as symbolic systems, that is, the structural arrangement as productive of meaning. (Coward and Ellis, 1981: 155)

From the findings of his own field research, and from that of others, Lévi-Strauss asserted that the structure of the human mind is directly related to that of the linguistic and material expressions that frame social existence: all are based on a set of universal binary oppositions, including those of nature/culture, life/death, sacred/profane, light/darkness, raw/cooked, male/female. Confounding the patronizing Eurocentrism of traditional anthropology, Lévi-Strauss declared his findings were equally applicable to modern societies. In other words, according to Lévi-Strauss, there did exist a truly universal logic, and the varied linguistic and material articulations of particular cultural formations are simply the shifting permutations and coalitions of the omnipresent binary code.

Lévi-Strauss’s assertion that ‘everything in culture, in society and in the mind is governed by the same universal and unconscious structures’ (Bannet, 1989: 259) advanced structuralism as a legitimatescientific practice, involving the objective, rational and rigorous search for predictive universal knowledge of the human condition. As Harland noted, ‘The Structuralists, in general, are concerned to know the [human] world—to uncover it through detailed observational analysis and to map it out under extended explicatory grids’ (Harland, 1987: 2). Structuralism decreed that human existence could only be understood by identifying the universal logics within the cultural systems of (language, ritual, myth) that gave expression to human experience, instead of by dissecting the individual articulations of such cultural systems. In this way, Lévi-Strauss advanced the radical notion that ‘the ultimate goal of the human sciences [is] not to constitute, but to dissolve man [sic]’ (1966a: 247). Ironically, given its avowed ‘scientific pretensions’ (Best and Kellner, 1991: 20), structuralism displayed less congruence with other edicts of Enlightenment thought; most notably those linked to the nature of the human subject.

As Grenz noted in relation to Lévi-Strauss’s structuralism, ‘it is not just the idea of the self that he rejects: he also rejects subjectivity’ (1996: 119). Lévi-Strauss clearly countered the European humanism that undergirded understandings of the modern subject as the fully centered and unified subject, innately endowed with the capacity for reasoned thought and action. In asserting that the structuralist subject is only constituted in, and through, its relationship with language, Lévi-Strauss, through Saussure—and in sharp contrast to the overt humanism of Sartre’s radical voluntarism—decentered the modern subject by refuting any notion of agency in regard to individuals’ ability to create their own meanings of self and surroundings. According to Saussure, since linguistic convention only exists ‘by virtue of a sort of contract signed by the members of the community,’ the creation of meaning becomes a ‘largely unconscious’ act (1959: 14, 72) in which the individual plays little more than a reproductive role. So, as Coward and Ellis so succinctly expressed it, ‘Lévi-Strauss’s structuralism shows us that the human subject is not homogenous and in control of himself, he is constructed by a structure whose very existence escapes his gaze’ (1981: 160).


The events of May 1968 represent an important watershed in the political, economic, cultural, and intellectual history of postwar France. Fermenting student dissatisfaction with the systemic inequities that dominated de Gaulle’s repressive bureaucratic regime erupted from the universities, and spread on to the streets of Paris. The center of Paris thus became the site of mass demonstrations, and numerous violent clashes between students and the police. As the popular agitation escalated, the student movement found willing allies among, and forged strategic alliances with, both the trade unions and teachers’ organizations. This broad-based antiestablishment coalition called a general strike on 13 May, which within days was heeded by a sizeable proportion of France’s working population. The nation was thus brought to a complete standstill. Significantly, many of France’s professional élite—among them many actors, journalists, lawyers, physicians and musicians—also became actively involved in this popular unrest, by assisting in seizing control of the cultural institutions—including television, radio, newspapers—through which knowledge of current events was produced and circulated. Hence, ‘What began as incidents of student unrest escalated into a broad-based revolt against French capitalism, Catholicism, and consumerism’ (Seidman, 1994: 200).

Within weeks, de Gaulle’s government engineered the collapse of the mass insurrection. Nevertheless, as well as creating a climate of instability within the nation in general, the whole demonstration of dissent stirred a sentiment that had been brewing for some time amongst certain factions of the French cultural intelligentsia; namely, that structuralism’s rigid and ahistorical scientism was an inadequate theoretical framework for critically deciphering the complexities, contradictions and dynamism of life within modernizing France. Moreover, the events of May 1968 demonstrated the contingent and constructed nature of knowledge, and its manifestations within institutions and expressions of power. Within this highly politicized climate, structuralism’s focus on establishing universal rules of linguistic and social order was viewed as virtual intellectual capitulation to, and thereby reproduction of, the contemporary French power structure. Structuralism’s newly found untenability thus provided the impetus for the loose aggregation of a number of philosophically and theoretically aligned French intellectuals under the ‘amorphous’ (Denzin, 1991: 2) banner of post-structuralism, whose unifying feature was the generation of politically subversive knowledge concerned with identifying and nurturing difference, disunity and disorder within the oppressive formations of (French) modernity.

The intellectual journey of noted French semiologist Roland Barthes, from his enthusiastic appropriation of Saussurean linguistics in the classic Mythologies (1972) to his later focus on the fragmented and subjective aspects of reading in works such as The Pleasure of the Text (Barthes, 1975), provides a neat summation of the shift from structuralism to post-structuralism. Barthes is also an interesting figure for sport sociologists since, as evidenced by his analyses of wrestling (1972: 15-25) and the Tour de France (1979: 79-90), he was the only French (post-)structuralist to discuss sport in any sort of depth. Yet, in order to better fathom structuralism’s metamorphosis into post-structuralism, at this juncture it would be more instructive to turn to the profoundly influential figure of Jacques Derrida. According to Docker (1994), post-structuralism’s ‘formative text’ can be charted to a paper given in 1966 by Derrida entitled ‘Structure, sign and play in the discourse of the human sciences’ (Derrida, 1970). Within this noted ‘and by now fetishized’ (Radhakrishnan, 1990: 145) presentation, Derrida was expected to introduce structuralism to the American academy. In the event, he used influences from Heidegger, Nietzsche and Freud, to weave a systematic and scathing critique of Lévi-Strauss’s work in particular, which identified the need to go beyond, or post, structuralism.

Before taking this discussion any further, it should be noted that the prefix ‘post,’ and particularly its usage within the term post-structuralism, should not be interpreted as a comprehensive and conclusive repudiation of structuralism. Rather, post-structuralism is ‘not “post” in the sense of having killed structuralism off, it is “post” only in the sense of coming after and of seeking to extend structuralism in its rightful direction’ (Sturrock, 1986: 137). Refining this point, it is evident that post-structuralism builds upon structuralism’s Saussurean understanding and focus on the constitution of meaning, reality and subjectivity within language. For this reason, Weedon makes the crucial point that in ‘this sense all poststructuralism is post-Saussurean’ (1997: 22). Instead of delving into the intricacies of particular post-structuralist theories (which after all is the focus of the subsequent section), this discussion will concern itself with providing a broad outline of the post-Saussurean, and for that matter post-Lévi-Straussian, nature of the post-structuralist project.

Evidently, Derrida’s post-structuralist proclamation, ‘There is nothing outside of the text [there is no outside text; il n’y a pas d’ hors texte]’ (Derrida, 1976: 158), is derived from Saussure’s recognition of the importance of discourse—in the Foucauldian (Foucault, 1974) sense of the term, subjectifying symbolic systems or productions of truth—in establishing the meanings that individuals attribute to themselves, others and their social surroundings. Harking back to the Saussurean roots of post-structuralism, Brown noted:

Language, according to this perspective, does not reflect reality but actively constitutes it. The world, in other words, is not composed of meaningful entities to which language attaches names in a neutral and mimetic fashion. Language, rather, is involved in the construction of reality, the understandings that are derived from it, the sense that is made of it. (1995: 291)

Some critiques have misconstrued post-structuralism’s linguistic focus as a denial of material existence itself. However, Derrida in particular, and post-structuralists in general, are not advocates of a transcendental solipsism laboring under the ‘absurd delusion’ that nothing exists ‘outside the play of textual inscription’ (Norris, 1987: 148-9). Since the meaning of the world is constituted through language, it is not that there is nothing outside of the text, rather post-structuralism is based on the assumption that there is nothing meaningful outside of the text. This is a crucial, if sometimes conveniently overlooked, distinction.

Despite evident influences, post-structuralists differ from Saussure in that they deny the existence of any stable relationship between the signifier and the signified. According to Saussure, although it is purely arbitrary, the connection between signifiers and signifieds’ once established by the relatively inert conventions of the linguistic community, becomes virtually immediate, unitary and stable (Coward and Ellis, 1981): ‘the statement that everything in language is negative is true only if the signified and the signifer are considered separately; when we consider the sign in its totality, we have something that is positive in its own class’ (Saussure, 1959: 14, 120). Post-structuralist thought asserts the impossibility of a fixed and stable relationship between signifier and signified, and hence points to the necessary instability of the process of signification. Once again, this refinement was prompted by Derrida’s seminal work. Foremost amongst post-structuralists, it was Derrida who demonstrated Saussure’s failure to comprehend, or indeed develop, the full significance of his linguistic theorizing (Sturrock, 1986).

Derrida highlighted the incomplete nature of Saussure’s understanding of difference through his invention of the term différance. Whilst ‘neither a word nor a concept,’ Derrida’s différance cleverly conflated the two meanings associated with the Latin verb differre (Derrida, 1982a: 7). It incorporated both the notion of to differ, ‘to be not identical, to be other, discernible, etc.,’ and the concept of to defer, ‘to temporize, to take recourse … a detour that suspends the accomplishment’ (Derrida, 1982a: 8). Evidently, Saussure’s notion of deriving meaning from phonic and conceptual difference leads Derrida to proclaim the necessary emptiness of language (the sign). Denying the existence of a fixed, immutable unity between signifiers and signifieds, Derrida viewed the meaning of the signified as deriving from the infinite ‘play of differences which are generated by signifiers which are themselves the product of those differences’ (Sarup, 1993: 44). The dynamism of the sign arises because ‘The play of differences supposes, in effect, syntheses and referrals which forbid at any moment, or in any sense, that a simple element be present in and of itself, referring only to itself’ (Derrida, 1981: 26). Turning to Eagleton in order to clarify and underline this pivotal aspect of post-structuralist thought:

Another way of putting what we have just said is that meaning is not immediately present in the sign. Since the meaning of a sign is a matter of what the sign is not, its meaning is always in some sense absent from it too. Meaning, if you like, is scattered or dispersed along the whole chain of signifiers; it cannot be easily nailed down, it is never fully present in any sign alone, but is rather a kind of constant flickering presence and absence together. Reading a text is more like tracing this process of constant flickering than it is like counting the beads on a necklace. (Eagleton, 1983: 128)

Within any sign there is the ‘“trace” of a now-absent reality or a trace of its former connections to other elements’ (Grenz, 1996: 145). Thus, it is the interplay between presence and absence invoked by the notion of the ‘trace’ (Derrida, 1981) which explains how the signified is implicated in a never-ending chain of self-referential signifiers which leads to the perpetual deferral of meaning: the ‘indefinite referral of signifier to signifier … gives the signified meaning no respite … it always signifies again’ (Derrida, 1978: 25). In order to demonstrate the always inadequate, incomplete nature of the signified, Derrida (1976) utilized the Heideggerian strategy of putting a cross through words, thereby indicating that their meaning is always sous rature (under erasure).

The very impossibility of the ‘transcendental signified’—a single, stable and universal meaning of a sign outside of language—‘extends the domain and the play of significations infinitely’ (Derrida, 1978: 146). And yet, without wishing to detract from Derrida’s assertions pointing to the emptiness and incompleteness of language, communication only works when the meaning of a sign is at least temporarily fixed, and furnished with a fleeting aura of permanence. This points to post-structuralism’s concern with the necessarily political nature of language, meaning and knowledge. According to Seidman, ‘whenever a linguistic and social order is said to be fixed or meanings are assumed to be unambiguous and stable, this should be understood as less a disclosure of truth than as an act of power’ (1994: 202). While structuralism’s scientism initiated a search for rational, objectively researched and universal linguistic knowledge, post-structuralism’s scepticism sought to unearth its irrational, subjectively constructed and localized character. Thus, post-structuralism focused on illuminating:

the tensions within seeming truths, the difficulties involved even in seemingly ordinary understandings, the constant effort of construction involved in accepted truths, as well as the constant tendency of those truths to break down and reveal their internal inconsistencies and aporias. (Calhoun, 1995: 113-14)

Recognizing the constructed and contingent nature of discursive formations (in simple terms, what Bannet (1989) described as systems or regimes of interpretation) has had important ramifications for the post-structuralist understanding of the human subject. According to post-structuralists, the human subject is far from being stable, unified and whole. Rather, like the language through which it is constituted, the subject is necessarily unstable, disunited and fragmented (Hall, 1992b).

While decentering the sovereign individual (Locke, 1967) from its status as a ‘bounded entity pristine and separate unto itself’ (Kondo, 1995: 96), structuralism’s universalism inadvertently replicated the ‘humanist notion of an unchanging human nature’ (Best and Kellner, 1991: 20). Post-structuralism ‘radically problematized’ (Grossberg and Nelson, 1988: 7) structuralism’s implicit humanism, by advancing an understanding of the human subject as a dynamic and multi-accentual entity constituted ‘within, not outside, discourse … produced in specific historical and institutional sites within specific discursive formations and practices, by specific enunciative strategies’ (Hall, 1996a: 4). As much as people are invested in being seen to uphold the modern myth of the essential, originary, fixed and guaranteed identity, the subject can more accurately be described as a strategic and unstable point of identification, or suture, to the conjuncturally specific forms of subjectivity, or subject positions, constructed for us within particular discursive contexts (Cole, 1993; Hall, 1990, 1995, 1996a; Kondo, 1995). As Hall eloquently described, the process of identification through which the subject is constructed is a strategic ‘“production”, which is never complete, always in process, and always constituted within, not outside, representation’ (Hall, 1990: 222).

Invoking Althusserian conceptualizing (1971) (admittedly more structural Marxist than post-structuralist, but a figure whose theorizing ably complements post-structuralism’s focus on language and subjectivity), post-structuralism notoriously decentered the originary, unified and essential post-Cartesian subject (Hall and Gay, 1996). This was achieved by indicating how, instead of being the point of origin, the subject is in fact interpellated, or hailed, by the subject positions imbued within particular discursive formations. Despite the power of discursive structures to define subjectivity and experience, post-structuralism does involve a sense of human agency, however overdeter-mined (Cole, 1994). Such is the ‘psychological and emotional force’ (Weedon, 1997: 31) of the subject positions embedded within popular discourse, that individuals routinely, and mistakenly, credit themselves as the authors of their discursively constructed subjectivities. Thus, the individual unconsciously assumes itself to be the source of the subjective meanings, and identities, of which it is merely an effect (Heath, 1981). Further emphasizing the contradictory nature of existence, the individual is the subject of the multitudinous discursive formations within late modernity, and subjected to these discursive regimes. For in shaping (or constituting) the individual’s view of itself and the social world in which it is located, language provides the interpretive framework for both enabling and constraining the individual’s experience of that world. Hence, by dint of its perpetual reconstitution in, and through, late modernity’s shifting and multiple discursive formations, post-structuralism pointedly proclaims the precarious, constructed, contextual and processual nature of the subject (Hall, 1990, 1996a; Weedon, 1997).

Post-Sport: Reconfiguring the Focus of the Sociology

Post-structuralists offer new and challenging perspectives on the history of Western societies. Departing from liberal and Marxist social ideas which draw our attention to the economy, the state, organizational dynamics, and cultural values, they center social analysis on processes relating to the body, sexuality, identity, consumerism, medical-scientific discourses, the social role of the human sciences, and disciplinary technologies of control. (Seidman, 1994: 229)

It is interesting to note that of the post-structuralist concerns highlighted in the above quote, all have been addressed to varying degrees within the small body of post-structuralist orientated literature emanating from the sociology of sport. For instance, the body (Gruneau, 1991), sexuality (Miller, 1995), identity (Sykes, 1996), consumerism (Van Wynsberghe and Ritchie, 1998), medical-scientific discourses (Harvey and Sparks, 1991), human sciences (Whitson and MacIntosh, 1990), and disciplinary technologies (Cole and Denny, 1995), have all been addressed in sporting contexts by researchers with at least a passing affinity with, and interest in, the post-structuralist project. This sporting replication of research interests is by no means surprising, as post-structuralism’s focus on the discourses, processes and institutions that shaped modernity, strongly encourages researchers into particular avenues of enquiry related to the relationship between modern knowledge, power and the constitution of subjectivity. Since sport is dialectically implicated in the discourses (progress, rationality, individualism) and processes (industrialization, urbanization, globalization) of modernity, it could be considered an explicitly modern institution. It would thus seem wholly appropriate for the sociology of sport to use post-structuralist thought as a vehicle for excavating the discursive formations, and allied subjectivities, of contemporary sport culture.

While by no means voluminous, both individually and collectively, the growing body of post-structuralist orientated literature within the sociology of sport interrogates the structure and experience of modern sport formations. Paraphrasing Judith Butler’s (1993b) understanding of post-structuralism’s implicit critique of modernity, these studies identify that the uncritical belief in the possibility of progress as expressed through the sporting modern simply cannot be upheld with the plausibility or conviction it once possessed. These critical works make ‘accessible to sight’ the ‘not seen’ (Derrida, 1976: 163) aspects of contemporary sport culture, and thereby illuminate the contradictions, corruptions and coercions that fester beneath the commonsense fetishizing of sport within the late modern era. In this respect, it could be argued that the focus and goal of a post-structuralist sociology of sport is, and indeed should be, postsport. Not that the terrain of sport should be deserted altogether. Rather, post-structuralism compels researchers to problematize sport’s implicit relation to the modern project; a brief which involves developing politically subversive readings of sport which seek to take it beyond—or post—the oppressive, symbolically violent and exclusionary vices of its modern incarnations.

Since time and space constraints prohibit a fully in-depth overview of Derrida’s, Foucault’s and Baudrillard’s complex, extensive, yet frequently shifting bodies of work, I am forced to concentrate on highlighting the aspects of each theorist’s work that are most pertinent to furthering contemporary sport criticism. With specific reference to sociology of sport studies that have appropriated, either singly or in combination, the work of these noted post-structuralists, I intend to demonstrate the relevance of: Derrida’s grammatology for deconstructing the philosophical foundations of sporting modernity; Foucault’s genealogy for excavating sport’s status and influence as a modern disciplinary institution; and, Baudrillard’s hyperreal cosmology for mapping sport’s immersion within new regimes of representation. Each of these theorists provides important and provocative insights into developing understandings of sport as a contingent, contested and coercive discursive formation, whose popular presence significantly contributes to the constitution of the late modern subject. Thus, each of them has the potential to make important contributions to the advancement of the post-sport criticism to which I briefly alluded.

Jacques Derrida: The Discursive Logic of Modern Sport

Due to its evident complexity, it would seem an absurd task to even attempt to capture Derrida’s work within the space of a few paragraphs. Nevertheless, even such a cursory discussion is long overdue. Since Derrida’s ground-breaking works were published over 30 years ago, and since the wider reception of his writing has been through at least three distinct phases—those marked by enthusiasm and indifference, consolidation and adjustment, and finally productive yet critical engagement (Woods, 1992)—Derrida’s writing unquestionably warrants a more considered airing within the sociology of sport community. Despite arguably being the leading instigator of the post-structuralist movement, Jacques Derrida’s challenging work has been virtually ignored by sociology of sport researchers. Indeed, up to this point there have been less than a handful of sport-related studies which have utilized Derrida’s important theoretical and methodological insights in any degree of depth. Such intellectual neglect has contributed to what is perhaps the most glaring theoretical absence within the sociology of sport. More important a motivation than even overcoming the intellectual lag that, for some reason, seems to haunt the sociology of sport, Derrida’s deconstructive project continues to be of explicit relevance to the project of articulating modern sport’s relation to the stultifying discourses of modernity. This is because, as well as being Derrida’s main focus, the ‘monological statements of truth’ (Calhoun, 1995: 113) structuring Western philosophy, and indeed modern society, are graphically embodied and suggestively vindicated within the discursive economy of modern sport.

While Roland Barthes announced the ‘death of the author’ (Barthes, 1977) and, with equal deference to post-structuralist sensibilities related to textual instability, Foucault asked the pointed question ‘What difference does it make who is speaking?’ (Foucault, 1979: 160), embellishing discussions of theory with even the briefest biographical information would still seem an appealing—if perhaps inconsequential—exercise. To this end, Derrida was born in El Biar, Algiers, in 1930 (at the time Algeria was still a French département), into a lower middle-class Sephardic Jewish family. Having attained his baccalaureate in Algeria, Derrida subsequently moved to Paris to further his education. From 1952 to 1956 he studied philosophy at the École Normale Supérieure, where he became particularly interested in the work of Hegel, Heidegger and Husserl, and came into contact with the renowned Hegel scholar Jean Hippolite. Derrida subsequently taught philosophy at the Sorbonne from 1960 to 1964, followed by a more extended tenure at the École Normale Supérieure from 1964 to 1984, during which time he completed what are arguably his most significant works (see Derrida, 1973, 1976, 1978). As a result of his controversial and extensive scholarly output, Derrida became an important figure within French intellectual culture, and in 1984 was appointed to the prestigious position of Director of Studies at the École des Hautes Études en Science Sociales. Since the early 1970s Derrida also made regular teaching and lecturing trips to North America, especially to Yale University, the Johns Hopkins University and the University of California at Irvine. These trips inspired the ‘Yale deconstruction’ movement (headed by the controversial figure of the late Paul de Man) and secured for Derrida an important place within the American academy, such that Matthews commented ‘his fame is even greater in the United States than in his own country’ (1996: 166).

In other academic circles, the reception for Derrida’s radical philosophy has been less welcoming. Nowhere is this better exemplified than in the much publicized ‘Derrida affair’ (The Times, 13 May 1992) that engulfed the normally sedate halls of Cambridge University in 1992. In March of that year, senior Cambridge faculty held their annual meeting in which they decide upon the recipients for that year’s honorary degrees. Derrida’s name had been put forward for this honor yet, breaking three decades of unopposed nominations, four professors objected so virulently that they forced a university ballot over his candidacy. The whole issue thus became the forum for a public debate over Derrida’s work, and indeed post-structuralism in general. Probably the most aggressive indictment of Derrida came within a letter written to The Times by 19 members of the Internationale Akademie für Philosophie:

M. Derrida’s work does not meet accepted standards of clarity and rigour … M. Derrida’s voluminous writings in our view stretch the normal forms of academic scholarship beyond recognition … Academic status based on what seems to be little more than semi-intelligible attacks upon the values of reason, truth and scholarship is not, we submit, sufficient grounds for the awarding of an honorary degree in a distinguished university. (Barry Smith et al., Letter to the Editor, The Times, 9 May 1992)

On 16 May the result of the university ballot supported Derrida’s nomination for the honorary degree. Nevertheless, the anti-post-structuralist sentiments expressed throughout the ‘Derrida affair,’ and illustrated in the above letter, would appear to have found support within many academic disciplines, including the sociology of sport. Derrida incites such defensiveness from many mainstream academics largely because his radical deconstructive project undermines the claims to foundational knowledge espoused by mainstream philosophy, and assumed as the epistemological and ontological basis of traditional academic disciplines. Turning Barry Smith et al.’s critique back on itself, Derrida’s project blatantly delights in stretching the normal forms of academic scholarship beyond recognition, bydisrupting the values of reason and truth championed by traditional scholars.

Within his ‘general strategy of deconstruction’ (Derrida, 1981: 41), Derrida championed a ‘vigilant scepticism’ (Norris, 1987: 20) toward the binarism underpinning the Western tradition of rational thought (Boyne, 1990). As Brown neatly surmised, although it has emerged within ‘popular parlance as a chic synonym for “criticism”, “investigation” or “analysis”, deconstruction is a procedure for interrogating texts, which, by means of careful and detailed reading, seeks to expose their inconsistencies, contradictions, unrecognized assumptions and implicit conceptual hierarchies’ (Brown, 1994: 36-7). Deconstruction represents ‘guerrilla warfare against the Enlightenment heritage’ (Boyne, 1990: 90), because, influenced by Heidegger’s reading of Nietzsche, Derrida is centrally concerned with the politics and practice of subverting language, knowledge and truth. Nevertheless, Derrida affirmed the need to do more than invert binary hierarchies by substituting one pole of the binary for the other. Doing so would mean ‘simply residing within the closed field of these oppositions, thereby confirming it’ (Derrida, 1981: 41). According to Derrida:

Deconstruction cannot limit itself or proceed immediately to a neutralization; it must, by means of a double gesture, a double writing, practice an overturning of the classical opposition and a general displacement of the system. It is only on this condition that deconstruction will provide itself the means with which to intervene in the field of oppositions that it criticizes. (Derrida, 1982b: 329; emphasis in original)

Derrida thus incorporates a new form of parasitic writing, requiring a host text which the deconstructive text inhabits and disrupts, leading to the explication of the contingent, unstable, dispersed and absent nature of any meaning (Brown, 1994). As an intellectual practice, deconstruction seeks to inhabit, resist and disorganize philosophical oppositions, by challenging them from the inside (Boyne, 1990; Derrida, 1981). For Derrida, the ultimate goal of deconstruction’s textual interventions is to demonstrate ‘the ultimate undecidability’ and impossibility of the ‘deep-laid conceptual oppositions’ (Norris, 1987: 82) which constitute the basis of Western thought. To this end, he encouraged the following points of textual inhabitation and engagement.

Derrida identified that the Western philosophic tradition is based upon the logic of logocentrism, which asserted that objective, centered and universal knowledge (logos) pertaining to the empirical world exists prior to—yet can be identified and potentially expressed through—language. As Cobley put it, traditional thought has ‘unwittingly reconstructed referential modes in which the signifier operates, but it does so purely for the purposes of referring to a self-contained preexisting “concept” which exists independently of signification’ (1996: 206). The dominant strands of Western philosophy were prefigured on a binary opposition between reality and myth, which posited language’s ability to articulate, against its potential for distorting, the objective reality which was thought to exist outside consciousness: philosophy being the faithful representation of this reality, mythology being its deceptive corruption. Derrida attacked this logocentrism by denying the possibility of some ‘“word” presence, essence, truth, or reality’ serving as the authentic foundation for ‘thought, language, and experience’ (Grenz, 1996: 141-2). In other words, Derrida asserted the impossibility of any foundational, originary or essential ‘transcendental signifieds’ (Derrida, 1978) as the basis of Western rational thought.

Closely allied to logocentrism, which Grossberg cited as being ‘constitutive of modernity’ (1996: 94), is the phonocentric prejudice within modern Western philosophy. Phonocentrism refers to the privileging of the phonic (the temporal substance of speech) over the graphic (the spatial substance of writing), as the medium of true expression. Phonemes, or spoken phrases, are viewed as being pure representations of thought and consciousness, whereas graphemes, or written phrases, are less immediate, derivations and corrupted forms of speech. According to thinkers ranging from Aristotle, through Rousseau, to Saussure, speech is closer to psychic interiority, as it is a more direct, natural, sincere form of articulation, and thus a transparent expression of inner truth (Sarup, 1993). Phonocentrism is a foundation of modern notions of the fully centered, authorial human subject, for it reaffirms the ‘metaphysics of presence’ (Derrida, 1976), which asserts that individual consciousness is immediately and faithfully present in speech:

The perfection of such a language would be marked by its utter transparency. It would in no way obscure or distort the world which it represented. The dream, then, is one of language and one world perfectly attuned. The world represented by the language, unobscured by the language, would be perfectly present to the observing subject, who could then speak of what was seen. (Boyne, 1990: 91)

Phonocentrism is thus an ally of Western philosophy’s logocentrism, for it is through speech that the ‘self-presence of full self-consciousness’ (Sarup, 1993: 36) articulates the logos of universal and foundational knowledge.

Derrida undermined the phonocentric privileging of speech, by highlighting the ‘strange economy of the supplement’ (Derrida, 1976: 154) at work within binary oppositions such as that of speech and writing. According to Derrida, the word supplement refers to acts of addition and replacement. In Rousseau’s terms, writing is a ‘dangerous supplement’ (Derrida, 1976: 144) to speech, because it is both an addition to, and replacement for, the originary consciousness expressed within speech. Hence, the speech/writing binary is hierarchically ordered between the natural presence of the phoneme, and the artificial presence of the grapheme. Confounding Rousseau, Derrida argues that ‘the infinite process of supplementarity has always already infiltrated presence, always already inscribed there the space of repetition and the splitting of the self’ (Derrida, 1976: 163). Far from speech being originary, and writing derivative, both are supplements: traces of each inhabit the other, which is ‘ultimately dependent on the absent other for its own presence and meaning’ (Storey, 1993: 87).

As with the speech/writing binary, the other oppositions which structure Western thought (such as reality/myth, presence/absence, nature/culture, good/evil, sacred/profane, masculine/feminine) are based on a ‘violent hierarchy’ (Derrida, 1981: 41) in which the first term is privileged, and the second term is subordinate and therefore inferior to it. Derrida demonstrates how binary structures rely on supplementarity for their very existence, thus forbidding the possibility that any element is a unitary presence which refers to itself alone (Derrida, 1981). No element of a binary opposition is ever fully present or absent, they are both present and absent at one and the same time. This point prompted Derrida’s commentary on Rousseau, ‘who declares what he wishes to say’ while he simultaneously ‘describes that which he does not wish to say’ (Derrida, 1976: 229, emphasis in original). Rather than exhibiting the universal truth of foundational knowledge, the hierarchically ordered binary oppositions, underpinning Western thought, science and culture, strategically naturalize modern power relations, by including, valuing and avowing certain terms and positions, while simultaneously excluding, devaluing and disavowing others (Best and Kellner, 1991; Docker, 1994). As Hollinger concluded, ‘what is privileged, what is present, depends on the absent other that it seeks to dominate and erase’ (1994: 110).

Turning to Derrida’s negligible presence within the sociology of sport. Although a self-confessed ‘card carrying Foucauldian’ (Cole, 1997), within her recent work Cheryl Cole has engaged Derrida’s oeuvre in a uniquely informed and informative manner. While Cole’s (1998) broad-ranging discussion of deviance and the (re)territorialization of exercising/sporting bodies, incorporates an invigorating theoretical synthesis of Derrida, Michel Foucault and Eve Sedgwick, her appropriation of Derridean deconstruction proves to be of most relevance to this discussion. Rigorously contextualizing the discussion within contemporary American popular cultural politics, Cole unearthed the ‘naturalistic metaphysics’ (p. 272) present within the discursive logics of exercise and sport. In true deconstructionist fashion and ‘in order to unravel it or to show how it unravels itself from within,’ Cole inhabited, resisted and disorganized, the new deviant subject position of the exercise addict (p. 266). On a superficial level, the ‘discourse of addiction is one that continually reasserts and reinvents the natural,’ by policing the boundary between the natural and the un-natural, between the pure and the corrupt, and most crucially, between free will and compulsion (p. 268). However, Cole identified the impossibility of the exercise addict being an originary or essential entity, by indicating how this subject position inhabits, and is constituted by, both poles of the aforementioned binaries, the insides of which are always already ‘contaminated by their outside’ (p. 272). Moreover, the subject addicted to exercise displays a complex and seemingly contradictory relation to the free will/compulsion binary. For, the exercise addict ‘is addicted to the idea of free subjectivity, addicted to the repeated act of freely choosing health—that act which is supposed to be anti-addiction’ (p. 271). Cole’s deconstruction of the exercise addict thus pointed to the supplementary, unstable and contradictory disposition—in other words the failure—of modern rational subjectivities and thought.

Cole also pointed to sport’s status as a context for amplifying ‘the crisis of the natural,’ particularly as it equates to ‘the presumed naturalness of the body (the persistent elision of the technological condition)’ (1998: 271). Derrida confounded the opposition between natural and un-natural bodily states, engaged within debates surrounding the artificial enhancement of bodies through prosthetic devices. According to Derrida (1993: 17), these challenges to common understandings of the body emerge in ‘discourses on the subject of, for instance, artificial insemination, sperm banks, the market for surrogate mothers, organ transplants, euthanasia, sex changes, the use of drugs in sport, and especially, especially on the subject of AIDS’ (quoted in Cole, 1998: 265). Derrida indicates how the rhetorical strategy involved within these emotive discourses presumes the existence of a natural, originary, organic body, which is somehow corrupted by prosthetic engineering. Using Derrida’s insights as a starting point, Cole questions the taken-for-granted assumption of sport’s status as a natural ‘zone of authentic work,’ and an appropriate vehicle for the organic and pure body (p. 271). By being articulated as ‘the antidrug,’ pure sport is positioned in opposition to sporting practices and bodies artificially enhanced by ‘chemical prosthetics’ (pp. 271, 270). The use of drugs in sport is criminalized, because it threatens the assumed ‘“natural” normality of the body, of the body politic and the body of the individual member’ (Derrida, 1993: 14, quoted in Cole, 1998: 269). However, in seeking to ‘discern, render visible, and measure the natural and the foreign, the pure and the impure,’ drug-testing regimes that classify what is—and what is not—a drug, continually destabilize and reinvent understandings of nature and the natural (Cole, 1998: 272). Consequently, as Cole indicates, any conceptualizing of the natural body is hopelessly outmoded, for, as well as notions of the natural always being contaminated by those of the unnatural, the natural/un-natural binary is in a perpetual state of flux. Instead of pointing toward the corruption of the natural sporting body, the ‘scopic regime of drug-testing’ which ‘attempts to discern, render visible, and measure the natural and the foreign, the pure and the impure’ is founded on, and advances, a ‘politics of and nostalgia for an organic corporeality and the moral valuations inscribed through its diagnostics’ (pp. 272, 273).

Within her intriguingly titled chapter ‘Viktor Petrenko’s mother-in-law,’ and framed by Derrida’s reflection on ‘What is a pair?’ (1987: 259), Marjorie Garber offered an interesting stratagem for deconstructing the sexual and gender politics at play within ice skating. Whilst Derrida’s question was prompted by a pair of shoes represented in a series of Van Gogh paintings, Garber’s (1995) focus is answering the question ‘What is a pair?’ in relation to the highly mediated world of figure skating. Different-sex ice skating couples advance an assumed complementarity between, and correspondence of, the oppositional elements (male/female) which comprise the pairing. They are ‘pairs’ which ‘[complete] the set’ and reassuringly, if presumptuously, leave ‘no excess, no supplement, no fetish’ with regard to the sexual orientation of the respective elements of the pairing (1995: 100). Predictably, therefore, the narration of conventional pairs figure skating has become ‘the cultural story of the heterosexual romance’ (Garber, 1995: 98). Conversely, same-sex ice skating couples represent a ‘double which does not make a pair’ (Garber, 1995: 100). The perceived similarity, and lack of symbolic correspondence, between their two parts (male/male, or female/female), precludes such couples from acting ‘as one’ (Garber, 1995: 101). Same-sex couples are thus unable to provide the ‘reassurance’ of a privileged heterosexuality, and seemingly point to the ‘“problem” of homosexuality’ (Garber, 1995: 100, 98). In inventive fashion, Garber identifies ‘Nancy and Tonya’ as a same-sex skating dyad, thrown together by the crass machinations of the popular press. In contrast with other examples, however, this same-sex couplet was based upon regressive intra-gender differences, as opposed to threatening sexual similarities. Hence, the Nancy and Tonya pairings were differentiated by oppositions (nasty/nice, sweetheart/bitch, virgin/whore, daughter/loner, butch/femme) which graphically dichotomized women, with the intent of keeping them ‘in their place.’ In this respect, they ‘were a pair, after all, to everyone but each other’ (Garber, 1995: 102).

Lastly, and albeit to a lesser extent, Derrida has also informed research related to the dynamic representation of race and racial difference within popular sport culture. Cheryl Cole and David Andrews (1996) invoked Derrida when illustrating how the boundaries between binary terms are constantly transgressed, and thus require constant policing if they are to be maintained:

Because deconstructionists emphasize the transgression always taking place at the border, deconstruction examines the force relations between the terms: the constant exertion of pressures at their boundaries, the policing required to maintain those boundaries, the incompleteness of the category of the will and the violence that it does. (Cole and Andrews, 1996: 152)

Focusing on two prominent African American NBA basketball players, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan, Cole and Andrews indicated how their mediated identities became sites for the reinvention of the ‘what and who categories which organize the racial imagination’ (Cole and Andrews, 1996: 154). As carefully constructed African American superstars, Johnson and Jordan occupied discursive spaces which distanced themselves from—and in doing so reinforced—the stereotypical images and embodiments of a threatening black masculinity which inhabit the American imaginary. Evidencing the Derridean notion of supplementarity, their (Johnson and Jordan) identities were ‘never simply self-identical or self-contained’ but were dependent upon the absent other that they sought to dominate and erase (Cole and Andrews, 1996: 152). Cole and Andrews explicated how both Johnson and Jordan subsequently transgressed the racial boundaries which their previously virtuous images had helped to maintain. The disclosure of Johnson’s HIV-positive status made acutely evident his sexuality, whilst coverage of Jordan’s gambling exploits revealed an apparently compulsive persona, both of which rendered visible that from which they were previously distanced—the pathologized and demonized bodies of African American racial others. Furthering one aspect of this analysis, Andrews (1996) flirted with Derridean theorizing whilst problematizing the very notion of Michael Jordan’s blackness. Andrews identified Jordan as a floating and unstable racial signifier that, within its various manifestions, seductively reproduced the violent racial hierarchy of the evolving American cultural formation.

Michel Foucault: The Disciplinary Formation of Modern Sport

Michel Foucault was once described as ‘the single most famous intellectual in the world’ (Miller, 1993: 13). Certainly, of all French post-structuralists, Foucault’s is the theorizing most evident within sociology of sport research. Indeed, at the time of writing, the post-structuralist presence within the sociology of sport could be described as being primarily Foucauldian. In contrast to the apparent disregard for things Derridean, and the widespread disdain for things Baudrillardian, the work of Foucault has been widely and enthusiastically embraced by numerous researchers interested in examining varied aspects of the modern sport problematic. While Derrida’s discomforting absence is somewhat perplexing, Foucault’s healthy presence is more easily attributable. Since the body constitutes the material core and most redolent expression of sporting activity (Hargreaves, 1987), and since much of Foucault’s research keyed on explicating how the growth of systematic modern knowledges coincided with the expansion of power relations into the realm of controlling bodily practices and existence (Turner, 1982), it is clear to see how Foucault’s understanding of ‘the discourses of discipline and pleasure that surround the body in modern societies has much to offer students of sport’ (Whitson, 1989: 62). Indeed, the noted French Marxist Jean-Marie Brohm, even designated sport as ‘perhaps the social practice which best exemplifies the “disciplinary society”, analysed by M. Foucault’ (1978: 18). Rather than addressing Foucault’s scholarly output in its expansive entirety, and following Whitson and Brohm’s implied directives, this discussion is limited to the aspects most germane to the study of modern sport culture: namely, Foucault’s later genealogical approach to modern disciplinary knowledge, subjectivity and society developed within his ‘masterpiece’ (Sarup, 1993: 67) Discipline and Punish: the Birth of the Prison (1977a) and furthered within the History of Sexuality trilogy (1988a, 1988b, 1988c).

Paul-Michel Foucault (he dropped the Paul in later years) was born in Poitiers in 1926. His father and both his grandfathers had been surgeons in the French provincial city. Although disappointing his father by not following in the family’s professional footsteps, and while enduring periods of academic failure, the young Paul-Michel ultimately excelled at school by coming fourth in the nationwide university entrance exam for the prestigious École Normale Supérieure in Paris. Once at university Foucault suffered bouts of severe depression, allegedly linked to his homosexuality, which prompted his father to arrange for him to visit a psychiatrist. As a result of these visits, Foucault became highly skeptical of the role and influence of psychiatrists, and equally motivated to study psychology himself. To this end, he received his Licence de Philosophie and Licence de Psychologie from the Sorbonne in 1948 and 1950 respectively. In 1952 he was awarded his Diplôme de Psycho-Pathologie from the Université de Paris. Between 1951 and 1955 Foucault lectured at the École Normale Supérieure, until taking up a brief appointment lecturing French at the University of Uppsala in Sweden. While at Uppsala, Foucault took advantage of the university’s extensive medical history library, where he carried out much of the research for his first two major works, an examination of madness (Foucault, 1973a) and an examination of the clinic (Foucault, 1975).

After a five-year stint living and teaching in Sweden, Poland, and Germany, in 1960 Foucault returned to France to take up the position of director of the Institut de Philosophie at the Faculté des Lettres in Clermont Ferrand. In this position, Foucault finalized his archaeological approach (Foucault, 1973b, 1974) to the history of ideas which ‘attempts to identify the conditions of possibility of knowledge, the determining rules of formation of discursive rationality that operate beneath the level of intention or thematic content’ (Best and Kellner, 1991: 40). From this juncture, Foucault embarked on an inexorable rise to academic superstardom, which was confirmed by his election to the chair of ‘History of Systems of Thought’ at the Collège de France in 1970. The original publication of Discipline and Punish in 1975 marked Foucault’s shift from an archaeological to a more conjuncturally based genealogical approach focused on ‘the mutual relations between systems of truth and modalities of power, the way in which there is a “political regime” of the production of truth’ (Davidson, 1986: 224). The final phase of Foucault’s intellectual project was envisioned as a six-volume genealogy of modern sexuality, focusing on the politics of pleasure and the self. This grand design was brought to a halt by Foucault’s untimely death from AIDS in 1984, by which time only the first of the volumes had been published (Foucault, 1988a) leaving two others to be posthumously released (Foucault, 1988b, 1988c).

Despite sharing Derrida’s neo-Nietzschean interest in the relationship between language, knowledge and truth, Foucault offers a markedly different approach toward deciphering this fundamental post-structuralist problematic. Derrida even took Foucault to task for the way in which the rhetorical structure of his Madness and Civilization (Foucault, 1973a) reinforced the violence of the reason/madness binary: ‘How could Foucault capture the spirit of madness when he was so obviously writing from the viewpoint of reason’ (Derrida, 1978: 34). Although failing to openly acknowledge this critique, following it, there was a noticeable shift in Foucault’s work to ‘an engagement with the thickness and duplicity of this world, an engagement which is less obviously tainted by the search for an origin’ (Boyne, 1990: 108). Foucault subsequently became a ‘“specific intellectual” as opposed to the “universal” intellectual’ (Foucault, 1977b: 12), evermore motivated by a desire ‘not to formulate the global systematic theory which holds everything in place, but to analyse the specificity of mechanisms of power, to locate the connections and extensions, to build little by little a strategic knowledge’ (Foucault, 1980c: 83).

For his own part, Foucault criticized Derrida’s abstracted philosophical reflections in favour of an approach that ‘reasserts the primacy of the social real’ (Boyne, 1990: 108). As ‘first and foremost, an analyst of modernity, indeed early modernity’ (Calhoun, 1995: 107), Foucault’s critical historical analyses concretized, or empirically substantiated, the ways in which modern discursive formations act to both enable and constrain the everyday lives of human subjects. Not that Foucault furthered the teleological and rationalist idealism of Enlightenment history, rather his approach was focused on identifying historical ruptures and discontinuities (Young, 1990). Perhaps the most significant historical fissure identified by Foucault was that between the highly visible externalized practice of pre-modern power, and the anonymous internalized practice of modern power which ultimately replaced it. Foucault (1977a) famously expressed this discontinuity as a contrast between the public displays of authority embroiled within the practice of pre-modern ritualized execution, and the discrete individualizing mechanisms of control associated with modern disciplinary institutions. As Boyne succinctly noted, ‘discipline is the precise reverse of the spectacle’ (1990: 114).

Although focused on the ‘birth of the prison,’ Discipline and Punish (Foucault, 1977a) represents an important Foucauldian introduction to the ‘political anatomy’ (Smart, 1985: 90) of modern society. Concretizing his earlier archaeological design (Foucault, 1973b, 1974), Discipline and Punish demonstrated that the historical analysis of modern existence should not revolve around an understanding of the knowing subject, but should rather center on an historically grounded theory of discursive practice. Foucault’s aim was to thematize the operations of the bio-power which, in discursively dissecting the body, rendered the modern individual both the object and subject of disciplinary knowledge. In broad terms, this genealogical approach illustrated how scientific, rational and implicitly modern discourses of the human body (for example, criminology, penology, psychology, psychiatry, economics and demography) emerged from within, and provided the philosophical and organizational bases for the carceral network of modern disciplinary institutions (for example, prisons, factories, schools and hospitals) which expedited the rise of industrial capitalism. Foucault’s concern with the repressive character of modernity involved disentangling the ‘arbitrary construction of the subject as a disciplinary ploy, and the inescapable mutual imbrication of power and knowledge’ (Calhoun, 1995: 107).

In order to explicate how individual subjects became constituted as correlative elements of bio-power and knowledge, Foucault famously turned his attention to Jeremy Bentham’s 1791 design for the modern prison, known as the Panopticon. Indeed, for Foucault, such was the exemplary nature of the Panopticon that he characterized modern society as ‘an indefinitely generalizable mechanism of “panopticism”’ (Foucault, 1977a: 216). Derived from the Greek pan (all) and optos (visible), the word Panopticon ably described the form and function of a structure designed for the normalization, through surveillance, of its incarcerated populace. Disciplinary institutions, such as the Panopticon, were centered around regimes of measured, corrective and continuous corporal training, designed to facilitate the controlled manufacturing of suitably docile bodies. Less a mechanism of overt repression, modern disciplinary power was primarily a force of normalization (McNay, 1994). More than merely training the human body, modern biopower was prefigured on ‘a design of subtle coercion’ over the human soul (Foucault, 1977a: 209). The medical-scientific technologies of the body, formulated, circulated and instantiated through the corrective regimes of disciplinary institutions, generated normative models of human behaviour and identity. With the spread of these discursive fields of comparison (Foucault, 1977a), individuals were objectified in such a way that they became conscious of themselves, and were thus in a position to constitute themselves as social subjects, only in relation to this ‘new and mythical presence of the norm’ (Boyne, 1990: 113; emphasis in original).

While its discursively based disciplinary regimen sought to compare, differentiate and hierarchically order penal subjects, the effective operation of the Panopticon’s normalizing technology depended upon its revolutionary structural design. Bentham’s model consisted of a central observation tower, replete with Venetian blinds on the windows, and surrounded by a circle of inward facing and perpetually observable cells. The architecture of the Panopticon ensured that power and authority were visible (prisoners could not avoid the imposing presence of the observation tower) yet unverifiable (prisoners could never be sure that they were not being observed). The omnipresent, yet anonymous, gaze of the Panopticon’s hierarchical observer manufactured a state of constant anxiety amongst prisoners, who were psychologically coerced by the ever-present threat of normalizing judgement, assessment and/or examination. Since it demanded an unquestioned obedience to the corporal norms of the prison’s meticulously rehearsed daily regimen, the experience of constant surveillance proved an effective ‘guarantee of order’ (Foucault, 1977a: 200):

He who is subjected to a field of visibility, and who knows it, assumes responsibility for the constraints of power; he makes them play spontaneously upon himself; he inscribes in himself the power relation in which he simultaneously plays both roles: he becomes the principle of his own subjection. (Foucault, 1977a: 202-3)

Illustrating the internalized ‘penality of the norm’ (Foucault, 1977a: 183), the incarcerated subjects of surveillance were the principal regulators of their own existence, and prompted Foucault’s famous aphorism that ‘discipline “makes” individuals; it is the specific technique of power that regards individuals as objects and instruments of its exercise’ (1977a: 170).

Foucault’s dissection of the Panopticon is important since it illustrated the apparatus and arrangements of disciplinary power at work within various modern institutional spaces, ‘penitentiaries, certainly, but also schools, hospitals, military centres, psychiatric institutions, administrative apparatuses, bureaucratic agencies, police forces, and so on’ (McHoul and Grace, 1995: 66). However, Foucault’s critique of modern power relations was considerably more broad-ranging, since the practice of normalizing corporal existence through the Panoptic gaze soon spread into ‘non-institutional spaces and populations’ (Smart, 1985: 89). The spread of bio-scientific discourses within the wider society has contributed to a situation wherein the human subject has become constituted, and controlled, by a normalizing ‘conscience of self-knowledge’ relating to every facet of individual existence (Foucault, 1982: 212). Illustrating this discursive understanding of the process of subjectifi-cation, Foucault’s extended genealogy of sexuality (Foucault, 1988a, 1988b, 1988c) demonstrated how the spread of bio-power in the modern era was responsible for creating, and policing the boundaries between, what became considered as normal and abnormal sexual identities, practices and desires. As Foucault concluded, the swarming of modern disciplinary mechanisms and practices of surveillance ‘from the closed fortresses in which they once functioned,’ to their circulation ‘in a “free” state,’ has led to the emergence of ‘panopticisms of every day’ (Foucault, 1977a: 211, 223).

Despite at one time being castigated for its relative absence within the field (Andrews, 1993), in recent times Foucauldian-influenced sport research has become somewhat of a growth area. There have been two overviews of Foucault’s oeuvre and its applicability for researchers within the sociology of sport (Andrews, 1993; Rail and Harvey, 1995), both of which provide more detailed explications of Foucault’s theorizing than is possible within the constraints of the present project. Rail and Harvey’s (1995) article is additionally important in two ways. First, it brings to the fore numerous Foucauldian studies of sport by Francophone scholars, many of which have been virtually disregarded due to the Anglocentric nature of the wider sociology of sport community. Secondly, it represents the most comprehensive presentation of works that have applied Foucault’s theoretical framework to the analysis of either sport or physical education. Rail and Harvey’s discussion is also useful since it grouped sociology of sport research directly influenced by Foucauldian theory into four substantive clusters: studies that made appeals to the sociology of sport community to engage Foucault’s work (for example, Cole, 1993; Theberge, 1991; Whitson, 1989); studies that engaged Foucault’s early archaeological approach to epistemic understanding (for example, Clément, 1993; Defrance, 1987; Loudcher, 1994); studies that embraced aspects of Foucault’s Panoptic model of modern disciplinary society (for example, Cole and Denny, 1995; King, 1993; Vigarello, 1978); and, studies more directly influenced by Foucault’s later work on the technologies of the self (for example, Boudreau et al., 1992; Heikkala, 1993).

Rather than merely summarizing their findings, this discussion concentrates on reviewing a selection of the most significant Foucauldian studies published since—or in one case (Duncan, 1994) not included within—Rail and Harvey’s informative piece. Cole and Orlie (1995) provide a brief, yet illuminating, Foucauldian epistemic diagnosis of sport as a prominent modern technology. According to their analysis, sport is imagined as a site at which particular modern bio-knowledges and practices

converge in, produce, and regulate so-called athletic bodies. The athletic body is a body through which particular claims are made: it is a body whose symbolic purchase accrues most obviously around the categories health, discipline, and productivity. Sport, then, can be more usefully understood as the site where apparatuses produce, control, and regulate bodies under the guise of protecting a space that displays the pure body and the proficiencies of its will. (Cole and Orlie, 1995: 229)

Sport is thus implicated as an optic of modern disciplinary power: a mechanism of surveillance which renders visible and intelligible the normal body, and the abnormal body against which the norm is constituted. Influenced by Foucault’s notion of ‘substantive geographies’ (Philo, 1992), John Bale’s (1992, 1993, 1994) ground-breaking work in the area of sports geography examined the relationship between sport, space and power. Bale (1994) drew attention to the similarity between the modern evolution of sport and punishment, both of which were relocated from corporal/public to carceral/private spaces. As Bale noted, ‘The sports place, therefore, has changed from being one of open, public space to one of segmented and panopticised confinement’ (1994: 84). The panopticism of the modern sport space is succinctly captured within Robert Rinehart’s (1998) engaging description of the swimming pool as a mechanism of surveillance, focused on the bodies of the swimmers who execute their repetitious training regimen within it. As Rinehart noted, the individuating and normalizing horizontal panopticism of the swimming pool turned it into a site of ‘hundreds of tiny theatres of punishment’ (Foucault, 1977a: 113, quoted in Rinehart, 1998: 42).

The opening section of Toby Miller’s intriguingly titled article ‘A short history of the penis’ (1995: 2-8) also represents a useful Foucauldian precis of modern sport as a derivative of institutional and discursive power, particularly as it relates to the formulation and circulation of gendered public knowledges and truths. Miller broadly anchors the institutionalization of physical education, exercise, health and contemporary sport forms within the context of industrial and social modernity. According to Miller, these varied manifestations of modern physical culture were linked by a common political objective regarding the governance of the male sporting body, ‘rendering it efficient, aesthetic, and self-monitoring’ and the ‘standard currency of sporting discourse’ (Miller, 1995: 3, 2). Ably complementing Miller’s article, Brian Pronger (1995) draws heavily from Foucault’s work in his explication of the way ‘gross anatomy’ courses contribute to the discursive and politically charged tech-nologization of the human body as a productive machine of late modern consumer capitalism. Pronger graphically demonstrates how scientific-medical knowledges of the body informed the production, and ultimately the practice, of physical education, sport, exercise and health professionals. The bio-discursive objectification of the human form rendered the normal (that is, productive) sporting, exercising, or healthy body an oppressive yet seductive ‘instrument in the project of technological modernity’ (Pronger, 1995: 435). Shifting to a more culturally grounded focus, Susan Brownell (1995) fashioned an imaginative synthesis of Foucauldian and Eliasian theorizing, during the course of her analysis of the power relations linking sport to national, class and gender formations within modernizing China. Within the popular discourses of the body promulgated by the state institutions of the People’s Republic—of which sport was perhaps the most redolent expression—Brownell discerned a complex and dynamic fusion of the Chinese versions of discipline (jilü) and civilization (wenming). As a consequence, Brownell argued that Foucault’s understanding of discipline and Elias’s concept of the civilizing process ‘complement each other and offer comparative insights into the nature of Chinese state power’ (Brownell, 1995: 26), and its influence upon shaping popular discourse through sport.

Although Foucault has been roundly criticized for disregarding the oppressed and subordinated experiences and conditions of women (cf. Hartsock, 1993; Ramazanoglu, 1993; Sawicki, 1991), his critical appropriation by post-structuralist feminists has generated some of the most vibrant and incisive work related to the cultural politics of gender and sex (cf. Bordo, 1989, 1993a, 1993b; Butler, 1989, 1990, 1993a). This trend is equally evident within the sociology of sport, where Foucauldian theoretical imperatives have been extensively appropriated as a means of critically dissecting the sporting body as an important locus of control in the discursive constitution of gendered and sexed norms, practices and identities (Theberge, 1991). Margaret Duncan (1994) analysed the politics of women’s body images within two issues of Shape magazine (a fitness-oriented magazine targeted at the female market). In pinpointing explicitly gendered bio-discourses that unproblematically reified individual will and responsibility, and implicitly valorized the aesthetic—as opposed to health-deriving—benefits of exercise, Duncan graphically portrayed how Shape acted as a panoptic mechanism in the true Foucauldian meaning of the concept. Duncan demonstrated how the circulation of public discourses pertaining to the preferred shape of the female body, became complicit in shaping private experiences of female subordination. In a comparable panoptic vein, MacNeill (1998: 170) cast the iconic celebrity bodies, which front celebrity fitness videos, as ‘an economically and politically useful site for exerting power and for the embodiment of the “scientific” knowledges s/he espouses.’ Similarly, Cole and Hribar’s (1995) broad-ranging disassemblage of Nike’s calculated mobilization of the postfeminist body within the promotional culture of late modern America, faithfully invoked Foucault’s understanding of the normalizing epistemic regimes that pervade modern society.

Moving from the media spectacles to the material experience of female sport culture, Markula’s (1995) engaging ethnography grounded Foucauldian theorizing within the experiences of female aerobicizers. Acknowledging the panoptic power arrangements at work within the cultural space of aerobics, Markula asserted the ambivalence of women who, while wishing to conform to the idealized female body shape, perceived its actualization to be a wholly ‘ridiculous’ proposition (1995: 450). In this way, Markula asserted that the pervasiveness of power within disciplinary society does ‘not mean one is trapped and condemned to defeat no matter what’ (Foucault, 1980b: 141-2). Instead, Markula’s skeptical aerobicizers vindicated Foucault’s notion of discursive power as an inalienable producer of resistance, since the very constitution of normalizing bio-power provides the means whereby it may be resisted (Dumm, 1996). Synthesizing Foucauldian theorizing and feminist cultural studies, Gwen E. Chapman (1997) studied the practice of ‘making weight’ amongst a women’s lightweight rowing team. Her analysis illustrated how extreme regimes of physical activity, coupled with stringent controls of food intake, acted as a disciplinary mechanism for mobilizing broader technologies of femininity within the context of women’s rowing. Chapman also used the experience of female rowers to invoke the later Foucault’s (1988d, 1996) understanding of the contradictory relations between freedom and constraint, involved in the active experience of constituting the self. For, as Chapman concluded, ‘At the same time that sport offers women discursive tools to oppose oppressive power relations, it also further enmeshes them in normalizing discourses that limit their vision of who and what they can be’ (1997: 221). Through reference to Foucault’s (1980a) narration of the tragic experience of Herculine Barbin, a mid-nineteenth-century hermaphrodite, Hood-Williams vilified the sex testing procedures of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for habitually trying ‘to distinguish, to differentiate, to discover the true sex’ (1995: 297). According to Hood-Williams, the IOC’s dogmatic adherence to a dimorphic model of sex-typing is founded in the populist desire to corroborate traditional and natural gender divisions and identities, and obscures the fact that far from being fixed, natural and biologically based, ‘sex is no less a discursive construct than gender’ (1995: 291).

Strangely, in recent times Foucault has been largely neglected by the growing band of productive scholars interested in examining the relationship between sport and the male/masculine form. This oversight would appear destined to be rectified, as Foucauldian theorizing offers blatantly fruitful strategies for challenging the blithe, uncritical celebration of sport’s status as a natural male domain, by problematizing the mutually constitutive discursive linkage between sport and masculinity. Foucault has influenced research focused on the intersections between race and masculinity within contemporary sport culture. John M. Sloop’s dissection of the dominant cultural discourses which enveloped Mike Tyson’s trial for the rape of Desiree Washington, brazenly emerged ‘in the interstices of Foucault’s archaeological and genealogical methods’ (Sloop, 1997: 105). Following Foucault, Sloop sought to decipher the discursive rules, regimes of truth and social conventions through which Tyson was ‘positioned rhetorically’ in relation to the customarily pejorative signifiers ‘boxer’ and ‘African American’ (Sloop, 1997: 107). Regardless of his innocence or guilt (which obviously had not been ascertained during the build-up to, or the unfolding of, the trial), Tyson’s discursively demonized subject position cast him as representing the type of person whose guilt would be viewed as being ‘highly feasible, indeed probable’ by the majority of the American viewing public. As well as being influenced by the sedimented manifestations of cultural meaning, the mediated dialogue surrounding the Tyson trial has clearly come to influence the way we ‘frame our cultural understanding of future actors walking onto the stage’ (Sloop, 1997: 119). Lastly, within her cogent interrogation of Michael Jordan’s position within the contemporary American imaginary, Cheryl Cole (1996) blended a Foucauldian approach to modern disciplinary power, identity and the body with a Derridean comprehension of sovereignty and presence. Cole (1996) demonstrated how the commercially crafted ‘American Jordan’ was both a product, and producer, of the discursive knowledges that governed the popular American imagination. Jordan’s iconic status as part of the American national fantasy (Berlant, 1991) was produced and stabilized in opposition to the ‘location, containment and visualization of the deviant’ (Cole, 1996: 373) urban African American youth. Jordan’s venerated mediated identity was thus complicit in criminalizing the African American youth populace, in a manner that conveniently diverted popular attention—and thereby party political obligation—away from addressing the profound socially deleterious effects of anti-welfarist politics and transnational economics (Cole, 1996).

Jean Baudrillard: The Hyperreality of Postmodern Sport

Jean Baudrillard has been described as the ‘high priest’ (Willis, 1990: 152), ‘guru’ (Best and Kellner, 1991: 111), ‘Jimi Hendrix’ (Levin, 1996) and even the ‘drag queen’ (Ashley, 1997: 49) of the postmodern Left. The elevation of Baudrillard to the status of a postmodern intellectual icon has been attributed to the hasty conclusions circulated by the first generation of North American readers of his work (Genesko, 1994). While it is true Baudrillard’s idiosyncratic attention has long been drawn to the much-vaunted postmodern ‘civilization of the image’ (Kearney, 1989: 1), it is important not to overlook his post-structuralist lineage. According to Christopher Norris, ‘Baudrillard was waiting at the end of the road that structuralism and post-structuralism had been travelling for the past three decades and more’ (Norris, 1992: 25). Not that Baudrillard has been an apologist for post-structuralism. As indicated by his pointedly titled manuscript Forget Foucault (1987), Baudrillard has been highly critical of his post-structuralist contemporaries. Nevertheless, in terms of his critical engagement with the work of Ferdinand de Saussure, Georges Bataille, Henri Lefebvre, Roland Barthes and Guy Debord (cf. Genesko, 1994; Gottdiener, 1995; Kellner, 1989), and in radically problematizing the very nature of modernity and modern subjectivity, Baudrillard is every bit as much a representative of French post-structuralist thought as Derrida and Foucault. Albeit taking it in an ever-more radical direction, Baudrillard has certainly made an important contribution to the post-structuralist debate. For, while Derrida deconstructed the epistemological and ontological foundations of modernity, and Foucault excavated modern disciplinary knowledges and institutions, Baudrillard heralded the ‘end of modernity and the transition to a new stage of society and history beyond modernity’ (Kellner, 1989: 94).

Like that of Derrida and Foucault, Baudrillard’s work has produced extreme reactions amongst the global academic community, as evidenced by both the enthusiasm of his numerous advocates, and the vociferousness of his many detractors. During the course of his intellectual development, Baudrillard’s writing has evolved from relatively conventional academic discussions of his innovative synthesis of Marxist political economy and semiology, to a kind of science-fiction-like cosmology, projecting visions of futuristic worlds which expose, through ironic exaggeration, the technologically driven nature of everyday culture (Hebdige, 1988). In a 1983 interview, Baudrillard forthrightly admitted ‘My work has never been academic, nor is it getting more literary. It’s evolving, it’s getting less theoretical, without feeling the need to furnish proof or rely on references’ (Baudrillard, 1993a: 43). In adopting this radical approach, Baudrillard’s work has veered toward an undertheorized abstraction, shallow provocation and apolitical nihilism, which has exasperated and infuriated his many critics (cf. Callinicos, 1990; Kellner, 1989; Norris, 1992; Rojek and Turner, 1993). Nevertheless, while Baudrillard’s later work continues to be critiqued, often to the point of ridicule (cf. Sturrock, 1990; Woods, 1992), there remains a sentiment amongst some cultural commentators that it would be disadvantageous to categorically abandon it. Certainly, Baudrillard’s relevance to the analysis of contemporary sport culture should not be underestimated. As Charles P. Pierce commented, the American—and increasingly the global—sports industry is dominated by ‘media-driven celebrity entertainment’ which means in the future ‘for most people, sports will be even more exclusively a television phenomenon than it is today’ (1995: 185, 187). This rapid and global growth of postmodern sport culture represents a particularly important point of engagement for Baudrillard’s ontological, epistemological and political provocations.

Jean Baudrillard was born in the French cathedral town of Reims in 1929. Although his grandparents were peasants, his immediate family experienced a significant measure of upward social mobility resulting from his parents’ forging careers in the French civil service (Levin, 1996). After a period of teaching in secondary schools, it was following his move to Paris in 1966 that Baudrillard’s intellectual career took off. Having defended his thesis in sociology, entitled Le système des objets, at the Université de Nanterre (Paris X) in March 1966, he accepted a position as an assistant lecturer in sociology at Nanterre beginning in October of the same year. Apart from a number of periods of visiting lectureships—most notably perhaps, his sojourns to the United States—Baudrillard spent the entirety of his formal academic career at the Université de Nanterre. Indeed, he remained on the faculty there until his retirement from the position of junior lecturer in the Faculté des Lettres et Sciences Humaines in 1987. As Baudrillard noted in a 1991 interview, as far ‘as the normal stages of a career are concerned, I’ve always missed them, including the fact that I was never a professor’ (Baudrillard, 1993a: 19). In following a more circuitous route to intellectual notoriety, and while never attaining the same degree of formal academic recognition or status as Foucault or Derrida, Baudrillard still became an influential and well-connected figure within Parisian intellectual circles. Between 1967 and 1970 he was closely involved in the sociology of urbanism group, and their journal Utopie. In 1975, and along with such other intellectual luminaries as Michel de Certeau and Paul Virilio, he became a member of the founding editorial board of the Centre Georges Pompidou’s cultural theory journal, Traverses. From 1969 to 1973 Baudrillard was also affiliated with the Centre d’Études des Communications de Mass at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Études (Genesko, 1994). Following his retirement in 1987, Baudrillard embraced a new intellectual mode, for which he had seemingly been preparing himself since the mid-1970s. Now liberated from the responsibilities of a formal academic post, Baudrillard assumed the mantle of a full-time roving intellectual, prodigiously documenting his global observations and experiences in a series of fragmented postmodern travelogues.

While Baudrillard’s primary institutional affiliation remained unusually constant during his academic career, the evolution of his intellectual work has been marked by a series of significant transformations. As with any attempt to periodize a shifting intellectual project, there is a tendency to create artificial boundaries between works that often correspond considerably more than they differ. This is perhaps expressly true of Baudrillard, whose often impressionistic, idealized and ungrounded later narratives continue to incorporate important aspects of the more concretized theorizing which characterized many of his earlier exertions (Gottdiener, 1995). With this proviso in mind, it is nevertheless possible to dissect Baudrillard’s project into at least five necessarily related phases. In examining the nature of modern consumer society, and specifically the regulating commodification of everyday life (1968, 1970), Baudrillard’s earliest studies supplemented the classical Marxist critique of political economy with a semiological theorizing of the sign (Kellner, 1994). Baudrillard’s innovative conflation of materiality and ideology within The System of Objects (1996c) (original 1968) even prompted Gottdiener to cite it as ‘one of the most important books of post-structuralist cultural criticism’ (1995: 35). Within his next major study, For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign (1981) (original 1972), Baudrillard first began to question the value of Marxist political economy as a tool for interpreting modern culture. In many ways, this work proved to be an intermediary point between Baudrillard’s neo-Marxist and post-Marxist incarnations. The publication of The Mirror of Production (1975) (original 1973) represented a public condemnation of Marxist political economy for being a ‘repressive simulation’ of that which it seeks to overthrow, namely capitalism (Baudrillard, 1975: 48). Within Symbolic Exchange and Death (1993b) (original 1976) Baudrillard turned to a post-Marxist and post-Saussurian radical semiurgy. This approach to understanding a society dominated by the digital and cybernetic logic of the televisual code, was elaborated within subsequent works that keyed on Baudrillard’s ‘Holy Trinity’ (Best and Kellner, 1991: 118) of simulation, implosion and hyperreality (see below for relevant works). Lastly, Fatal Strategies (1990b) (original 1983) has been cited as Baudrillard’s last piece of serious intellectual work since, over the past decade, its model of provocative and nihilist pataphysics has been almost playfully ‘replayed and recycled’ (Kellner, 1989) within Baudrillard’s numerous commentaries on the fin-de-millennium scene (cf. Baudrillard, 1988a, 1988b, 1988c, 1990a, 1990b, 1993c, 1994a, 1995, 1996a, 1996b).

Of central importance to Baudrillard’s post-Marxist, post-Saussurian, radical semiurgic approach to the complexities of contemporary culture (cf. Baudrillard, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983b, 1985, 1990c, 1993b), was his conceptualizing of the four orders of simulacra, each of which equated to the relation between appearance and representation within a given socio-historical epoch, and thus informed how reality is constituted and experienced within that context. Baudrillard identified four loosely historical orders of simulacra, based on natural, commercial, structural and fractal laws of value, which corresponded to four regimes of representation based on the processes of counterfeit, production, simulation and proliferation. This discussion focuses on Baudrillard’s understanding of the society of simulation (his third order of simulacra), which incorporated some of his most fruitful ideas and among his most promising research directives for the sociology of sport.

Baudrillard’s third order of simulacra can be characterized as one in which the simulated codes and models of media, computer and information systems have replaced material production as the organizing principle of social existence (Best, 1989; Best and Kellner, 1991; Bogard, 1996). The passage from a metallurgic to a semiurgic society (Baudrillard, 1981) has been expedited through advances made in communications and information technology, and has advanced a ‘new reality logic’ (Luke, 1991: 349) centered around mediated simulations. Since any information which ‘reflects or diffuses an event is already a degraded form of that event’ (Baudrillard, 1980: 141), information communicated by the televisual media is necessarily an imploded, reformulated and bastardized interpretation of the real. Hence, the order of appearance within this semiurgic society ‘is no longer that of a territory, a referential being or a substance. It is the generation by models of a real situation without origin or reality’ (Baudrillard, 1983b: 2). The advent of an ‘implosive socius of signs’ (Best, 1989: 33), has resulted in the obliteration of the opposition between the medium and the real. Baudrillard’s semiurgic culture is thus infused with simulated codes and models that actually produce the reality which they purport to represent (Seidman, 1994). Or, as Baudrillard famously put it, the ‘real is not only what can be reproduced, but that which is already reproduced. The hyperreal’ (Baudrillard, 1983b: 146-7).

According to Baudrillard, the ‘endless reduplication of signs, images and simulations’ (Featherstone, 1991: 15) has spawned a cybernetic culture: a closed systemic structure prompted by the reigning televisual code:

Every image, every media message and also every surrounding functional object is a test. That is to say, in all the rigour of the term, it triggers response mechanisms in accordance with stereotypes or analytical models … Both object and information already result from a selection, an edited sequence of camera angles, they have already tested ‘reality’ and have only asked questions to which it has responded … Thus tested, reality tests you in return according to the same scorecard, and you decode it following the same code, inscribed in its every message and object like a miniature genetic code. (Baudrillard, 1993b: 63)

In effect, the popular media test the mainstream cultural mores of consuming subjects: which are themselves a priori verifications of the same televisual code. It is in this sense that Baudrillard (1994b) asserted, ‘There is no longer a medium in the literal sense: it is now intangible, diffused, and diffracted in the real, and one can no longer even say that the medium is altered by it’ (Baudrillard, 1994b: 30).

Within Baudrillard’s implosive postmodern mediascape, individuals lose their ability to differentiate between the medium and the real; between their active and passive responses to mediated codes; and between themselves as subjects or objects of the mode of information (Poster, 1990). Betraying his post-structuralist affiliation, and in familiar pataphysical tone, Baudrillard thus announced the death of the modern subject, through its absorption into the black hole of the imploding hyper-media (Baudrillard, 1983a), and its subsequent metamorphosis into the masses ‘that space of ever greater density into which everything societal is imploded and ground up in an uninterrupted process of simulation’ (Baudrillard, 1982: 8-9). Hence, according to Baudrillard, the triumph of the televisual code signals that the human subject has entered into a state of absolute manipulation, and has become ‘a pure absorption and resorption of the influence networks’ (Baudrillard, 1988b: 27). Baudrillard also declared the end of modern representative power, and its replacement with circulating simulations or illusions of power: ‘“power” (under erasure) is at once everywhere, in every code and simulation, and nowhere, in no particular centralized locus’ (Kellner, 1989: 140). Given the indeterminate nature of postmodern power, Baudrillard argued that modern political struggles against supposedly identifiable sites of authority were completely futile. Instead, and to the disbelief of adherents to more conventional strategies of oppositional politics (cf. Harris, 1996; Jarvie and Maguire, 1994; Kellner, 1989) Baudrillard encouraged the practice of hyperconformity, or deliberate passivity, as an act of ‘strategic resistance’ against the domineering televisual code (Baudrillard, 1983a: 108).

Sara Schoonmaker (1994: 186) has justifiably critiqued Baudrillard’s third-order simulacrum for its ‘technological determinism, formalism, and epistemological confusion.’ Added to his political nihilism, it is clear to see why many cultural commentators have renounced Baudrillard’s work in toto. Nevertheless, and as one of his sternest detractors even acknowledged, there is an important reason for ‘not ignoring Baudrillard’ (Norris, 1992: 25). According to Christopher Norris, despite its flaws, Baudrillard’s work is replete with ‘canny diagnostic observations’ pertaining to the influence of the mass media in shaping contemporary existence (1992: 25). For this reason, Douglas Kellner implored readers to adopt a critical stance in order that they may distinguish the ‘valuable from the foolish, the important from the unimportant elements of Baudrillard’s work’ (1994: 20). So, while it may be foolhardy to take Baudrillard’s exaggerated postmodern musings too literally, not taking them literally enough would seem to deny the sociology of sport community an important source of theoretical insights into a postmodern sport culture, dominated by a proliferating economy of mass-mediated sporting commodities, celebrities and spectacles.

Baudrillard’s periodic commentaries on aspects of contemporary sporting culture vindicated his implosive postmodernism (Chen, 1987), and attested to the structure and influence of postmodern sport. To this end, Baudrillard drew attention to the French public’s transfixation with the televisual drama of a qualifying game for the 1978 World Cup, and apathetic indifference toward the extradition of the German lawyer Klaus Croissant on the same evening: ‘A few hundred people demonstrated in front of the Santé prison, there was some furious nocturnal activity on the part of a few lawyers, while twenty million people spent the evening in front of their TV screens’ (Baudrillard, 1980: 143). Baudrillard argued that the French masses should not be castigated for privileging a football match over a politico-legal occurrence, since the depthless and aestheticized hyperreality of the third order of simulacra (Featherstone, 1991) has seduced the masses into resisting the imperatives of rational communication, in favour of the affective return of a ‘dramatic sequence’ (Baudrillard, 1980: 143). Baudrillard also passed comment on the tragic events at the Heysel Stadium, Brussels, in 1985, which resulted in the death of 39 Juventus supporters. Attacking the parasitic barbarism of the global televisual media, he controversially condemned ‘not the violence per se but the way in which this violence was given worldwide currency by television, and in the process turned into a travesty of itself’ (Baudrillard, 1990b: 75). Although openly condemning such displays of violence, the media also cynically celebrated such acts through the instantaneous global dissemination of video footage which augmented the dramatic content of the ‘worldwide spectacle of sport,’ and thereby acted as global ‘fodder for TV audiences’ (Baudrillard, 1990b: 77). Lastly, Baudrillard spoke to the future of the sporting event through reference to a European Cup match played in Madrid, Spain, between Real Madrid and Naples in September 1987. Due to the unruly behavior of Madrid supporters in a previous game, the football authorities ordered this match to be played in a stadium devoid of spectators, but relayed to the adoring masses on television. Thus, this ‘phantom football match’ took place, and surgically prefigured the future of postmodern sport: where no one will directly experience events, ‘but everyone will have received an image of them’ … in this setting, sport becomes a ‘pure event … devoid of any reference in nature, and readily susceptible to replacement by synthetic images’ (Baudrillard, 1990b: 80, 79).

In denouncing his proclivity for ‘calculated exaggeration,’ Chris Rojek (1990) likened Baudrillard’s entry into the field of leisure studies to that of a garish postmodernist gatecrasher barging into a modernist party. This sentiment is equally applicable to Baudrillard’s intrusion into the sociology of sport, which has been marked by expressions of dismissive disregard from those researchers more firmly anchored in modern epistemic, political and sporting logics. Although not explicitly discussing Baudrillard’s work, within his lengthy expression of incredulity toward the apparent postmodern ‘drift’ within critical sport studies, Morgan (1995) best captured the general disdain that lies in wait for those seeking to appropriate elements of Baudrillard’s project when examining contemporary sport culture. His use of terms such as ‘facile,’ ‘abnormal,’ ‘sophomoric,’ ‘relativist’ and, most revealingly, ‘trendy’ as descriptors of the ‘postmodernist drift’ within the sociology of sport, is indeed damning. Yet, Morgan is circumspect enough to concede that there needs to be further enquiry into these ‘strange new theories’ (1995: 41), and would no doubt be encouraged by the small but growing number of studies which have appropriated, in deliberate fashion, Baudrillard’s oeuvre as a tool for theorizing the complexities of postmodern sport. While dis-parately focused, these studies vindicate Mike Gane’s guarded affirmation of Baudrillard’s work as something worth pursuing with care and trepidation, since although ‘vulnerable to the most harsh judgements … the overall impression we are left with is of a consistency and persistence of critical imagination which produces, sometimes, remarkable insights’ (Gane, 1991: 157).

Up to this point in time, Geneviève Rail has formulated the most informed and instructive Baudrillardian understanding of postmodern sport ‘as producer and reproducer of the culture present in postmodern society, and as privileged object of over-consumption’ (Rail, 1998: 156). In charting the implosion of sport and aesthetic, corporal and media realms, Rail developed a suggestive theoretical synthesis of the early (1970, 1975, 1981), middle (1980) and later (1988a) phases of Baudrillard’s writing. Rail’s discussion is particularly imaginative and enlightening when substantiating the anti-mediatory, aesthetic populist, fragmented, depthless and history-effacing nature of the ‘model used to mediate sport’ (Rail, 1998: 154). Complementing Rail’s work, John Bale (1994) mobilized numerous Baudrillardian concepts in depicting the future of sport as a world of material and televisual simulations, many of which can be found within North America, ‘the engine which drives most parts of the machine of global popular culture’ (Bale, 1994: 169).

Moving from the general to the particular, Steve Redhead (1994, 1998) appraised the relevance of Baudrillard’s postmodern musings as a tool for realizing a popular cultural studies critique of the 1994 World Cup tournament held in the United States. Despite his acknowledgement that Baudrillardian theorizing should be taken ‘seriously but with a good deal of caution, too’ (1994: 302), Redhead concluded that Baudrillard’s postmodern travelogue America (1988a), in tandem with elements of his dissection of the Gulf War simulacra (1995), provided a suggestive basis for interpreting USA ’94 as a global media event: a simulated and hyperreal spectacle devoid of a ‘real referent’ (Redhead, 1994: 298). Influenced by similar Baudrillardian sources, David Andrews (1998) identified how NBC’s coverage of the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta manufactured a simulated model of Olympic reality, that was explicitly designed to constitute, and thereby seduce, the female viewing subject. Lawrence Wenner (1998) has furnished perhaps the most innovative engagement with Baudrillard’s theorizing in his spatial-geography of the hypermediated, hypercommodified, hyperreal postmodern sports bar. As Wenner noted, this ‘new genre is a high concept theme park … a cultural bin of simulations, a bunch of “important real things” that are put together for us to deconstruct by a helpful corporate sponsor’ (Wenner, 1998: 323-4).

The centrality of symbolic value within Baudrillard’s thought has also attracted scholars interested in the complex commodity-sign economy of contemporary sport. Rob Van Wynsberghe and Ian Ritchie (1998: 377) provided a compact, yet highly instructive, discussion of Baudrillard’s research as a grounding to their postmodern semiotic analysis of the Olympic Games’ five ring logo. The authors then graphically demonstrated how, within a postmodern culture dominated by the semiotic detritus of the media, advertising and marketing industries, the Olympic logo has been severed from the pseudo-sacred ideals that defined its modern signification. Within the postmodern mediascape, the Olympic logo has become a polysemic hypercommercial signifier: ‘used to represent virtually any product, advertisers could construct any story they wanted around such a symbol, while at the same time it would mean something different for diverse groups of people’ (Van Wynsberghe and Ritchie, 1998: 377). Lastly, in her broad-ranging discussion of sport mascots, Synthia Slowikowski (1993) referred to Native American mascots (such as ‘Chief Illiniwek’ at the University of Illinois at Urbana—Champaign) as nostalgically framed hyperreal simulations. These commodified ‘Native American simulacra’ evoked the dominant, and habitually subjugating, signifiers of Native American peoples drawn from the popular American imagination. In a Baudrillardian sense, they were thus hyperreal fabrications of ‘the absolute fake’ of postmodern American culture (Slowikowski, 1993: 28).

Conclusion: Toward a Post-Structuralist Sociology

Finally, post-structuralist approaches lead us to recognize that no theoretical paradigm is flawless, and no theoretical paradigm is forever. But post-structuralisms that remain attentive to history and power relations allow us to understand and, perhaps, to transform our worlds. Provisionally, they are the best we have … at least for now. (Kondo, 1995: 99)

Although merely scratching the surface of this vast topic, hopefully this discussion will have demonstrated the strength of the growing body of post-structuralist informed scholarship within the sociology of sport. More than anything, post-structuralist influenced analyses have demonstrated that sport’s language, practice and structure ‘can no longer be considered ideologically, educationally, socially or politically “neutral” and “innocent”’ (Bannet, 1989: 264). Post-structuralism’s overriding concern with subversion, dissent and the ‘destabilising of certainty’ (Docker, 1994: 142) confounds critics who have vilified it as a ‘dead end for progressive thought’ (Epstein, 1995; cf. Callinicos, 1990; Dews, 1987; Habermas, 1987; May, 1989). Nowhere is this more ably evidenced than in the way post-structuralist theory has been used to critically explicate sport’s embroilment in contemporary formations of language, power and subjectivity. Clearly, the variants of post-structuralism offer important interpretative vehicles for disrupting the stifling and oppressive formations of sporting (post)modernity, by developing alternative modes of thought, more progressive vehicles of expression and, ultimately, more potentially enabling experiences of the (post)modern sporting self.

While the post-structuralist project has much to offer the sociology of sport, it would be remiss not to point out the dangers of post-structuralist theory being taken up in the sociology of sport in potentially unproductive ways. Many fields of enquiry have been swamped by vapid and superficial engagements with the variants of post-structuralism, something that Stuart Hall characterized as ‘the endless, trendy recycling of one fashionable theorist after another, as if you can wear new theories like T-shirts’ (1996b: 149). It is perhaps more productive to view post-structuralism less in terms of becoming an exclusively Derridean, Foucauldian, or Baudrillardian scholar, and more in terms of adhering to post-structuralism’s particular type of politically informed intellectual practice. In this sense, I believe the practice of post-structuralist intel-lectualizing is closely allied to that of cultural studies (which itself has increasingly been informed by post-structuralist theorizing). Therefore, brief consideration of Lawrence Grossberg’s (1997) six-pronged characterization of cultural studies would appear to be a profitable way of delineating the post-structuralist project for future research. For as with post-structuralism, the ‘more people jump onto the cultural studies bandwagon’ the more ‘it needs to protect some sense of its own specificity as a way into the field of culture and power’ (Grossberg, 1997: 7).

In short, Grossberg (1997) believed cultural studies—and by implication, a post-structuralist sociology of sport—should be: disciplined (far from wallowing in relativism, it constantly seeks new forms of intellectual authority); interdisciplinary (its focus demands the straddling of traditional disciplinary boundaries); self-reflective (never complacent in its intellectual authority, it realizes the inadequacies and potential contradictions of the knowledge it produces); political (fundamentally concerned with understanding, with a view to transforming, people’s lived realities); theoretical (while not dogmatically adhering to one theoretical position, it stresses the necessity of theory); and radically contextual (the object, method, theory and politics of critical enquiry are inextricably tied to the context within which it is embroiled). By following these directives, a post-structuralist sociology of sport would confound Camille Paglia’s sardonic indictment of ‘Post-structuralism, that stale teething biscuit of the nattering nerds of trendy academe … [which] … cannot rival the dazzling analytic complexity of football’ (Paglia, 1997: 22), by demonstrating its vitality as a tool for critically analysing the dazzling complexity of sport in general.