The rules of the game: Science and Sport

Yesterday, an open seminar about publishing strategies, and differences between "the two cultures" (natural and human science) was held in Malmö University. Janken Myrdal, a professor in agricultural history, gave the keynote speech, which was followed by a discussion between invited guests and the auditorium. The panel consisted of heads of universities, deans from cross-disciplinary faculties and bibliometricians.

Myrdal argued, that, due to the prevailing system of research funding based on citation index and the like, it is demanded that natural and human sciences should endeavour for increased confluence, regarding methodology and terminology. As a historian, his main focus was to safeguard the particular publishing style of social science, with long books, and rich personally flavoured use of language. This kind of title does not bibliometrically render the same impact as a peer reviewed article in a renowned journal, which is the most prominent way to publish in contemporary academia.The debate was rich, inspiring, and of the kind, that one expects to meet in university.

Janken Myrdal - Spelets regler from Malmö University on Vimeo.

I spoke with Myrdal in the break, and asked him about his frequent use of sport metaphors. ("Natural scientists are doped, they publish too much"; "Basing research-fundings on citation index is like applying the rules of soccer in handball: the handballer cum social scientist wouldn't stand a chance due to her repeated hand-fouls."; "Science, like sport, is a way of demonstrating muscle-capacity in an international context"; "The B-team (of academia) writes the textbooks, while the stars write peer review articles"). He replied that although he wasn't interested in sports per se, he was fascinated of how overt the core rationale of sports is, ie the agenda of elimination, exclusion, and ranking.

Evidently, sport, as a metaphorical resource, has a beckoning naturalness to both clergy and laity. The use of sport in social science and philosophy as a verifying material in demonstrations is of particular interest to me.

Massumi talks of subjectivity with examples from soccer; Serres talks of relations, objects and subjects with an example from rugby; Elias & Dunning construct figurational sociology from an analysis of tension-equilibrium in association football; Pierre Levy explores communality and informatics applying the metaphor of soccer, and so on. Not to mention all agile conceptual personae in contin(g)ental philosophy (Nietzsche, Deleuze, Badiou, Bergson, etc).

Perhaps, the distinction between Apodeixis (a mathematical, or at least rigorous, demonstration) and Epideixis (demonstration by a flourish of words) is apt to apply here. Athletes are often stripped of their subjective dimension in contests, and thereby resemble the mute, reliable objects of nature, which are discovered/produced in laboratories. Sport, therefore, could be regarded as a pseudo-laboratory for social science.

Social science's long tradition of feeling lesser than its natural sibling emanates in part from its inability to establish demonstrations as rigorous as in the laboratory (Apodeixis). Epideixis, the flourish of words -- so dear, as a demonstrational utensil, to sophists -- is partly shunned by social science, since it emphasises the ephemerality of subjectivity and humanity. The human, all too human, dimensions of society (tautology, or? Ask Latour) are what create problems with validity in social science and the humanities.

Sport stands forth as an answer to the alleged softness of chattering human statements, since demonstrations most often are mute, but still figurationally and socially relevant. The objective performance by athletes bridges the gap between humanitas (man as a cultural and societal creature) and homininae (man as biological species).

Social science finds its apodeixis in the world of sports. Now there is line of thought I would like to develop!

No comments:

Post a Comment