K and the Lob: Towards a Minor Sport

Thursday 19th of May, I'll present a paper at the EASS conference in Umeå. Here is the abstract:

A recurring theme in critical sport studies is the issue of whether the element of competition -- measuring, comparing and ranking performances (Loland 2002) – in sports is fascistoid (Tännsjö 2000, 2001), and, whether sports constrains the potential of human movement, and its creativity, rather then enhancing it (Eichberg 2010). In this essay, I will argue that the element of competition is vital for the creativity of movement-potential in sports. Still, the alleged ‘fascistoid’ or ‘creativity constraining’ element could be ‘hi-jacked’.

As an example of this kind of hi-jacking, an autoethnographical (Chang 2008) account of my participation in recreational table-tennis will be seen through a process-philosophical lens. Deleuze’s conceptual pair ‘minor’ and ‘major’ (Bene & Deleuze, 1979; Deleuze & Guattari, 1986) will in the essay be extended to sport. The argument is that prolonging elements in athletic contests could be understood as ‘minor sport’, which in the essay is exemplified by defensive strokes, like chops and lobs, in table-tennis. ‘Major sport’, then, is understood as equivalent with ’the structural goal of sport’, namely, to produce winners by comparing, ranking and measuring bodily performances (Loland 2002).

As a table-tennis player in the corporative/recreational series, my way of playing has rendered different conceptions among the other players, ranging from joyful to provoked. This manner could be described with ‘minor’ actions like ‘suspending the game’, ´delaying the outcome’, and ‘never having learned to smash’. When contestants are equivalent in competence and desire to win, competitions tend to produce ‘sweet tension of uncertainty of outcome’ (Loland 2002). My way of playing is directed towards maximizing the ‘sweet tension of uncertainty’. Hereby focus is shifted from sport as context where winners are produced, towards sport as a context where ‘sweet tension’ is produced. This stance combines the benefits of both protagonists and antagonists of competition.

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