In his Luhmannian analysis of sport, Norwegian sport sociologist Jan-Ove Tangen (2004) convincingly arguments that sport should be treated as a social system. In that its borders continuously must be protected, and in order to reproduce itself, the social system must repeatedly demonstrate its differences from other systems, i.e. its umwelt.
Social systems, such as law and science, all have their ’symbolically generalized medium’, which enable them to both differentiate, and reproduce, themselves (ibid. pp 61-64). According to Luhmann, everything in a system depends on its medium. While law’s is ”right”, and science’s is ”truth”, the symbolically generalized medium of sport is the ”victor”. If law isn’t entrusted to produce right, and if science is entrusted to produce truth, they would be fiercely criticized, and, concomitantly, put under rigorous scrutiny. And – since right and truth are so decisive for the organization, governance, and management of collectives – so they are!
The umwelt – the surrounding collectives which affect a given system – is a disturbing entity, the noise of which systems must reduce in order to safeguard, and to guarantee the longevity of, the system. But, inevitably, the system must transform some of the surrounding noise into signals that inject ”controlled newness”, which, I argue, is a decent semantic interpretation of the word ”reproduction”. This line of events has a lucid analogy in the sloughing of snakes: the new skin looks almost like the old skin, perhaps brighter and certainly stronger. Another illuminating figure of speech that would cast light on the system’s rationale in its umwelt relations, could perhaps be found in water that mustn’t stand still for too long, lest it would reek.
In the case of sports, actors are complaining, and even raging, when the victor is found to be produced in an inappropriate way, illegal substances, unfavorable weather conditions, and even, given the alleged quality of play of the respective teams in a match, the ”unfair” distribution of goals among the teams.
Regarding another system that is decisive for the present discussion, perhaps it could be said, following Deleuze (1991), that the symbolically generalized medium of philosophy is the concept? ”What would be the worth of a philosopher of whom one could say: he did not create the concept?”(ibid:474).
It is obvious how well the concepts of my metaphysicians of choice, Latour, Deleuze, Guattari, and Serres, resonate with Luhmann’s ”systems approach” (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987; Latour, 1999; Serres 2008; Wolfe, 2008; see also Latour 1993 & 2007 for criticisms of the system as concept): Latour’s black boxes; Deleuze and Guattaris’ territorializations; and, Serres’ noises, parasites, jokers, and blanks. Considering the question of structure, that is. And one could be lengthy here, concept-dropping blatantly, but this tracing will do for now.
The questions this leaves me with, though, are epistemological ones: How much mending of other concepts does it take to construct a new concept, i.e. how much namedropping must the philosopher put her reader through in order to claim that her concepts are novel? Is namedropping in philosophy rather a question of education – of pedagogy and canon? Or is namedropping only an equilibristic excess, like somersaults in parkour? Latour and Serres tell us to stitch and mend, in opposition to the idol-breaking of the critical analytical stance, but is the plethora of philosophical concepts included in their TLC agenda for research?
This entry started out as an illumination of a ”systems approach” to sports, and ended up in epistemology. It happens to me a lot. Last note to self: what kind of system does this name-dropping of philosophical concepts and skewing from ontology to epistemology reproduce?