Wikimedia Commons / Santeri Viinamäki

As Victor Turner (1983) once observed, “the way people play [...]is more profoundly revealing of a culture than how they work.” Theodor Adorno (1955) had three decades earlier put it even more categorically: “...if one were to summarise the most important trends of present-day culture, one could hardly find a more pregnant category than that of sports.” A recent overview of anthropology of sport by Besnier, Brownell, and Carter (2018) begins with a sentence: “Few activities in the lives of ordinary people around the world bring together physicality, emotions, politics, money, and morality as dramatically as sport.”

Yet, despite the overwhelming significance of sports in everyday life, the topic was for long ignored by anthropologists and considered to be either too trivial or too familiar to merit serious analytical scrutiny. As Robert Sands (2002), one of the pioneering “anthropologists of sport,” lamented eighteen years ago, anthropology “is one of the few social sciences that still finds the study of sport beyond, or perhaps beneath, the discipline.” Such attitude is now quickly changing and this course also aims to contribute to this change by bringing sports into the very center of anthropological scrutiny and by emphasising the significance of sports for understanding and interpreting contemporary societies and social life. The focus of this course is mainly on “modern” and “Western” sports, which will be critically examined through some of the major anthropological concepts such as body, self, race, class, identity, gender, ritual, superstition, magic, performance, spectacle, nationalism, violence, globalization, power, and so forth. The spectrum of topics covered is purposefully broad because the aim of this course is to introduce students to a wide range of perspectives on sports that anthropologists can employ.

By completing this course you will:

• learn about a variety of different theoretical approaches to the study of sports;
• understand how contemporary sports are intertwined with individual and collective identities;
• be able to identify social inequalities and injustices in and around sports and leisure, with particular attention to gender, race, and social class;
• have an overview of the methodological approaches available for anthropologists in the study of sports and be able to employ these in your own research, if necessary.

13.2.2020 at 09:00 - 10.3.2020 at 23:59


Here is the course’s teaching schedule. Check the description for possible other schedules.

Tue 10.3.2020
10:15 - 11:45
Wed 11.3.2020
12:15 - 13:45
Tue 17.3.2020
10:15 - 11:45
Wed 18.3.2020
12:15 - 13:45
Tue 24.3.2020
10:15 - 11:45
Wed 25.3.2020
12:15 - 13:45
Tue 31.3.2020
10:15 - 11:45
Wed 1.4.2020
12:15 - 13:45
Tue 7.4.2020
10:15 - 11:45
Wed 8.4.2020
12:15 - 13:45
Tue 21.4.2020
10:15 - 11:45
Wed 22.4.2020
12:15 - 13:45
Tue 28.4.2020
10:15 - 11:45
Wed 29.4.2020
12:15 - 13:45


Anthropological perspectives on sport in general

Besnier, N. 2012. Sport, Modernity, and the Body. Annual Review of Anthropology 41: 443-459.
Carter, T. 2002. On the Need for an Anthropological Approach to Sport. Identities 9 (3): 405–422.

Sport, body, and the self

Hanold, M. T. 2010. Beyond the Marathon: (De)Construction of Female Ultrarunning Bodies. Sociology of Sport Journal 27 (2): 160-177
Reischer, E.L. 2001. Running to the moon: The articulation and construction of self in marathon runners. Anthropology of Consciousness 12 (2):19–34.

Sport and social divisions

Abbas, A. 2004. The embodiment of class, gender and age through leisure: A realist analysis of long-distance running. Leisure Studies 23: 159-1 75.
Atkinson, M. 2008. Triathlon, suffering and exciting significance. Leisure Studies 27: 165-180.

Sport, ritual and superstition

Gmelch, G. 1992. Superstition and Ritual in American Baseball. Elysian Fields Quarterly 11 (3): 25-36.
Schatzberg, M. G. 2006. Soccer, Science, and Sorcery: Causation in African Football. Africa Spectrum 41 (3): 351–369.

Sport, nationalism, and glo(c/b)alisation

Appadurai, A. 1995. Playing With Modernity: the Decolonization of Indian Cricket. In C. Breckenridge (ed.) Consuming Modernity: Public Culture in a South Asian World.
DaMatta, R. 2009. Sport in Society: An Essay on Brazilian Football. Vibrant 6 (2): 98-120.

Sport and megaevents

Arning, C. 2013. Soft power, ideology and symbolic manipulation in Summer Olympic Games opening ceremonies: a semiotic analysis. Social Semiotics 23 (4): 523-544.
Kennelly, J. 2015. ‘You’re making our city look bad’: Olympic security, neoliberal urbanization, and homeless youth. Ethnography 16 (1): 3–24.

Conduct of the course

All course participants are expected to read the required readings, attend lectures, take active part in seminar discussions and make a presentation in the seminar, submit weekly “reflection papers” (5 altogether), as well as write the final research paper.


Upon completion of the course students will be familiar with a variety of theoretical approaches to the study of sports, understand how contemporary sports are intertwined with individual and collective identities, and have an overview of the methodological approaches available for anthropologists in the study of sports.


Blanchard, K. 1995. The Anthropology of Sport: An Introduction

Cashmore, E. 2010. Making Sense of Sports.

Jarvie, G. 2006. Sport, Culture, and Society: An Introduction

Molnar, G., and J. Kelly, J. 2013. Sport, Exercise and Social Theory.

Sands, R. (ed) 1999. Anthropology, Sport and Culture.

Sands, R., and L. Sands (eds) 2010. The Anthropology of Sport and Human Movement: A Biocultural Perspective

Assigned readings for this course will be elaborated in the annual programme plan.

Scale 0-5. In evaluation all the assignments will be considered, self-evaluation will be recommended.

Interactive seminars, lectures, student presentations, small group discussion of assigned readings, and final essay. Learning is evaluated on a 1-5 scale.