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Accepted Paper:

Navigating an 'economy of limited energy': The ultra-competitive world of Ethiopian long-distance running  
Michael Crawley (Durham University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper describes how Ethiopian runners navigate what they perceive as an 'economy of limited energy.' This intensified the tension between individual and relational agency and the temptation to expand energetic potentials by illicit means. This paper describes the energetic ethics that results.

Paper long abstract:

Concerns about energy - its use and misuse, the way it shifts between states, its extraction or enhancement - is the central preoccupation of professional Ethiopian runners. As runners train together but compete as individuals, a clear tension emerges between relational and individual agency. The high level of risk and uncertainty that characterizes a career as a professional runner entails relationships of trust and mutual dependency and demands intensely intersubjective forms of moral labour to maintain. In the setting of the training group, the necessity of proximity and of sharing energy involves the articulation of trust and distrust, with the feeling that runners are 'on the edge' of what is possible serving to intensify the relationship between intimacy and suspicion identified by Geschiere (2013). With this in mind I describe what morally appropriate training sociality looks like for Ethiopian runners navigating limits, characterised by the sharing of food and pace-making responsibilities and by the synchronicity and visibility of training practices. I move on to explore illicit means of gaining an energetic advantage over others: metat, a form of witchcraft allowing runners to take some of the energy of their competitors through the mediation of a witchdoctor; the use of performance-enhancing drugs imported from abroad; and training in secret during the night. These are instances in which becoming a better runner clash with attempts to become a "better human." I argue for the importance of the study of 'energetic subjectivities' and energy ethics at the level of the human body.

Panel P091a
Body/mind as space(s) of struggle and experiment: explorations, expansions and experience(s) of human limits
  Session 1 Friday 24 July, 2020, -