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Accepted Paper:

Bodies, affects, senses, and emotions in studying sport and cultural performances  

Paper short abstract:

Drawing from ethnographic research in Spain on sport and cultural performance genres, and the anthropology of sport and expressive culture, this paper will identify methodological challenges and propose responses through sensory anthropology, theories of affect, and insights on desire.

Paper long abstract:

For a cultural anthropologist specializing in sporting cultures including their traditional and folk variants, the expressive and affective dimensions of cultural performances and sport fandom have always been a challenge. For example, the interpretive richness of my latest ethnography on a traditional sport, the Catalan human towers castells (forthcoming in 2023 by Indiana University Press), was both invigorating and debilitating. Researching and writing the book was reduced to a single challenge that overwhelmed all others, and which cost me several discarded drafts: to somehow put in writing the visual, experiential, and emotional force of performance. When people perform castells, they submerge into a sensory world of pain, heat, pressure, and smells. When they watch it, they feel arrested by its compelling drama. The limits of language before performance was constantly frustrating, and the words of the American dancer Isadora Duncan often came to mind: “If I could tell you what it meant, there would be no point in dancing it.” Similarly, in my previous work on Basque soccer madness in the north of Spain, recognizing, recording, and presenting the affective dimensions of fandom was an ultimate priority. Drawing from my previous research in Spain on sport and other cultural performance genres, as well as the broader anthropology of sport and expressive culture, I will reflect on methodological challenges and some responses through sensory anthropology, theories on collective affect and effervescence, and psychoanalytical insights on desire.

Panel Body03
Mediating affect in the world of uncertainties
  Session 2 Thursday 8 June, 2023, -