PCSers React to the Election of Donald J. Trump as President of the United States

Like everyone else currently living in the U.S., the graduate students and professors here at the University of Maryland’s Physical Cultural Studies research group have been both personally and collectively impacted by the election of Donald J. Trump as the 45th President of the United States.  Below is a collection of short pieces by various members of the UMD PCS community highlight their reaction to the election.  Our hope is that these pieces not only show the various ways we here at PCS are thinking about the election of Donald Trump, but expose the potential implications it will have on the critical study and significance of physical culture.

Empathy in Trump’s America

– By Katelyn Esmonde

Katelyn Esmonde is a Ph.D. candidate in Physical Cultural Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park.

As a community of Physical Cultural Studies scholars, we are in the process of thinking through what it means to study, write, and live in what we thought was the worst-case scenario: Trump’s America. In digesting this state of affairs, many progressives have called for more empathy and understanding for the voters who made this reality possible, citing the perceived shaming of the (white) working class as the reason for what was to many a surprising outcome. While I believe that engaging in productive discussion and extending compassion to those who oppose our values are both vital to any progressive cause, I think that we need to be careful about who we expect to do this work. It should go without saying that while a lot of us are devastated, we are not all devastated for the same reasons or in the same ways. Calls for those who have lost the most with this election to do the most work to challenge this new presidential administration and to be the most understanding of those who voted against their human rights are not empathetic, or particularly progressive.

Classmates now wonder if they should get married while marriage equality is still the law of the land, or indeed, if their marriages will be invalidated. Fears of deportation, state violence, and being banned from the country based on religion are more pronounced than before, particularly given the recent reports of hate crimes throughout the United States that appear linked to the election. Many women wonder where they can be safe after so many of the men around them voted for a[n alleged] sexual predator (though millions of women, mostly white, voted for him anyway).

This fallout from the election reminds us that fear is visceral. Oppression is embodied. It is no wonder that many of the people who have been targeted by the Trump campaign (and the list is long) do not feel safe around people who voted for a candidate who came to stand for white supremacy, misogyny, and Islamophobia. While it can certainly be said that not every Trump supporter would openly espouse the same hateful rhetoric that characterized the Trump campaign, too many decided that it was not disqualifying.

As we push ourselves to infuse our writing, teaching, and daily lives with our political goals, in addition to the calls for more empathy for Trump voters and supporters, we should have more empathy for each other as well. When we acknowledge that we are not all coming from the same place, we must also see that the work that we can and will do will be different as well. As we deal with this collective trauma, we need to make room for all kinds of responses and emotions.

What an Amtrak experience taught me about Trump’s America

– By Sam Clevenger

Sam Clevenger is a Ph.D. candidate in Physical Cultural Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park.

The week before the November 8th presidential election, I boarded an Amtrak train to travel from Washington, D.C. to Denver, Colorado to attend an academic conference.  For two days, I talked and listened to various people about an array of topics as we collectively traveled in the same steel cars across the country.  The weight of the election was palpable, and my guess is everyone could feel it even if they didn’t say so.  People expressed their opinions about the election in a variety of ways, both subtle and overt: sometimes people told a humorous digression or joke, sometimes people shared a gloomy allusion, sometimes people engaged in an actual full-on conversation about it.  But however they expressed or thought about it, it was clear we all were feeling the pressure of the election, and anxious to know what will happen.

But what struck me the most during that train trip were the ways a diversity of strangers talked to each other and collectively existed in spite of being on the cusp of a divisive election and in the midst of hate-filled political rhetoric.  The exigencies and restrictions of class, race, gender, sexuality, nationalism are apparent and visible when people travel on Amtrak.  Very few decide to take a multi-day train ride (instead of a more reasonable, but more expensive four-hour flight), without wi fi access, and sleep on an uncomfortable, upright coach seat because of sheer pleasure.  But for those few days, away from the media narratives and the pressure cooker of their normal social lives, people seem to not only co-exist, but connect and share with each other.  People with different sexual identities sat next to Amish families and played card games in the sightseer car.  In front of me, an African American man sat next to elderly white man wearing a large wooden crucifix necklace for hours and talked about things like the best places to eat in Chicago.  To my right, an elderly white woman talked with a young man about how he just just received word that his mother died.  She gave the young man money so he could make it Kansas City to attend his mother’s funeral.  As I felt the election drawing near, the experience gave me hope about the capacity for people to see through and deconstruct hate and division through ordinary, everyday interaction.

There is very little to add or expand on the humanist implications of Donald J. Trump becoming president-elect of the United States.  They continue to be increasingly clear and terrifying to us all.  But I still have hope in the ability of people to, even if unintentionally and unconsciously, find ways to help each other and transcend the terms and social divisions reinforced and exhibited by figures like Trump.  The recent presidential election revealed the depth, ubiquity, and social complexity of peoples’ feelings of alienation in this country.  If such alienation can fuel hate, reactionary nativism, and the discontents of populism, perhaps it can be harnessed to fuel a new, multicultural, leftist, grassroots populism too.

The End of Neoliberalism: Physical Cultural Studies in the Age of Trump

– By Dr. Michael Friedman

Dr. Michael Friedman is Research Assistant Professor of Physical Cultural Studies at the University of Maryland’s Department of Kinesiology.

On November 8, 2016, the zombie corpse of neoliberalism that has been rotting and shambling along since the Wall Street meltdown of 2008 was finally vanquished and buried.  The international project of the Chicago School, Mont Pelerin Society, Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan was overwhelmed by a backlash grounded in populism and cultural nationalism.  Before we rejoice at the defeat of the PCS project’s defining foe, we must recognize this new conjuncture is offering an adversary that may be more pernicious than the last.

Just as the Soviet Union’s collapse surprised many Sovietologists, who then quickly reinterpreted the Eastern Bloc’s fall as inevitable, PCS must respond to the new context by reevaluating many of our foundational assumptions.  Based in the steadfast opposition of Stuart Hall and Birmingham’s CCCS to globalizing market-centric economic logics and their effectuating political policies, PCS has long discussed the possibility of culture to serve as a space for political resistance.  Yet, we largely have failed to recognize the most meaningful manifestations of that resistance: populism and ethno-nationalism.  Our assessments of the new conjuncture must begin with the roots, potential and implications of these movements.

We need to recognize that, despite their diametrical opposition, Occupy Wall Street/the Sanders movement and the Tea Party/Trumpism have common origins as reactions to and rejections of neoliberalism.  The populist left’s response to neoliberalism has been to demand a fairer and more inclusive economy and society based in calls for greater social justice.  The populist right’s response to neoliberalism has exploited ethno-nationalist appeals, promised to restore past greatness and offered an “other” to blame.  Before we casually dismiss Trump supporters as bigots (though we must be concerned they did not outright reject Trump for his racism and misogyny), we need to recognize that many of our deepest concerns are similar and that effective political engagement is both possible and necessary.

Perhaps my declaration of neoliberalism’s final demise is premature and that, like many other horror movie monsters, it will come back more powerful in an upcoming sequel.  However, another monster, Trumpism and its European cousins of Putinism, UKIP, and Le Pen, has stolen the screen and, with its revanchist militarism, represents a far greater and imminent threat.  PCS has a new crisis to police.

How Do I Know What I Think I Know?

– By Julie Brice

Julie Brice is an M.A. student in Physical Cultural Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park.

“School”: Such a loaded noun. It’s something so familiar, yet so complex and confusing. Since I started my education, I’ve attended four schools, had twenty “first days” of school, over one hundred teachers, and thousands of hours in the classroom; I even thought I was good at school.  And yet today as I sit in graduate school, I find myself in a foreign land of academia. I started graduate school a year ago and since then it’s been a roller coaster of highs and lows. I find myself confused, bewildered, and challenged almost daily, and just when I think I’ve reached some minuscule sense of clarity, a curve ball comes my way and I’m back to the beginning. This has been my experience of Physical Cultural Studies thus far—a constant parade of questions and challenges to my beliefs and opinions. A question posed by one of my high school teachers accurately summarizes the effect of PCS: How do I know what I think I know? Well, how does anyone learn anything? School? Textbooks? Parents? Friends? Government? TV? History? Sports? As I’ve spent more time exploring the PCS discourse, the question has morphed into: How influential are sports in shaping knowledge? This core question has served as the underlying catalyst for my thesis.

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(Re)Making Cities: Urban Transformation and Sport Mega-Events in Brazil

On July 13th, Dr. Bryan Clift from the University of Bath’s Physical Cultural Studies Research Group and Dr. Thiago Allis from the Universidade de São Paulo organized an international colloquium titled “(Re)Making Cities: Urban Transformation and Sport Mega-Events in Brazil.”  The colloquium showcased much recent work concerning the critical study of physical culture.  Considering its timely topic with the upcoming 2016 Rio Olympics, Drs. Clift and Allis have been kind enough to write a short assessment of their colloquium and its significance to the critical study of urban transformation and sport mega-events.

The Colloquium’s program can be viewed here: Colloquium Booklet-2016

Dr. Clift can be reached via email at b.c.clift@bath.ac.uk and Dr. Allis at thiagoallis@usp.br.


Mega-events are no longer a novelty: Since the late 19th century, exhibitions have taken place in European and North-American emerging industrial cities, attracting hordes of visitors whilst projecting images of host cities to domestic and international audiences. However, over the last several decades such events – mainly of sporting and cultural varieties – have also become powerful communication strategies and opportunities to concentrate investment in urban redevelopment strategies with short and long term aims under the umbrella of a so-called ‘city marketing.’

As the FIFA World Cup and Summer Olympic Games have taken place in non-Western and emerging countries, new concerns have arisen: If tourism and urban improvement are benefits to be achieved, how do host cities cope with the antecedents of uneven socioeconomic development? Evictions, gentrification, inflation, corruption, etc., populate the list of side effects associated with planning the mega-event. Nevertheless, when Rio de Janeiro won the bid for the 2016 Olympic Games Brazil was emerging within a golden moment: The economy was booming, inflation came under control, the “new middle classes” began expanding, and then President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (popularly referred to as Lula) was respected as a leader worldwide. Yet, the perspectives and impacts of both events cannot be understood or assessed without closer, more critical examination of the host nation and its cities.

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Can I Find Human Agency in this “Healthy” Port Sunlight?

– By Sam Clevenger

Sam Clevenger is a Ph.D. student in Physical Cultural Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park.

In doing historical research, it’s hard enough trying to decipher the significance of a document staring you in the face as it lies comfortably on a weird large pillow archives use to protect primary sources.  It’s a whole other Costco-size can of worms figuring out whether, within that document, there is evidence of the existence of forms of human agency, of how ordinary people, not just those near the controls of power, were actually experiencing and making history.  As I am discovering on my current sojourn of extended historical research on the (now independent) island of the Great Britain, this is a loaded question involving a multitude of consequences for researchers like myself.

For the moment, let’s not dive into the murky, ongoing theoretical debate of what constitutes, or rather should constitute, the categories of agency and experience in historical research.  Let’s just consider one question, if only for own purposes of reflection and mental processing: how might a researcher (i.e., myself) uncover possible historical evidence of humans [re]acting in various ways to the ideas being imposed by those in positions of power?

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Achieving Interconnected Praxis: Connecting new theoretical potentials to material outcomes in Physical Cultural Studies

This past Friday, March 4th, we in the Physical Cultural Studies research group hosted our ninth annual Graduate Student Conference at the School of Public Health Building on the University of Maryland, College Park campus.  Along with numerous fascinating student presentations on a myriad of topics related to the critical study of sport, physical culture and public health, we were fortunate to also host two keynote addresses by both Dr. Oliver Rick of Springfield College and the illustrious Dr. David Zang of Towson University.

Dr. Rick, a recent graduate of the PCS program, spoke on the crucial topic of the role of praxis in Physical Cultural Studies as an academic political project.  Praxis, Dr. Rick suggested, can and ultimately should be something interconnected with the theoretical and methodological, leading to innovative, politicized, scholarship in which the underlying theory emanates from, informs, and inherently intervenes into the political moment and the “materialities of lived experience”.

The following is an insightful excerpt from Dr. Rick’s address that encapsulates much of the spirit of his overall argument:

“Today I want to add to this conversation, in particular thinking through how the use of theory from outside of what have become the traditional theoretical areas of PCS requires us to re-imagine the political commitments of those that identify with the core of the project. I am not attempting to propose anything that is particularly radical, but look to present just one way through which to further advance the project in its imperative to be a theoretically informed, but also engaged form of academic praxis. It is not a suggestion that PCS has to this point failed to achieve outcomes that adhere to this imperative, but is an attempt to start a collective re-thinking of what it means to be politically engaged, especially as we continue to impact on new issues and utilize new theoretical tools to do so. It is an attempt to grapple with a similar conversation that happened between Foucault and Deleuze in the early 1970s. In that back and forth Foucault (1980) stated that ‘theory does not express, translate, or serve to apply practice: it is practice’ (p. 208). A statement to which Deleuze (1980) responded: ‘[theory] must be useful. It must function. And not for itself. If no one uses it, beginning with the theoretician himself (sic), then the theory is worthless or the moment inappropriate’ (p. 208). To plug in new theory as part of our research and writing without letting it fully permeate our whole approach to being an engaged, or as some would describe, a public academic, stunts its effects and limits its possibilities. If it does not have practical applicability starting with the theorist, then the moment might just be inappropriate or in Deleuze’s polemic, the theory may be worthless.”

This is an important, fascinating topic and discussion in terms of its potential insight for current, budding PCS scholarship.  Dr. Rick has graciously allowed us to post his keynote address on The Corpus.  You can find a pdf copy of his address and proceedings below.  Please take a moment to read Dr. Rick’s address, and feel free to post your thoughts on the overall topic of praxis on The Corpus.

2016 – Keynote Address Proceedings – Dr. Oliver J.C. Rick

Why I’m not an “activist”: PCS and “the streets”

– By Stephanie Cork

Stephanie Cork is a Ph.D. student in Physical Cultural Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park.

I don’t see myself as an activist.

I have marched in the streets of DC, Kingston and Toronto. I help write and have signed petitions for change. I sit on committees and speak to groups of students, staff and faculty at my university about politics and how to take political action. I teach intersectionally-informed issues in the classroom, from awkward ableism to the oppressive logics of scientific racism. My dissertation project is orientated around social justice. I always share great work being done by disability advocates on my social media feeds. I run and facilitate events by students with disabilities and other minority groups for the sake of education, awareness and change. And I go to a LOT of meetings.

This does not change how I feel about it: I am not an activist.

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PCS piece published in Sport, Education and Society

PCS Ph.D. student Sam Clevenger and Professor Shannon Jette recently published an article in the international journal Sport, Education and Society concerning the intersection of republican political ideology, nationalism, and militarization in the promotion of physically active coursework at Maryland Agricultural College, the nineteenth-century institution that would eventually become the University of Maryland.  The article challenges dominant understandings of the history of American physical education by  exploring the active body’s relation to political ideology and the idealization of national citizenship within historical contexts outside the focus of late nineteenth-century organized physical education.

The article is titled “From ‘cultivators of the soil’ to ‘citizen-soldier’: physically active education and the nation at Maryland Agricultural College”.  A link to the article can be found here.

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9th Annual PCS Graduate Student Conference

The graduate students at the University of Maryland’s Physical Cultural Studies program (PCS) have posted their call for papers for their 9th annual PCS Graduate Student Conference.  The conference will be held in College Park, Maryland on March 4th, 2016.

The conference theme is “Engaging Health and Physical Culture: Power, Politics, and Possibilities“.  The coordinators of the conference invite submissions for paper presentations on all topics related to the critical study of physical culture, the active body, sport, and health.

Please visit http://www.umdpcs.org/ for more information.

California Public Beach Access and 19th Century Prussian Wood Theft

On October 2nd, the British daily The Guardian published an article on their website detailing how some wealthy landowners on the California coastline have been hiring private security guards to patrol public beaches adjacent to their properties. Despite California Coastal Act guidelines that public beach areas, even in beaches not accessible to the public, begin where “where the sand is wet (below the mean high tide line),” and despite most California beaches being either entirely publicly accessible or connected to public walkways, for the past few years the California Coastal Commission has noted a prominent uptick in wealthy coastal residents paying private security patrols to approach beachgoers and inform them that they do not have the legal right to be on the beach, sometimes with the help of the local police force. As one longtime member of the Commission explained in the article, “It’s a means of saying: ‘You can’t come here…Even if legally you’re allowed, we’re not going to let you do it.’”

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A Scheme for Reading Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit

– By Sam Clevenger

Sam Clevenger is a Ph.D. student in Physical Cultural Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park.

As I am currently going through the throes of reading Continental philosophical texts for my comprehensive examinations, I thought it might be beneficial to post for internet posterity the scheme I just used to read Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s The Phenomenology of Spirit.  The structure and outline was drawn from György Lukács’ book The Young Hegel, which I depended on greatly to help decipher Hegel’s writing and meaning.

The reading of Hegel in the context of PCS is more than an exercise in academic “seminar game”, to borrow a phrase from E.P. Thompson.  If the Physical Cultural Studies project is to think of itself as a post-Marxist project, then we must begin not with Capital or The German Ideology, but with the writings from which Marx and Engels drew upon and were responding to.  This was Hegel’s German Idealism, more prominently expressed in The Phenomenology of Spirit.  Marx, in a sense, can be seen as having incorporated the material (indeed, the laboring corporeal) within a dialectical analysis that was originally Hegelian and idealistic.  For us to understand the working of dialectic materialism, and to expand and critique a project deviating from the premises of a dialectical materialism, we must first understand Marx and Engel’s response to Hegel’s originating elucidation of the dialectic in his understanding of the history of the Absolute Spirit.

Continue reading “A Scheme for Reading Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit”