The Guardian: “Expensive academic conferences give us old ideas and no new faces”

In their recent article for The GuardianJulian Kircherr and Asit Biswas posit the important point that the costs of attending contemporary academic conferences have dramatically increased, to the detriment and exclusion of early-career researchers.  Many researchers “who manage to attend academic conferences,” Kircherr and Biswas write, “expect many benefits. They hope to find their next collaborators. They hope to broaden their horizons to develop new research ideas.”  The author’s experiences, however, suggest otherwise: “…conferences usually do not deliver on these promises. There are always the same old faces, with a few more wrinkles every year, using obfuscating jargon to present the same old stuff.”

In the article, Kircherr and Biswas raise important, fascinating points about the politics of the academic conference industry and the struggles early-career researchers endure in their attempts to enter various fields of inquiry.  You can read their full article here.


New Podcast Episode – History of Physical Culture in Suburbia

A new episode has just been posted by Somatic Podcast, the ongoing digital audio and critical sport studies project founded by Physical Cultural Studies alumnus Dr. Oliver Rick of Springfield College and current PhD candidate Sam Clevenger.  In this episode, Dr. Rick explores the history of American suburbia and the relation of physical activity spaces to the development of suburban communities.  He talks suburbanization history with lauded American historian Dr. Andrew Wiese, author of the award-winning 2004 book Places of Their Own: African American Suburbanization in the Twentieth Century.  He also talks in the episode with local residents of the suburban community of Lexington, Massachusetts, discussing how residents have worked to preserve green and physically active spaces within the community.

You can listen to the episode via the Soundcloud link below, or on Somatic Podcast’s website.

Femininity: Measuring Up

– By Sunny Zhang

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

My parents did not love me less because I was a girl.  I was eight years old when I learned taking off my shirt in a martial arts class was inappropriate for a girl. It wasn’t until then that I paid attention to the gender comportments.  When I was nine, my mom finally overruled my dad, who always liked to keep my hair short, saying I should have long hair because I’m a girl.  When I was 11, on the Henan wushu professional team, I started to accept that boys were stronger than girls and that it was okay for boys to be better than me.  Even in my early twenties, trying to pursue my academic dreams, my mom attempted to dissuade me from applying to Master’s and Ph.D. programs because I was a girl. She cited a litterateur from 400 years ago who said, “Not having too much knowledge is the virtue of women.”  These behaviors, derived from gender differences, do not originate from the anatomy but are the cultural constructions of a society.

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Pain: A Chaos Narrative

– By Eric A. Stone

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

Pain has an element of blank;

It cannot recollect

When it began, or if there were

A day when it was not.


It has no future but itself,

Its infinite realms contain

Its past, enlightened to perceive

New Periods of pain.

-Emily Dickinson

The way in which we understand pain, as a species, is a process of learning. As Arthur Frank writes about illness, so too is pain “about learning to live with lost control” (1995, p. 30). We shudder at the thought of lost control; we abhor it. To lose control is to lose one’s ability to function in society. If we cannot exercise control over ourselves, we are unwelcome. Some illnesses and injuries, of course, are easier to conceal, to control, than others. Society expects us to hide our flaws, our imperfections, and we can often acquiesce to these unreasonable expectations. But we stare, we gawk, we notice when bodily control is lost. We treat those who have lost this control differently, because they have lost what we see as one of the defining characteristics of humanity, what separates us from animals: our ability to walk upright on two legs. “When adult bodies lose control, they are expected to attempt to regain it if possible, and if not then at least to conceal the loss as effectively as possible” (Frank, 1995, p. 31). It is silently, tacitly understood that those bound to a life without the use of their legs are deserving of one thing, pity. We immediately think about the loss of this mobility, this loss of humanity. In my case, this loss of mobility has defined who I am. This is my ethnography of pain, my embodied journey with the constant companion that has invisibly shaped my life.

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A Picture Says a Thousand Words? How Images in Popular Media Reinforce the Cartesian Dualism

– By Julie Brice

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

A couple of weeks ago, the live action version of Beauty and the Beast was released in theaters with leading actress Emma Watson playing the iconic character of Belle. However, this film differs slightly from the original 1991 version and now features a more feminist-inspired Belle who invents a washing machine so she can spend more time reading and also teach little girls in the village to read (Furness, 2016). Much of this change in the storyline has been credited to Watson, a well-known feminist who has spoken multiple times at the UN for gender equality and has her own feminist book club. However, recently Watson has been in the news not for the movie, not for her political beliefs, but because she posed semi-nude for a Vanity Fair photo shoot (Wilson, 2017), resulting in an abundance of headlines questioning her feminist beliefs (CNN, n.d.; Moraski, 2017; Reuters, 2017; Vagianos, 2017; Wilson, 2017). Many came to Watson’s defense, including legendary feminist Gloria Steinem who said in response to the critique, “Feminists can wear anything they fucking want” (Vagianos, 2017). Although I completely admire and agree with both Watson and Steinem, I still found myself and continue to find myself upset about the image, as well as with other images of women posing in more revealing clothing. There are many reasons why I am bothered by the image, but for the purposes of this post I want to turn to body studies and the concept of “thinking through the body” (Blackman, 2008).

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The Importance of History: In Memory of Ronald Schultz

– By Sam Clevenger

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

A couple of months ago, I received terrible news: one of my mentors from my graduate studies at the University of Wyoming had passed away.  Ronald Schultz was an accomplished historian, a scholar whose imparted knowledge I am only beginning to fully realize and understand.  As I reflect back on my time as a Ph.D. student, I can identify multiple moments during just my first year where, without Ron’s generous and constant guidance and advice, I don’t know if I would’ve been able to make it through my classes or stay in the program.  There were nights I would be up late, frustratingly putting my shoulder to a reading, and he’d help me decipher its relevance.  There were times where I was frustrated with where I saw myself in PCS, and through a back and forth correspondence he helped me sift through my thoughts and ideas and figure out a path forward.  His mentorship went beyond my time at Wyoming: in many ways I depended on his mentorship throughout my first years in the program.  It was through Ron that I began to understand how Marxist historiography was integral to the political and intellectual milieu they shared with cultural studies.  It was through Ron’s insight that I really began to conceptually see the relation between knowledge, power, and agency, and the intellectual importance in defending the complexity and exuberance of the past: that our contemporary political discourses are historically conditioned in ways we sometimes can’t seem to discern.

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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 and Dr. Allis at

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?

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