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 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.

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PRISM: Feminist Materialism within Physical Cultural Studies

– By Katie Esmonde and Meir Lewin

Katie Esmonde and Meir Lewin are Ph.D. students in Physical Cultural Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park.  They recently submitted the following essay, arguing that Megan Warin’s 2014 article “Material Feminism, Obesity Science and the Limits of Discursive Critique” should be added as a prism in the PCS program.  The program unanimously voted for the article’s inclusion.

In the introduction to the essay “Material Feminism, Obesity Science and the Limits of Discursive Critique,” Warin (2014) discusses her experience at an interdisciplinary symposium on the intergenerational influence on obesity. She describes her sense that there was a separation of biological reality from discursive language” (p. 2); essentially, the social scientists were unable to communicate with the biological perspective due to their understanding of the body as a purely socially constructed entity. While perhaps evoking some defensiveness as we read along, this anecdote resonated with our experiences as physical cultural studies students (PCS) in a kinesiology department. While we do not wish to diminish the importance of social and discursive theorizations of the body, we have found that these perspectives can be limiting as they can deny the materiality of the body. Just as the physiologists in kinesiology must consider the significance of socially constructed elements of the body, PCS scholars will further a socially focused analysis by considering the interwoven and interactive nature of biology and culture.

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Physical Culture and Judaism: Reflections on Yom Kippur via Richard Hoggart

– By Meir Lewin

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

Yom Kippur translates to “Day of Atonement.” There is a heaviness that comes with the idea of atoning for ones sins. We are instructed to fast for 24 hours in order to sharpen our senses, to reach a level of heightened sincerity in our apologies for the past year’s transgressions. To a fault, I don’t connect with the idea of atoning, in this specific way. What I do appreciate is the notion of an active reflection—reflecting on the year, our lives, our relationships, and most of all, our families. In this sense, it seems beyond the realm of simple coincidence that Dr. David Andrews, in discussing the work of Richard Hoggart (1957) in our current class on British Cultural Studies, encouraged us to engage with our own genealogy.

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This Pain in My Back: Injury, Stress, and Cohesive Personhood

– By Shaun Edmonds

Shaun Edmonds is a Ph.D. student in the Physical Cultural Studies program at the University of Maryland, College Park.

Dealing with the stressors of academia is a daily struggle. Every day is a seemingly endless attempt to prioritize a constellation of ambiguous expectations, looming deadlines, and yet still find the space to provide sufficient personal care to rise again the next day and do it all over again. It is far from unusual for disruptions in one form or another to upend a given day, but arguably we often have the agency and choice to make our prioritizations our own. We decide what is important and what can be shelved for another day. When that power is wrestled from us through injury, it can be debilitating in often unconsidered ways. In this essay I explore the ways in which chronic pain from a lower back injury created conflict between different aspects of my identity, causing my normally cohesive person to splinter into warring factions. Unlike Josh Newman’s exploration of the pain in his neck, a resultant physical manifestation of the dissonance between his social justice values and his privileged existence (2013), I instead attempt to trace the impact of the pain in my back to the creation of dissonance between body, mind, and social networks. This mapping will explore how multiple dimensions of personhood are imbricated within the body, and how those imbrications are revealed (and perhaps unraveled) through instances of injury.

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