New UM Course: Comp Lit 100: Global Sports Cultures

Today I received the good news that the new course I designed — Global Sports Culture — was approved so that I will be able to offer it as Comparative Literature 100 in the Fall semester of 2014.  This gives me a chance to devote more of my teaching time to the topic of sports, to broaden my teaching repertoire beyond the culture of basketball, and it offers students who have been interested in, but unable to enroll in my Hoops Culture course, a chance to take a different sports-related course with me.  So please share this with anyone you think might be interested.

I’m still sifting through the specific materials I’ll be using.  But I have a course description and schedule in mind and thought I’d share them.

(Note: I welcome suggestions for materials that would be appropriate (in terms of the balance of ease and difficulty) for college undergrads.  Please post them in the comments or e-mail me with a brief sense of where and how your suggestion would fit.  Thanks.)

Course Description:

Playing, watching, and talking about sports is perhaps the most popular pastime around the world today.  Taking an astonishing variety of forms in different locales, sports and the images, metaphors, narratives, and values that spring up around sports weave themselves into the stories we tell about ourselves and our world, even when we don’t think we’re talking about sports.  In this course, we’ll study stories and images purveyed and consumed within sports culture around the globe.  We’ll be looking at what they tell us about how we think about such things as play, beauty, goodness, violence, money, sex, gender, race, and nations.

The course format is lecture and discussion.  Each week’s lecture will offer students historically grounded, philosophically informed reflections on concepts key to critically understanding sports culture in its transnational and global dimensions.  Then, in discussion sections, students will explore these concepts in greater detail and more concretely by 1) completing a reading assignment that fleshes the lecture topic out in relation to a particular example or case from global sports culture; 2) completing a short written reflection on the reading assignment prior to the discussion section meeting.  Students will also complete three short and one longer paper.

Week 1            “Introduction: Studying Global Sports Culture”

Week 2           “Play”

[Introducing the concept of “play” as a fundamental impulse underlying global sports culture.  We will explore cross-cultural, philosophical, and social and historical dimensions of play, while at the same time noting the differences between anthropological, philosophical-aesthetic, and sociological-historical approaches to the topic.]

Week 3           “Rules”

[Introducing the concept of “rules” as structuring parameters in sport.  We will view them from the putatively “universal” perspective of the philosophy of games as well as historically in the concrete case of the invention of the rules of basketball in the US and its subsequent export and transformation abroad.]

Week 4           “Creativity”

[Explore the creative expression that can arise when the desire to play meets the constraints of rules by looking at the aesthetic quality of sport in general from a philosophical perspective and by critically examining the ways that nationality, globalization, and race influence both that creative expression and the way it is understood as a sport migrates transnationally.]

Week 5           “Competition”

[introducing the idea of “competition” as a way to explore questions of inter-subjective relations in global sports culture.  This includes a detailed examination of how competition comes to be consciously or unconsciously invested with geopolitical significance.]

Week 6           “Ethics”

[Approaching the issues of ethics in global sports culture from the disciplinary perspectives of philosophy and sociology and by comparing the way in which ethical issues pertaining to sport vary transnationally.]

Week 7           “Aesthetics”

[Considering global sports culture as an art form or at least as an aesthetic phenomenon, taking up the issue both from a philosophical standpoint and from the more concretely historical and sociological perspective and situation of West Indian cricket in the mid 20th century.]

Week 8           “Watching”

[Taking up the issue of spectatorship and fandom.  The accompanying readings, from philosophical, literary critical, and sociological perspectives, address both the putatively universal condition of watching sports as well also the global vicissitudes of that condition.]

Week 9           “Stories”

[Spotlighting the pivotal role that narrative plays in global sports culture.  The readings concretize this by exploring how narratives shape performance, spectatorship and consumption of global sports culture and how these narratives are shaped by such categories as self and other, location and nationality, globalization and universality, and class, race, and gender.]

Week 10          “Media”

 [Examining the role of the mass media in global sports culture, focusing in particular on how, in different global contexts, the mass media directs traffic at the the intersections of sport with such political and social categories as class, race, migration, ethnicity, and nationalism.]

Week 11          “Market”

 [Focusing on the market as the place where the spectacle of global sports culture is manufactured, bought, and sold.  The readings, from the perspectives of history and of cultural studies, focus on the branding and selling of American basketball player Michael Jordan in the context of neo-liberal globalization.]

Week 12          “Gender”

[Introducing the concept of “gender” as a lens through which to examine global sports culture.  The readings offer both theoretical reflection on the concepts of gender in sport and case studies of how gender and sports intersect in national and transnational sporting contexts.]

Week 13          “Race”

[Examining how race functions in global sports culture.  The accompanying readings help to ground this examination by exploring the vicissitudes of race’s functioning depending on its intersections with gender, the particular sport in question, and the national and international setting.]

Week 14          “Geopolitics”           

[This lecture concludes the course by focusing directly on how global sports culture is shaped by and shapes forces of nationalism and imperialism in the context of globalization.]

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