This one is going to be a little short, and you will soon understand why, considering the impending anthropological events, so to speak. But at least I am publishing this one on Sunday, unlike the last few editions of this series which were published in the early, procrastination-infused hours of the past several Monday mornings. And since I always quote and re-quote Kurt Vonnegut, I'll do it again: So it goes.
So this edition is about sports, a subject that has received a certain amount of attention from the anthropological community. Archaeologists have long studied sports--at least indirectly--since they often focus on massive complexes and structures that had all sorts of "ritual" uses, sports among them. The photograph below is from the large ball court at Monte Alban in Oaxaca, Mexico (in 2008), which is a pretty fascinating architectural and cultural creation.
I am always intrigued by these kinds of structures, especially when I think about some of the modern correlates (football stadiums, baseball fields, etc). Before I cut and run from this short essay like an irresponsible louse, I do want to tell about one colleague who is doing some pretty interesting anthropological work on the cultural meanings of...basketball. A good day for that, indeed.
Bernardo Rios is a colleague of mine who is a graduate student at Ohio State University (apologies for Friday, Buckeye fans), and his research focuses on transnational Oaxacan migrants and basketball. Here is a little excerpt about this work from Bernardo's web site, Oaxacalifornia Hoops:
I have been conducting research in Oaxaca, Mexico and Los Angeles, California since 2005. My research focuses on the sport of basketball and how Oaxacan communities in Los Angeles use the sport to create multiple identities throughout the community development process.
One of the coolest parts about this dissertation work is that Bernardo has put together an ethnographic film that explores the "use of basketball as a cultural practice." Check out more about the film, Crossing Over: Basketball on the Border of Community, here. Highly recommended, for all of you anthro-sports hybrids out there.
Anyway, there is a big "anthropological" event happening at 5:05 tonight, so I need to wrap this one up. By way of summary, I just want to say that one of the most critical and valuable contributions that anthropology can make to the study and analysis of the meanings of sport is objectivity. Despite the loud proclamations of the post-modernists, objectivity is in full force these days, and a much needed tool for understanding the various social, political, cultural, and even economic meanings of sports for humanity, whether past or present. So, for example, while I am watching my own university's team--the University of Kentucky Wildcats--play against the UNC Chapel Hill Tar Heels in a couple of hours, I will be observing this game through the cool, detached lenses of academic anthropology. Make no mistake, I am completely unbiased in this, and am only a dispassionate, neutral, value-free observer. For instance, when and if Brandon Knight leads UK to another amazing victory and snatches glory from Chapel Hill's squad, I will refrain from any sort of cheering, judgment, or partisan celebration. In sum, good luck Tar Heels, I wish you the best. Seriously. See? That's what anthropology can do for you. Last point: GO BIG BLUE!