Unpacking PCS


3.  Synthesis and Integration

The development of PCS at Maryland can be viewed as a response to a number of trends within the intellectual community (see below).  First, it was prompted by the perceived inadequacies of the sociology of sport to the aims and objectives of both a Department of Kinesiology, and, indeed, a School of Public Health.  The integrative nature of the work being carried out at Maryland, however, meant that the use of the term sociology of sport would reproduce the type of intellectual boundaries and exclusivities we are attempting to transcend.  In other words, it would reinforce the type of disenabling sub-disciplinary boundaries that inter-disciplinary approaches have sought to overcome.  Thus, we turned to the term physical cultural studies as a means of encompassing the breadth and depth of our necessarily integrated and inter-disciplinary project. 


Furthermore, is a plausible argument to be made that the sociology of sport, as practiced and exhibited within its numerous journals and at its various conferences, is neither exclusively sociological nor is it exclusively focused on sport. In terms of the former, and as with the field of sociology at large, there has been a pronounced and prolonged engagement with a variety of cultural theories and culturally oriented research methodologies. In addition, and perhaps enabled by the turn to cultural theory and method, the range of sociology of sport research has expanded to incorporate the empirical domains of fitness, dance, exercise, movement, wellness, and health. Rather than an “expressive totality” coalescing around sport, the sociology of sport is, in actuality, presently characterized by a “unity-in-difference” (Clarke, 1991, p. 17)—the unifying element being a commitment toward understanding various expressions or iterations of the physical.


Figure:  The Interdisciplinary Derivations and Implications of PCS  


It is also important not to discount the cultural turn within sociology from the 1980s onward, which made a sociology of the body/embodied sociology an evermore important (if, in some quarters, divisive) component of the sociology project. Thus, a proliferation of conferences and research publications focused on the critical cultural analysis of the corporeal placed the body at the forefront of the intellectual agenda. In Frank’s (1990) terms, the body had been “brought back in”. Whereas we often berate ourselves for not being at the forefront of such.  The sociology of sport community proved to be unusually proactive in this regard, being at the forefront of the search for the absent body (Loy,1991).  This can be attributed to a palpable dissatisfaction with the largely disembodied nature of sociology of sport research in the preceding two decades (sociological studies of the active body were carried out; however, they were the exception rather than the rule, and the field as a whole seemed to avoid issues pertaining to the body and embodiment. From the mid/late 1980s, sociology of sport researchers conclusively (re)discovered the body (and thereby issues of physicality) as the empirical core of the field of study onward. Thus ensued a collective awakening to the fact that the body “constitutes the most striking symbol, as well as constituting the material core of sporting activity” (Hargreaves, 1987, p. 141). Once the sociology of sport acknowledged its unavoidably embodied focus, the field gradually broke from its preoccupation with sporting and broadened its empirical scope to include a wider range of physical cultural forms.

It should also be noted that the, now-globalized, British tradition of cultural studies–from which PCS draws much of its epistemological and ontological understanding, and political impetus–has shown a marked neglect of the physical cultural realm.  This is despite both the renewed interest of critical cultural theorists in the body, and cultural studies generally accepted aim to critically contextualize the most prescient aspects of contemporary popular culture and existence (one of which physical culture, in all its myriad forms, has to be considered).

Thus, PCS can be considered as an innovative response to a number of intellectual trends, as required by the demands of providing a innovative and insightful approach to the socio-behavioral understanding of the active  body.  As such, while the aim of PCS is to further the missions of both the Department of Kinesiology and the School of Public Health, it is fully expected that the research generated by the PCS group will also inform fields such as cultural studies, the sociology of the body, race and ethic studies, gender studies, women’s studies, queer and sexuality studies, and urban studies.