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Sport in History 5 : Modern versus PostModern

Updated on December 30, 2017

Modern versus Post Modern

Commodification and consumption of sport, corporatisation and celebrity appeal are all a part of what Bale terms the placeless sportscape(Bale). Paradoxically, with the rise of these highly professional, synthetic sportscapes has been an increasing trend toward less structured sporting activity and landscapes(Sport for all). While the aforementioned commodity sportscapes (ie.large stadia, precincts etc.) are firmly established as an international phenomenon, deemed essential for a city's image and even economy, informal sports of a more leisure based variety provide a challenge for the production of space(werk, bauen.p14). A discussion of this paradox in the social context of sport today necessitates a comparative analysis between the modern and the post-modern condition as it relates to sport. The characteristics of modern sport have been tabled earlier using Guttmann's model. These characteristics, as has been identified, mirror the society of modernisation and mechanisation that they were a part of. The facilities and spaces planned in the modern era (until the 1960's) also represented these characteristics, resulting in the rigorously functional and programmatically separated planning of the Functional City model(W&B), which was the consistent paradigm across Europe, UK, USA and Australia. Sport and leisure in the modernist cities was aimed at a civilising policy toward providing healthy and meaningful leisure to a populace with increased free time due to changes in labour laws.(W&B) However, in the seventies, with the emergence of what is now commonly termed the post-modern era, leisure moved from an emphasis on health and meaningful activity to become an essential part of the pleasure economy.

These differences manifest in the new post-modern landscapes that are invariably more informal and may be tied to a vastly greater colonising area than the previous era (scuba diving, paragliding,four wheel driving, surfing and so on).

Bideau suggests(werk beaeun)that the impression gained is of a link between the birth of a sporting society and the death of material production. The result is hard work on our bodies, rather than hard work producing goods. Eichberg speaks of the change from the modern pyramid structure, with an ascendent 'top' and centred position of survey(represented literally by the winners dais), to a post-modern labyrinthine condition that is non-centred, lacks a point of survey and reflects the post-modern condition of curiosity.(Eichberg) Some authors have questioned the validity of a 'post-modern' era (Habermas, Uses of sport), seeing it as intractable from the meta-narrative that defines modernist thinking. Nevertheless, and while remaining aware of such debates, the changing sporting landscape from the nineteen seventies onwards offers distinctive differences between the modern and what has alternately been termed trans-modern, hyper-modern, late-modern and post-modern of today. Political changes, new ecological attitudes, and changing spatial and temporal perceptions can be identified. Wohl, as quoted by Eichberg (Eichberg p.138) suggests the new games of the emergent post modern (skateboarding, jogging, frisbee, surfing) more closely resemble the medieval games and play, being more integrated into the surrounding natural landscape. Modern sporting characteristics such as separation of tasks, streamlined body condition, dynamic action and acheivement are in the post-modern paralleled with what are recognisably more medieval aspects of festive repetition, song, musicality, movement and activity. In essence the new sporting environment that emerges in the post-modern age emphasises fun and bodily experience rather than competition and training. It also re-engages with the communicative aspects of traditional games(Eichberg 145).

Again, such developments occur within a social context that reflects these aspects, one that 'thinks globally but acts locally' and is directing toward small scale production and regionalism(Eichberg 146). Concurrent to this is the individualisation of recreation that manifests itself most clearly in the international marketing of lifestyle sports and 'bottom up' marketing strategies. Companies such as Nike have recognised the emergence of the importance of individual expression in the lifestyle market, exploiting this with strategies directed toward mass customisation that construct a 'grassroots' product-based lifestyle(Werk and Beaunp.16)

Often the informal activities such as skateboarding or 'ghetto soccer' invade the built environment and may seem disturbing to some. Planning for such informal activities has its own unique problems, primarily that of accommodating the flexibility needed for both passive and intensive uses.(Werk&Bp.17)

Furthermore, recent changes to physical culture landscapes highlight the reclamation of the spatial element. Modern conditions of sport necessitated one dimensional, directional time and ever increasing progress, that served to disintegrate space. (Eichberg 152) The domination of time over space in modern sport gave it a 'staged' effect, appearing unnatural. The flattened landscape that denied irregularity and place can be compared to the Roman military fields.However, something such as jogging or surfing, or the eastern 'inner sports' such as tai chi, direct more toward timelessness, a new slowness, and a de-stressing from the rationality and tension of sportive time.

So, concurrent to the globalised sportscape of hyper-commodification are the activities that present as almost 'anti-sport'. Eichberg's trialectic can be re-visited here because it represents how these reproductive and a-productive activities (jogging, surfing) are at times used as training programs for productive sporting competition. At the same time the exploitation of these new games is visible through the 'sportising' of them, creating competitions, rules, regulations, and standard conditions that feed markets for branding and imaging. What is clear and is borne out in research (Sport for all, Uses of sport) is a contrast between the elite based, celebrity/commodity sports, and the exercise activities or more de-structured sport, that serve more as an event; rhythmic and situational. In a design sense this resulted in either an alternative expressivity in facility design that aims to negate the functionalist panopticon, or a Disneyfication of the activity landscape in the form of adventure parks. Both are a critique in a sense of the space/time separation of measure/container found in modern facilities, and an indication of the need to express the 'fiction of progress'.(Eichberg 160)


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