New Materialism and the Active Body – Ep 14


Sport, Physical Culture, and the Moving Body, recently published by Rutgers University Press.

This month’s episode is a little bit different from our previous episodes. Here at Somatic Podcast, we’ve tried to produce interesting stories about active body contexts (stories about sport and physical activity, and even the question of “inactivity” and its potential importance), as well as their meaning in everyday life, with the overarching goal of reimagining the stories we tell about our somatic lives through digital audio. Yet, we would be remiss if we did not acknowledge the significant scholarly and theoretical development currently taking shape in the sociology of sport specifically and the humanities and social sciences in general.

An increasing number of critical sport scholars are embracing theoretical discourses we can collectively associate with “New Materialism”. At the risk of crudely oversimplifying what is fundamentally a complicated, dialogic, and uneven turn in social and cultural theory, New Materialist scholarship seeks to destabilize Anthropocentric notions of human subjectivity and relate humans with nonhuman and environmental actants in the contemporary context of rapid technological change and global late capitalism. New Materialism complicates the influential foundations laid by decades of historical and cultural materialist inquiry, as well as the twentieth-century “linguistic turn”, in which feminist, critical race, postcolonial and poststructural scholars emphasized the social constructed-ness of categories like gender and race and the role of discourse in contexts of identity formation. Equipped with this insight from the linguistic turn, sociologists, cultural theorists, historians, geographers, and other critical scholars are returning their focus to “matter” and are trying to better understand human life in relation to technology, animals, and other environmental and non-human “actants” in a way that does not privilege the human subject. To put it bluntly, we here at Somatic are excited by the prospect of New Materialist studies of sport and physical culture, for they offer new ways of interpreting active body contexts without silencing the meaning of the nonhuman and the environmental.

Thus, we have decided to dedicate the first episode of 2020 to the question of New Materialism and how New Materialist theories can productively extend the critical study of sport, physical culture and the active body in new and excited ways. Specifically, we speak with Drs. Joshua Newman, Holly Thorpe, and David Andrews, three prominent and influential figures in the sociology of sport field who recently edited a volume of New Materialist scholarship, culminating the new book Sport, Physical Culture, and the Moving Body: Materialisms, Technologies, Ecologies. The editors discuss New Materialist inquiry and how the theoretical development can lead to more nuanced takes on the role of sport and the moving body in our present era of climate change and late capitalism. We then speak with Dr. Marianne Clark, a chapter author in the book, to gain a better understand of what exactly is New Materialist sport scholarship and what kind of research may be generated by the New Materialist turn. As always, we have interwoven the discussion with original music and soundscape in the hopes of engendering a more layered, multi-sensorial reading of the story.



Dr. Joshua Newman is Professor of Media, Politics, and Cultural Studies at Florida State University. He was also a guest on a previous Somatic Podcast episode on the sport management field in the United States. Dr. Holly Thorpe is Professor and Associate Dean Postgraduate in the Te Huataki Waiora / Faculty of Health, Sport and Human Performance at the University of Waikato, New Zealand. Dr. David Andrews is Professor in the Physical Cultural Studies Research Group at the University of Maryland. Dr. Marianne Clark is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Vitalities Lab at the University of New South Wales. Her recent research explores women’s embodied experiences in somatic dance classes.

Suggested Links:

For an introduction to New Materialism as a theory of inquiry, a good place to start is the influential book by Diana Coole and Samantha Frost titled New Materialisms: Ontology, Agency and Politics.

For decades, feminist scholars have engaged with New Materialist theories. For a good book on the relations between New Materialism and feminist inquiry, see Stacy Alaimo and Susan Hekman’s Material Feminisms.

Sport scholar Pirkko Markula wrote a fascinating article on New Materialism’s relation to sport sociology. You can find the article here.


Sound Acknowledgements: Multiples sound clips heard on this episode were taken from There was the sound of a drilling machine, of which the original recording can be found here. There was the sound of birds in a forest, of which the original recording can be found here. All music on the episode was created and recorded by Somatic co-founder Sam Clevenger.

Photo attribution: The photo is the cover of the book Sport, Physical Culture, and the Moving Body: Materialism, Technologies, Ecologies, recently published by Rutgers University Press.