In this new episode – our first production since January of 2020, which also means our first episode since the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, widespread protests against police brutality and the notable impact of the Black Lives Matter movement – we begin a two part mini-series on the history and politics of yoga culture. In this first part, we play an interview with Dr. Andrea Jain, Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the Indiana University School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI, and editor of the Journal of the American Academy of Religion. The episode coincides with the release of Dr. Jain’s new book Peace, Love, Yoga: The Politics of Global Spirituality (Oxford University Press). In our discussion, Dr. Jain touches on the complex history of yoga, its emergence as a mass consumer product in the twentieth century, and the politics of yoga as a “spiritual commodity” shaped by neoliberal capitalism. Dr. Jain’s interview gives listeners a more critical perspective on the popular cultural and spiritual practice in this current context of pandemics, social distancing, and protesting against racial injustice.
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.
This is admittedly conjecture, but it sure seems to me like more and more writers and thinkers these days are praising the value and virtues of idleness. Renowned MIT physicist Alan Lightman recently explored the importance of “wasting time” in a book based on a recent TED talk. He argued that the ability to temporarily liberate oneself from structured time and pressures of modern life is essential to human creativity. Similarly, American artist Jenny Odell’s has recently called on people to “do nothing” through unstructured respite in natural settings, as part of her overall criticism of digital technology’s impact on people’s everyday work habits. For some time, intellectuals and radical thinkers have engaged with the notion that idleness (uncoerced leisure, spontaneous play, inactivity, laziness, whatever you want to call it) is a human right that is too often denied by capitalism. In the early 1900s, British philosopher Bertrand Russell and Czech writer Karel Čapek’s “praised” idleness and unrestricted leisure as a humanist remedy for the overworked, exploited conditions of workers suffering under industrial capitalism. This was not even the most radical of propositions: at the turn of the century French socialist Paul Lafargue, employing a decidedly Marxist approach, polemically declared that people have the “right to be lazy”. Now, in an era defined by such problems as the hollowing of social welfare programs and digital technology’s seeming uncompromising power over people’s everyday activities and work habits, more people like Odell and Lightman are calling for a renewed, nuanced discussion of idleness as a healthy, humanist, virtuous endeavor.
Though it is difficult to locate the exact origins of agricultural fairs in the history of the United States, it is reasonably safe to assume that fairs have existed in various parts of the country since at least the 1700s, when settler colonists undoubtedly such British and European agricultural traditions with them. Today, counties across the U.S. organize county fairs during the summer months. For millions of Americas, fairs have come to signify family-friendly community entertainment, complete with an assortment of fried and comfort foods, carnival rides, tractor pulls, 4-H and agricultural demonstrations, and other symbols (real and mythical) of rural life. Indeed, sport and the active body is often a key component of fair entertainment, arriving in the form of rodeos, racing competitions involving farming equipment and lawnmowers, guns, even the presence of military booths testing participants on their physical strength. County fairs offer a unique look at not only the workings and values within American culture, but the role of sport within those contexts.
In the year 2012, Donald Trump was still a real estate magnate based in New York. The real estate portfolio for the Trump Organization, at the time, consisted of commercial, residential, hotel and entertainment resort properties. The Trump Organization also built and owned “luxury” golf course properties across the United States and around the world, including courses in Dubai and Indonesia. In July of 2012, the Trump Organization opened a course, Trump International Golf Links, just north of Aberdeen on the northeast coast of Scotland. To this day, Trump continues to declare it “perhaps the greatest golf course anywhere in the world.”
In 2014, sport scholar Joshua Newman published an article in the Journal of Sport Management, in which he examined the “contextual, epistemological, and ontological underpinnings” (p. 603) of sport management as an academic discipline. The article explored arguments concerning whether the commercialization of sport is a “natural development” of the “free marketization” (p. 604) of the industry, or whether sport scholars can critically reflect on the commercialization of sport as being shaped by the emergence of neoliberalism as an economic theory and sociohistorical formation. One of Dr. Newman’s main contentions in the article centered on rethinking sport management in terms of its “dialectical relationship” with the sports industry: the discipline is not merely a result of the sports market, but rather helps to make the “sport industry (and the study of that industry) just as it makes our pedagogical and intellectual work” (p. 604). In short, Dr. Newman is arguing that it is possible for sport management scholars to more critically reimagine sport and the sport management as a discipline, away from assumptions of market-based inevitabilities, and towards more equitable, social forms of jouissance.
For many people, running is not just an ordinary, seemingly healthy exercise activity, but an essential component of their everyday lives. Whether part of their efforts and desire to attain optimal health or a rigorous, deeply embodied activity that they enjoy, running is now a ubiquitous, culturally-meaning practice within modern capitalist societies. The omnipresence of running images, symbols and representations within sporting and social media is a testament to its power and ubiquity of running within, at the very least, North American popular culture.
The scale of Russian international influence has expanded greatly since the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Since that year, we’ve seen the invasion of Ukrainian territory in the Crimean Peninsula in 2014-15, increased border activity with Georgia enacted in the name of Olympic security, and later the Russian cyber interference in elections throughout Europe and North America. Each are important examples of Russian intervention close to home and abroad, with Putin’s Russia leading a campaign to expand the influence of the federation. Continue reading
Sam: Oliver and I are really excited about this episode in terms of what it signifies for the development of our Somatic Podcast project. It’s not that we think this particular episode is some kind of important or insightful piece of audio production, but rather that it marks our foray into experimenting with the podcast episode form and what it offers in terms of rethinking digital storytelling, the relation between music, sound, and experience, and the role of audio storytelling within critical research about all things “somatic” and “active”. On its own terms, this episode was incredibly personal, and fun to create. It is also, to date, our first attempt to create a “Somatic Art” episode. Continue reading
In recent years, numerous podcasts have emerged related to the critical study of sport and physical culture. Professors, scholars, and researchers increasingly engage with the podcast as a useful form for expanding the digital reach of their research projects, engaging with different audiences and publics, and illuminating the politics and power relations of the sports world through a more interactive, digital medium. The feminist sport podcast Burn It All Down, hosted by a group of activists, journalists, and professors, now has a total of thirty-two episodes, as they “bring an intersectional feminist view to the biggest stories in sports.” For some time, academic Shawn Klein has produced the podcast Examined Sport on his website, using the digital audio form to, among other things, “extend the reach of the philosophy of sport literature.” These are just a couple notable examples of sport scholars and researchers producing informative and insightful podcasts today.