Sport, Being and Dialectical Reason: A Sartrean Contribution to Critical Theorisations of Sport

  • Leon Culbertson

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The critical theorisation of sport has drawn on a wide range of social thought. Frankfurt School Marxism, Gramscian influenced hegemony theories, figurational sociology and the works of Bourdieu and Foucault, have all been prominent influences for the analysis of sport. Work such as this fails to place sufficient emphasis on the role of individual praxis, resulting in general conceptualisation, and a failure to account for concrete particularities. In addition, the issue of temporality is largely ignored within the theorisation of sport. This thesis treats the work of theorists influenced by the concept of hegemony as a point of departure from which to rethink the critical theorisation of sport. Having identified a number of problems with the hegemonist position, which stem from a failure to consider the constituting role of individual praxis, the thesis explores the potential of an approach to the theorisation of sport which draws on elements of the work of Jean-Paul Sartre. The influence of the early work of Sartre, particularly Being and Nothingness, on the application of his progressive-regressive method to the study of sport is explored. This is followed by an analysis of Sartre's conception of dialectical reason, and an explication of the mediating factors which constitute the 'formal conditions' of social possibility. The progressive component of Sartre's method is explored through an analysis of key aspects of the posthumously published Critique of Dialectical Reason volume two. This includes a study of boxing as a vehicle for the analysis of the notion of incarnation, which, it is argued, is central to the formulation of a synthetic method. The example of boxing is explored further through a detailed outline of a progressive-regressive analysis of the 1974 World Heavyweight title fight in Zaire between George Foreman and Muhammad Ali. A regressive analysis of boxing is conducted, in relation to the conditions experienced at the time of the fight. This is followed by a progressive analysis to explain Ali's unique historialisation of his times. The thesis concludes by discussing the implications of the progressive-regressive method for our understanding of the general and the particular, the construction of a synthetic method and freedom and necessity in the critical theorisation of sport.
Date of AwardMar 2002
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Brighton

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