Questioning Sport and Societies of Control

Following my excerpt via PLSJ on Deleuze's societies of control, I am wondering: what role does sport play in creating and normalizing such a society?

First, I will suggest that Guttmann's From Ritual to Record, an exposition of the transformation from a ritualized pre-modern folk sport to the highly-rationalized and bureaucratic modern sport form seen today, is perhaps the fundamental text for building a foundation from which to answer that question.

Second, I'll offer these recent sportsBabel voices as probes, including Notes From The Horse Races, The Sports Information Market (or Jimmy Hits a J), The Precession of the Model, Pantactilism, and Romancing the Stone.

But I also want to look more specifically at the "departure from disciplinary space" component of this question, so I will explore a little further here.

Many late modern racing forms (eg. mountain biking, triathlon) have left the carceral competition space of the track in favour of a more fluid and dispersed geography. The contestant escapes the panoptic gaze of the stadium architectural form while in this new geography, so a new mechanism of tracking/measuring/ranking performance is required.

The device that facilitates this tracking is an RFID tag or chip (see, for example, the ChampionChip), which is affixed to the athlete's body or technological prosthesis (ie. uniform, shoe, vehicle). Using chip sensors that vary from the short-range to the terrestrial global positioning satellite, the athlete's position in time and space may be plotted within such a fluid competition geography.

The sensor serves much the same purpose as the guard in Bentham's panopticon, except that the process has been automated — one is always being sensed by this open system of control. Rather than panoptic, one might call this system pantactile, a "seeing" in much the same way that a blind person reads Braille. And when connected by network to a database, it allows for a centralized "awareness" of this touch-sense as well as a permanent archive or "memory" of the performance.

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