Capturing Movement (not Motion Capture)

As someone who is interested in studying contemporary sporting institutions, I find myself often using the language of containment or confinement in framing sports competition sites as Foucauldian disciplinary spaces (in and out of bounds, partitioned areas, referee's gaze, etc.). Deleuze (in Foucault), however, admonishes those who miss the more crucial element of Foucault’s work on this topic: namely, that he theorized first and foremost the problem of movement and circulation, and only then did that analysis consider the issue of confinement and enclosure as a particular response. In other words, movement and circulation — qualities of the nomad — are consistently present a priori, with confinement a technique that may then be applied in various forms to the issue of movement and circulation: to contain a body within a space, to exclude a body from entering that space, or to partition bodies in such a way that they may not interact with one another.

In contrast, Deleuze and Guattari develop the concept of striated versus smooth space to deal more specifically with the question of the movement and circulation of bodies around and within. While Foucault offers us a formula for organizing space, time and movement so as to maximize productive utility and minimize political instability, Deleuze and Guattari take this strategy of discipline as the general model of the striated space of State power. Striated space, according to Deleuze and Guattari, is the enclosed space of the State apparatus; it is a coded series of points, which thus allows it to be measurable, and the State seeks to constrict or divert flows through this measurement. The relationship to modern sport in this sense should be obvious.

Smooth space, by contrast, is the space of the nomadic war machine. It is deterritorialized space, flowing space, permeable space. It is a space of vectors that lacks a centre point. It can be considered as the space that exists, or comes into being, between the measurable points ("… in the case of the striated, the line is between two points, while in the smooth, the point is between two lines …" (Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, p.480)). We should note that these are ideal types, according to D+G. In actual practise, smooth and striated spaces exist in admixture or combination. Smooth spaces become striated over time, while striated spaces include conditions necessary for new types of smooth space to emerge and flourish.

One of the fundamental tasks of the State is to striate the space over which it reigns, or to utilize smooth spaces as a means of communication in the service of striated space. It is a vital concern of every State not only to vanquish nomadism but to control migrations and, more generally, to establish a zone of rights over an entire "exterior," over all of the flows traversing the ecumenon. If it can help it, the State does not dissociate itself from a process of capture of flows of all kinds, populations, commodities or commerce, money or capital, etc. There is still a need for fixed paths in well-defined directions, which restrict speed, regulate circulation, relativize movement, and measure in detail the relative movements of subjects and objects (Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, p.385).

Returning to earlier work on spatial and temporal vulnerabilities in disciplinary sports spaces, let us briefly examine the smooth and striated at the running poles of marathon and sprint.

The Marathon

At the 1980 Boston Marathon, race administrators are unable to (nor do they desire to) clearly see the relatively undifferentiated throng lining the periphery of the race course. Meanwhile, Rosie Ruiz takes a convoluted, winding line through the crowd of race spectators before she finds a hole in the membrane separating race participants from spectators and assumes the new line of the runners as they hurry towards the finish line. Line to point to line: Ruiz becomes a champion of smooth space!

Courtesy of Seiko Sports Timing

In the contemporary marathon, however, the (check)points reassume their primacy over the relatively smooth trajectory of the course: bodies and points are made to communicate with each other in the service of numerative administration. As each object of information (runner) passes over the checkpoint mat, a magnetic field activates the uniquely-keyed passive RFID chip that each athlete has affixed to his or her running shoe. The chip communicates personal information to the network (in this case, the unique key that identifies the athlete in the database) in conjunction with a time that the database record for that checkpoint was created. An athlete's existence in the race, then, may only be legitimized by sequentially crossing the start line, each of the checkpoints, and the finish line with the appropriate identifier affixed to one's body. A relatively smooth space is thus striated by the administrative authorities governing the race.

The Sprint

The 100-metre sprint space on the athletics track is a striated space par excellence: a tight grid of running lanes to partition, rank, and channel runners from a starting point to the ultimate finishing goal. While the sprinters (capital) are primarily concerned about the flow of the race, the perfect biomechanical pumping of arms and legs that propels a body down a narrow corridor, the State is primarily concerned with the start and finish lines and the administration of the body at those two points. Indeed, the biomechanical demands of sprinting are so precise at the world-class level that lateral movement of any kind is generally antithetical to optimal performance, and thus adjudicating that flow of athletes becomes subordinated to the paramount importance of properly assessing the alpha and omega points of the race.

The distance proper to the race official, stadium seat, or (perhaps most important) television camera allows us the necessary perspective to monitor the flow of the runners as it develops during the race, and one who surveys optically has a fairly decent understanding of who is winning or losing.

Photo Finish

As we reach the finish line, however, speed demands a different dynamic of surveying. By spatiotemporally dilating a race's final few fractions of a second, the slit video finish line system shifts administration from one based on optical perception to one that is haptic — in other words, a close, tactile, sensuous vision. This haptic vision serves to striate the runners very precisely; specifically, striation occurs in a fashion that is more precise than can be achieved with individual race judges bearing hand-held stopwatches.

It is not at all that the State knows nothing of speed; but it requires that movement, even the fastest, cease to be the absolute state of a moving body occupying a smooth space, to become the relative characteristic of a "moved body" going from one point to another in a striated space. In this sense, the State never ceases to decompose, recompose, and transform movement, or to regulate speed (Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, p.386).

In sport, with its ethic of citius, altius, fortius — the imperative of ever-increasing speed — this administrative intervention by the State to capture movement becomes very apparent.


3 responses to Capturing Movement (not Motion Capture)

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  1. Leighton says:

    I understand movement as having free flow But CIRCULATION? Doesnt circulation need some confinement or enclosure to act? What is circulation to you? Or to Deleuze?

  2. sportsbabel says:

    leighton, perhaps an unfortunately loose usage of the terms on my part, but i would also suggest that while you are right — circulation implies some confinement or enclosure in order to act — we must also consider the variability of the flow under consideration when discussing circulation.

    the confinement that channels flow produces friction, turbulence, etc. of the various particles within, that may create certain singularities in a non-linear dynamical sense (liquids, human bodies, linguistics). it is what happens to flow within confinement that the state seeks to control.

    manuel delanda's a thousand years of non-linear history is excellent in elaborating these ideas of non-linear social dynamics.

  3. sportsBabel » Marginal Notes on Notes on Gesture says:

    [...] becoming more apparent over the course of the twentieth century insofar as the two both serve to capture motion. Or more specifically, as they both serve to capture gesture: walking and gait have become as [...]