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Performance studies, sport, and affect in the twenty-first century

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Thesis type
(Thesis) Ph.D.
Date created
Richard Schechner, one of the founders of performance studies, urges scholars to expand their conceptualization of performance to include a broad spectrum of framed and/or displayed human behaviours. While this call to action has strongly influenced the interdisciplinary impulse of performance studies and prompted important cross-disciplinary investigations between performance genres such as theatre, dance, performance art, political performance, ritual, and play, sport has remained under-theorized in the field. In this project, I begin to fill this gap by approaching the practices, activities, and events of twenty-first century sport through the lens of performance studies. To do so, I propose a series of critical concepts for analyzing the patterning of behavior and the sequencing of action during sport performances: performance genre, configuration, formation, and complex event. Applying these terms to the analysis of sporting practices, activities, and events, I illustrate how each concept enables a rigorous analysis of the socio-political effects of the patterning of behavior in performance occasions. The first chapter proposes a theory for examining performance genres as recognizable clusters of historically situated activities and events and demonstrates the significance of this conceptualization by analyzing the match-fixing scandal in the women’s pairs’ badminton tournament at the 2012 Summer Olympic Games. The second chapter introduces two new concepts for analyzing the patterning of behaviour during sport performances: configuration, which examines the sequencing of interpersonal action, and formation, which attends to the patterning of individual behaviours. I, then, use these terms to analyze the practice of women’s basketball in Canada. The third chapter expands my conceptualization of configuration and formation to examine audience behaviours. More specifically, I trace the genealogy of hockey audience practices in Canada and analyze the men’s gold medal hockey game at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. The fourth chapter introduces the term complex event — meaning performance occasions where multiple participant groups enact distinct, overlapping, configurations — and examines injuries in American football from the early twentieth century to the present. The fifth chapter draws these terms together to investigate the genealogy of the butterfly stroke in the twentieth century. Following this, I analyze Refugee Olympic Team member Yusra Mardini and her performance of the 100-metre butterfly at the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio. Ultimately, I contend that analyzing sports not only fills a gap in the field of performance studies, it also reveals how sport performances both shape and are shaped by their socio-political contexts.
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Scholarly level
Supervisor or Senior Supervisor
Thesis advisor: Dickinson, Peter
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