In an ever expanding academic discussion on sport, Randy Martin and Toby Miller have inserted a valuable collection of materials in Sportcult. The assemblage of a wide and varied assortment of articles (ranging from professional wrestling in Mexico to cricket in Sri Lanka to golf course design) makes Sportcult another important contribution in a field of study that, though long dismissed as not serious intellectual work, is finally getting some of the attention it deserves.
Possibly the most important contribution that Sportcult makes does not reside in any of the articles, but in the two introductory pieces written by both Martin and Miller. In Martin’s and Miller’s “Fielding Sport: A Preface to Politics?,” the editors build up a line of argumentation as to both why sport should be studied and along what lines it should be studied. This seem crucial in an area which has to repeatedly fight for academic legitimacy. Ideas and concepts of both the popular and national/global identities are two areas where Martin and Miller suggest that sport can offer promising avenues for analysis. According to Martin and Miller, sport forces those indebted to the traditional cultural studies paradigm to rethink how the popular is studied. Likewise, the constant shifting and fluctuating of national borders/boundaries/identities is a prime nexus for the study of sport. They write, “the national team is part of every portfolio of sovereignty, and the various world competitions recruit no end to a country’s code” (11). Assessments such as these configure sport as a crucial element in understanding a larger, global world.
Indeed, the most intriguing articles in this collection center around problems of nationalism and identity. In the appropriately titled section “Building Nations,” Quadri Ismail’s article on the Sri Lankan national cricket team develops interesting and previously unexplored thoughts on how oppressed Tamil minority must negotiate a conservative Sinhala nationalism that surrounds the presentation of the Sri Lankan cricket team. While I remain unconvinced of Ismael’s conclusion that one can eventually escape the “grip of nationalism” (107), Ismail begins a necessary discussion on the politics of nationalism and national sports teams. Another post-colonial cricket article, Grant Farred’s piece on cricket in post-apartheid South Africa, sits nicely beside Ismael’s article. Farred tackles the problems of including blacks on a previously all-white institution (cricket) in South Africa and what this means in the formation of a new (post-apartheid) national identity. [End Page 226]
Unfortunately, the strength and unity of the “Building Nations” section does not carry through the entire book. The following sections (“Building Bodies,” “Buying and Selling Nations and Bodies,” and “Signifying Sport”) all contain pertinent and intelligent pieces. Articles such as Heather Levi’s account of Mexican pro wrestling (“On Mexican Pro Wrestling: Sport as Melodrama”) and Gitanjali Maharaj’s piece on black male representation and in basketball (“Talking Trash: Late Capitalism, Black (Re)Productivity, and Professional Basketball”) both offer intriguing analyses of timely and pertinent subjects. Levi’s anthropological approach, the only in this collection, offers unique perspectives on a rapidly rising social phenomenon. Those perplexed by the meteoric rise of pro wrestling’s popularity in the United States in the last few years will find Levi’s anthropological work enlightening. “Talking Trash” examines race and gender matrix among black males and street basketball. Using street basketball legend Peewee Kirkland’s career as a center piece, Maharaj explores how the NBA succeeded in simultaneously “repudiat(ing) black socioeconomic marginality while embracing black consumerism as a way to enter the socioeconomic mainstream” (233). Analyses such as Levi’s and Maharaj’s not only provide crucial ideas on previously under-thought subjects, they also open up new possibilities for analysis among other under-thought subjects, which keeps them nicely aligned with the philosophies and concepts set out by the editors of Sportcult.
Yet the articles become increasingly disparate, not only in subject matter, but in style and tone. In this sense, Sportcult serves more as a resource guide for those looking for particular topics rather than a coherent...