- Mega-Events and Urban Image Construction: Beijing and Rio de Janeiro by Anne-Marie Broudehoux, and: Sport and Architecture by Benjamin S. Flowers
The articulation of sports and the urban have often been discussed in relation to their functional and representative synergies, particularly through mega-events such as the Olympics that have increasingly raised questions regarding the challenges of sustainable urban planning. Broudehoux’s Mega-Events and Urban Image Construction and Flowers’s Sport and Architecture share a similar effort in transcending these questions by offering a holistic view of their respective subject matters.
Broudehoux, who previously published The Making and Selling of Post-Mao Beijing (2005), which contextualized the rapid development of China’s capital and the hegemonic struggles at play, now expands this understanding by juxtaposing the Olympic transformation of both Beijing and Rio de Janeiro. Using a multidisciplinary approach, she positions her work as a cultural studies analysis that considers both social and spatial analysis. For this, Broudehoux carefully grounds her work in a rich conceptual framework that eventually arrives at two dominant paradigms: the city as either spectacle (Guy Debord) or exception (Giorgio Agamben). Acknowledging the potential risk of falling into the trap of binary oppositions, she nonetheless argues that Beijing 2008 foregrounded the spectacle, while Rio 2016 was dominated by the exceptional. Nonetheless, the different paradigms generally share the same trajectory in accelerating the neoliberal agenda of political and business elites and in utilizing the mega-event to circumvent resistance. The author defines her methodology as “spatial ethnography,” dividing it into three different segments that build on Henri Lefebvre’s influential conceptual triad of space: the autonomous and concerted production of mental place images (conceived), the physical image construction (perceived), and the social image construction (lived). Each chapter aims to give a similar share to the two case studies, while using the different models as the guiding mode of differentiation.
The book does not pretend to provide an industry-oriented understanding of mega-events but is instead committed to its own political project, as it should be within cultural studies. Compared to other publications in this field, Broudehoux manages to convince the reader with a solid theoretical foundation that achieves the difficult act of balancing particularity and generalization, meaning that she allows her theories to travel across different contexts without diminishing their peculiarity. Rather than comparing Beijing and Rio de Janeiro, she maintains a nuanced juxtaposition without jeopardizing her overall critical narrative that mega-events have become a tool for narrow elites to primarily serve their own interests by undermining previous power structures that resisted urban development and valorization. As such, Olympic Games and World Cups are not just occasions for temporary changes but have become strategic facilitators for long-term consequences. Meanwhile, these mega-events have carefully crafted a representation of [End Page 357] exclusion that seemingly annihilates certain groups and sociopolitical issues from their perceived image.
In her conclusion, Broudehoux somehow resorts to the rather utopian view of an inclusive and holistic representation, while counting on the resilience of a diversified city. The only aspect that might be slightly underrepresented is the role of the supranational sports organizations and the sports industries at large that have been edging on local organizing committees with questionable criteria catalogues. At the same time, it is important not to lose sight of the social and communal value of sports and the possibility that they are not inherently prone to serve a neoliberalist worldview.
As a side note, the author also offers the intriguing idea to understand Beijing and Rio de Janeiro as Faustian cities, suggesting that these places might have engaged in a similarly problematic bargain in exchange for fame, power, and reputation. Unfortunately, Broudehoux does not further explore this creative approach, but it might offer some impulse for future critical research in this area. Still, with so many books out...