Bloomsbury Companion to the Philosophy of Sport – Review

Cesar Torres’ The Bloomsbury Companion to the Philosophy of Sport has just arrived on my desk. Firstly I’ll say that I do have a partisan interest in it as I contributed a chapter towards the end on ‘Resources in the Philosophy of Sport’ which I’ll mention in more detail later.

My first thoughts on seeing it ‘in the flesh’ were ‘wow! what a great resource!’. If you are looking for a encyclopaedia on the philosophy of sport, this is it. It is different from all the other books in the field because it contains very short chapters on the whole range of issues by most of the eminent scholars working in the field today: Scott Kretchmar, William Morgan, Robert Simon, Jan Boxill, Angela Schneider, plus many, many others. These authors are serious experts and have reputations to prove it.

The structure is pretty straightforward and logical. It starts off with a brief history of the field, outline of typical research methods, consideration of key issues, detailed glossary of key concepts, before finishing with further resources and an annotated bibliography.

From a personal perspective I am really pleased to see space given to the different research methods used in the field. This will undoubtedly be helpful to my students who are often quite unsure and confused about philosophical research methods as they are often misled into believing that the only types of research in the study of sport are quantitative or qualitative; of which obviously philosophy fits into neither. The fact that a range of philosophic research methods are considered; Analytic, Continental and Eastern, means that I can give my students (and colleagues!) more direction as to what the philosophy of sport does and how it does it.

The largest part of the book is then given over to a consideration of current and future issues. This covers pretty much everything from fairness, equality, disability, risk, environment, aesthetics, knowledge, spirituality, technology and commercialisation. This strength of such a breadth is however unsurprisingly limited by a lack of depth, and it clear that many of the authors found it a challenge to cover arguments and discussion that are contained in hundreds of thousands of words, into just a short snapshot. I certainly don’t envy their task but generally they have done a really good job in setting out many of the key problems and providing some ways of solving them.

The glossary of key terms and concepts used in the philosophy of sport is really helpful and covers contested and difficult terms such as ‘cheating’, ‘deception’, ‘fair play’, ‘formalism’, ‘gamesmanship’, ‘rules’ and ‘sport’ itself. Again, the authors have had a tight limit as to what they are able to say but again, it provides a good introduction to these central concepts.

The final part is further resources, careers in the field and key literature. My chapter on resources essentially provides a complete reference list of works in the field and divides them into thematic sections, such as: general texts; ethics, values and fair play; sport and play; sport and the body; doping and sports medicine; aesthetics of sport; political philosophy of sport; coaching and education; Olympic philosophy; and epistemology, critical thinking and research ethics. I then provide other resources such as websites, videos, associations, and social media. The challenge with these kinds of electronic resources is obvious but as far as I know, they are still up-to-date upon the book’s publication!

The section on careers is a tricky one and I’m not sure why the publishers thought it necessary to include it. Studying the philosophy of sport will (unfortunately) rarely lead to a job in that field although the author is absolutely right to highlight the use and merits of studying philosophy itself. The inclusion of several courses and the content they cover may encourage other academics and managers to include the philosophy of sport in their curriculum although perhaps this is wishful thinking on my part. Equally, the inclusion of various associations, conferences and the grants available may be of use to undergraduates and potential postgraduates who are unfamiliar with the field. However, this is the chapter that I think is the least useful and as much as I respect and value my friendship with Charlene, I think she was given a pretty hard task in making this fit with the rest of the book.

The final chapter is effectively an annotated bibliography of key papers throughout the history of the philosophy of sport. Again, the authors had an almost impossible challenge in picking the most important papers and I’m sure that there will be disagreements about which papers were included and ignored. Nevertheless, I think the authors have done a pretty good job in tracing the development of the field by highlighting particular influential works.

So overall:

  • Positives: absolutely brilliant resource covering pretty much everything and anything in the philosophy of sport and written by the best scholars in the area.
  • Negatives: the broad scope of the book means that it is just a snap-shot of the key issues, concepts and ideas and is unable to go into any real depth.
  • Audience: undergraduates and postgraduate students studying sport, undergraduate and postgraduate students studying philosophy; it might also be of use and interest to the general reader.

Every library that supports students studying sport should have at least one copy. It really is an incredibly useful resource in helping to understand what the philosophy of sport is and the types of issues it covers.

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