Academic journal article Proceedings: International Symposium for Olympic Research

Olympism, Governmentality and Technologies of Power

Academic journal article Proceedings: International Symposium for Olympic Research

Olympism, Governmentality and Technologies of Power

Article excerpt


In this paper we seek to understand the process of construction of discourse on Olympism and its evolving nature from the end of the 19th to the mid-20th century. This is to be undertaken principally through an analysis of the writings of Pierre de Coubertin. In so doing we wish to move beyond the classic historical approach focusing on personalities, structures, and context, to employ a Foucauldian approach which focuses on the constitution of knowledges, discourses, and thus de-centring the subject. (In this sense we are as interested in how the developing discourse of Olympism constructs Coubertin, as in how Coubertin constructed the discourse.)

Core to our discussion are the Foucauldian concepts of technologies of power and technologies of the self, and their interaction in what Foucault refers to as 'governmentality.' In Foucault's terms, there are four types of technologies:

   (1) Technologies of production which permit us to produce,
   transform or manipulate things; (2) technologies of sign systems
   which permit us to use signs, meanings, symbols or signification;
   (3) technologies of power, which determine the conduct of
   individuals and submit them to certain ends or domination, an
   objectivising of the subject; (4) technologies of the self which
   permit individuals to effect by their own means or with the help of
   others a certain number of operations on their own bodies and
   souls, thoughts conduct, and way of being, so as to transform
   themselves in order to attain a certain state of happiness, purity,
   wisdom, perfection, or immortality. (1)

Each type of technology "implies certain modes of training and modification of individuals, not only in the obvious sense of acquiring skills but also in the sense of acquiring certain attitudes." (2) However it is the technologies of power / domination and self which together when internalised constitute the notion of governmentality, referring to socio-political contexts where power is decentred and where members of a society play an active role in their own self government. The interface between these technologies is thus our primary focus.

Olympism was developed in Coubertin's writings and speeches as a philosophy consciously intended as a set of rules or propositions not simply about sport and its governance but about how one's life should be led and, thus, clearly relates to what Foucault describes in his characterisation of technologies of the self. We will argue that Olympism as a philosophy is a means by which Coubertin attempts to resolve the ambiguities or tensions of his own position in a changing world (in class terms between aristocracy, the industrial bourgeoisie and working classes; in political terms between forms of neo-liberalism, socialism, and conservatism; in international relations between internationalism or cosmopolitanism and nationalism; in epistemological terms between rationalism, empiricism, and classicism; and in summary in terms of 'world view' between tradition and modernity). We will further argue though Coubertin's position is an attempt to resolve these tensions in an overt adoption of this philosophy, the increasingly dominant nature of Western sport and the position of the Olympic movement within it engenders a shift to governmentality such that oppositional groups, whether class, gender, or anti-imperialist in form are drawn into the reproduction of self through sporting technologies of self and domination.

Although governmentality may be evident in a range of societies or social contexts, much of the work of Foucault and of political theorists who have engaged with the term, focuses on governmentality in a neo-liberal, modernist context. Neo-liberal individualism is perhaps the dominant form of post-Enlightenment political ideology in the West which engenders a particular form of knowledge with, for example, a predisposition to accept market mechanisms and a restricted remit for the state. …

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