Post-Olympism? Questioning Sport in the Twenty-First Century

By John Bale; Mette Krogh Christensen | Go to book overview

1
Post-olympism? Questioning
olympic Historiography
Douglas Booth

Ambiguity accompanied initial scholarly analyses and popular uses of the prefix ‘post’. But by the early 1990s a consensus had emerged among social theorists that ‘post’ connoted a condition of reflection that involved dissection, especially of modernity; hence postmodernism (Kumar, 1995, pp. 66–7). Added to olympism, the prefix ‘post’ thus implies an occasion for critically reflecting on the modern olympic movement and games (see Kevin Wamsley's contribution to this book, Chapter 15). Consistent with this notion of post-olympism, this chapter questions olympic historiography. Two conditions make pertinent such an analysis of a field that attracts many social historians of sport. First, the juxtaposition of radically different histories of the olympics raises questions about the interpretation of the historical record. Why do olympic scholars, for example Maurice Roche (2000), Helen Lenskyj (2000) and Robert Barney, Stephen Wenn and Scott Martyn (2002), produce such diverse histories? Second, interrogating olympic historiography seems relevant in the context of new questions, new methods and new theories associated with the cultural turn in social history and the emergence of deconstructionist history.

This chapter comprises two sections. The first investigates the general nature of historical knowledge with specific reference to olympic history, and follows a framework developed by Alun Munslow (1997) who discerns three basic models of historical inquiry: reconstruction, construction and deconstruction. Reconstructionism, and to a lesser degree constructionism, dominate olympic history. Reconstructionists and constructionists privilege empirical methods, accept historical evidence as proof that they can recover the past, and insist that their forms of representation are transparent enough to ensure the objectivity of their observations. The key difference between reconstructionists and constructionists is the extent to which they engage a priori knowledge. The latter willingly embrace the concepts and theories of others as tools to propose and explain relationships between events; reconstructionists oppose theory on the grounds that it subjects historians to ‘predetermined explanatory schemes’ and

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