Body and space: social body-space in sports world

Por: Ming-tsung Shih.

Athens 2004: Pre-olympic Congress

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Man’s concept of Space and Body always influence their everyday life. For example, Sennett said: "When the function of space in the modern city are used to move, then the city space lose its attraction for people. Drivers just want to pass through this space fast instead of watching the scene of the city." (Richard Sennett, 1994). As to the impact of the body, for example, in the Ching Dynasty in China, women were forced to do "Foot-bindings", meaning the smaller foot they had, the more beautiful body image they got. In the 20th century, body buildup and plastic surgeries have been popular in Asia, fuelled by man’s emphasis on "body discipline". Therefore, we aimed to discuss whether people’s concept of Space and Body influence the field of Physical Education and Sport, especially from the standpoint of a P.E. teacher, sport researcher, and coach. When such sports as skateboarding, street-dancing, playing X-games become popular, do they reveal difference in the concept of Body and Space in the sports world?


Body can be looked at from three perspectives: body as a thing, body as a subject, and social body. Based on Merleau-Ponty’s concept of body, body is not only an object, but also a subject. The most distinctive difference between body and a desk is that body is not just an observed "thing"(object), however, body is also an observer. This approach to body is different from that of Science or Medicine because Science and Medicine always look at body as a "thing"!(object) In " The Visible and the Invisible"(Merleau-Ponty, 1964), he reminded us that "Language is open upon the things, called forth by the voices of science, and continues an effort of articulation which is the Being of every being." We might say a room could be a room due to both the visible (furniture) and the invisible (the emptiness). A non-empty room would be considered as a store. The same theory applies when people see others’ body! When we see a body, we see the real body (visible) and "Social body"(invisible) at the same time.
We applied Edward Soja’s theory to examine the concept of space in the sports world. He adopted Henry Lefebvre’s "Social Space(Henry Lefebvre, 1991) and wrote the book entitled "Thirdspace"(Edward W.Soja, 1996). We intended to discuss particularly his "The Trialectics of Spatiality", or Perceived Spatiality (real, physical, first), Conceived Spatiality (imagined, mental, second) and Lived Spatiality (real-and-imagined, social, third).


We found out that Body-Space plays an important role in modern sports world. First, if we look at the phenomenology of Fitness courses in P.E., its value is focused on health. However, the images of Healthism through "Body-control" may reveal that people are pursuing the images of "Social Body" (Derek colquhoun,1990). As some people can not accept the real/natural body, it show that these people deny the existence of themselves. 2. In the theory of "Play"(John Huizinga, 1955;Roger Caillois, 1961) ,one of the characters of play is that "It proceeds within its own proper boundaries of time and space according to fixed rules and in an orderly manner". However skateboarding, artificial rock climbing, street dancing, playing computer games had broken the rule of the play. From natural to artificial, from real to virtual reality, a new paradigm of space in sports world had already come.


[1]. Derek Colquhoun(1990). Images of Healthism in Health-Based Physical Education. In David Kirk and Richard Tinning (Eds.) Physical Education, Curriculum and Culture: Critical Issues in the Contemporary Crises. The Falmer Press.
[2]. Edward W. Soja (1996). Thirdspace: Journeys to Los Angle and Other Real-and-Imagined Places. Blackwell.
[3]. Gordon graham(1999). The internet: a philosophical inquiry. Routledge.
[4]. Henri Lefebvre(1991).The Production of Space(Donald Nicholson-Smith). Blackwell.
[5]. Henri Lefebvre(1992). Critique of Everyday Life Volume 1.(John Moore) Verso.
[6]. Iain Borden(2001). Skatebording, Space and the city: Architecture and the Body. New York: Berg.
[7]. John Huizinga(1955). Homo Luden. Boston: The Beacon Press.
[8]. M. Merleau -Ponty(1962). Phenomenology of Perception. London: Routledge&Kegan Paul.
[9]. M. Merleau-Ponty(1968).The Visible and the Invisible. Northwestern University Press.
[10]. Roger Caillois(1961). Man, Play, and Games. New York:



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