The call for submissions for the WAU Congress 2024 in Johannesburg is now closed, and we thank all participants; paper evaluations will be ready on June 14.




( pn16 )

Poetry in motion – creativity and knowledge production in sport.


    Arthur Gaillard

    Nationality: France

    Residence: Mexico

    Independent scholar

    Presence:Face to Face/ On Site

    Ben Hildred

    Nationality: United Kingdom

    Residence: United Kingdom

    Durham University

    Presence:Face to Face/ On Site

IUAES Affiliation: Anthropology of Sports


Sport, epistemology, creativity, change, transformation


Many sports have their ‘magician’, ‘artist’, or ‘poet’, who highlight a tension often at play in sporting activity. Though many are taught to succeed by drilling embodied movements, learning to calculate risk, or cultivating discipline, creativity, improvisation and invention are all still widely prized in sport. Sports themselves are strictly codified and mediated by seemingly impermeable and hierarchically managed sets of rules (Besnier et al., 2018), and yet sportspeople around the world continue to break convention. In sporting fandom such figures are celebrated, while the support of teams tends to feature more traditional values. All the while, discourses about the potential of sport for ‘positive’ social change abound in the development sector. In all of these cases, those involved in sport come to know the world by creatively manipulating form and structure.

The tension in sport between discipline and creativity, continuity and change, or stasis and invention prompts us to think about knowledge production more generally. The creative ways that people resist form and structure when navigating their lifeworlds is a staple of anthropological narratives. But more recently, we have seen similar tensions debated elsewhere in the discipline, including so-called ‘negative’ anthropology (Navaro, 2020), visual and multimodal anthropology (Dattatreyan & Marrero-Guillamón, 2019, Grimshaw & Ravetz, 2015), and the decolonial movement (Alonso Bejarano et al., 2019; Mafeje, 2001; Restrepo & Escobar, 2005). These debates highlight that anthropological knowledge itself is often determined by a similar oscillation between form and creativity.

We suggest the ubiquity of these tensions in sporting practice indicate sport is a particularly apt context for considering issues of knowledge production both ethnographically and theoretically. Anthropologists of sport usually bring prior knowledge of their sport to fieldwork, and can therefore readily identify these tensions. However, this also means they must navigate such contexts carefully when representing such tensions accurately. This prompts us to consider issues of collaboration in our work, whether exploring sporting practice together with our interlocutors, or producing anthropological knowledge that better represents their interests. Such considerations contribute to contemporary debates about knowledge production and social transformation within anthropology.

We call for anthropologists of sport to consider the dynamics of knowledge production that occur when tensions exist between form and creativity. We particularly invite papers that consider the ramifications of this tension in both their ethnographic interactions and in their own knowledge producing practice.

We invite paper abstracts around (but not limited to) the following themes:

  • Creative or inventive practices in sport
  • Conceptualising change in sporting practices and governance
  • Opportunities and challenges in documenting embodied knowledge in sport
  • Appropriation of – and resistance to – technological innovations in sporting practice
  • Role of the digital in the anthropology of sport, sporting practices, and sporting fandom
  • The power relations in defining sport’s social, political, and cultural roles
  • The production of knowledge(s) about the use of sport for ‘positive’ social change