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On Becoming a Columbian Paralympian

Photo Courtesy London 2012

As the Paralympic Games commence in just a few short hours in London, Anthropology News takes an anthropological look into the Games.

Emily Cohen creates a compelling photo essay in her recent Anthropology News article On Becoming a Colombian Paralympian. Cohen explains that in a country where landmines are still a commonplace in daily public life, “[t]his photo essay critically explores the visual politics and problems with representation in the competitive arena of disability sports in Columbia.”

Here is an excerpt:

Colombia, a country at war for over 50 years, has one of the highest rates of landmine injuries in the world. For decades, landmine victims remained outside of the nation’s popular consciousness. Today, landmines and rehabilitation medicine profoundly shape public life. This photo essay critically explores the visual politics and problems with representation in the competitive arena of disability sports in Colombia. I include stills from my fieldwork and ethnographic film depicting soldier amputees who aspire to become star Paralympians and yearn to qualify for the London Olympics. In my fieldwork, soldiers incorporate industrial prosthetics into their bodies through strenuous daily exercises and talk about their dreams of not only walking “properly,” but also becoming agile sportsmen. Through interweaving text and video stills, a story unfolds about how commercial medicine, humanitarian activists, disability movements and the military mobilize individual masculine desires to be agile – how they arouse nationalist sentiments around human capacity, sportsmanship, and a “disabled” person’s ability to exceed “normal” human capacity. As much as Paralympic events inspire hopes for  overcoming the adversities of war, they also displace the daily realities of landmine injury in Colombia that not only affect young agile men who can succeed in the Paralympics, but also many civilians who are women, children, and the elderly.

Read the entire article on Anthropology News.

Read more sports-related articles in the new online summer edition of Anthropology News.

The Olympics and Its Discontents

As athletes strive for the Olympic Gold this summer in London, Anthropology News takes an anthropological look into the Games.

Jules Boykoff and Thomas F. Carter identify the various dynamics host cities experience in preparation for and during the Olympic Games in their Anthropology News article The Olympics and Its Discontents. From economics and security to commercialization and relinquishment of sovereignty, complying with the needs and desires of the International Olympic Committee isn’t an easy task. Here is an excerpt:

Photo courtesy Playfair 2012

The Olympics bring together top athletes from around the world to compete on a global stage under the warm glow of the international media spotlight. Boosters not only hail the Games as the apex of sporting prowess, but also as a vehicle for urban regeneration, economic development, and international goodwill. Yet historically the evidence for such claims is circumstantial at best. Throughout the history of the Games, critics continuously question the logic of the Olympic movement, with all its attendant promises and spectacular practices. Activists regularly challenge the economics of Olympic funding and how that ties to security issues, the increasingly hyper-commercialized nature of the Games, and the role of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) as a sovereign power. The London 2012 Olympics provide a useful lens for understanding these dynamics.

Read the entire article on Anthropology News.

Read more Olympic articles in the new online summer edition of Anthropology News.

Developing an Athlete

As athletes strive for the Olympic Gold this summer in London, Anthropology News takes an anthropological look into the Games.

Jennifer Fiers leads readers through the development of elite athletes in her article Paradoxes of Power in Professionalized Youth Sport. Fiers identifies the power and influence coaches have over athletes, the embrace of their athletic identity and the vulnerability of these individuals. Below is an excerpt, click here for the complete article.

While spectators of the Olympic Games marvel at the feats of (pre)adolescent elite athletes, the symbol of their participation is normalized without question: training and discipline from an early age leads to achievement of “ideal human potential.” But across sports, the culture of performance enhancement is comprised of paradoxes between empowerment and disempowerment that are constantly negotiated by youth athletes, their coaches and their parents. These paradoxes exist in daily practices, involving pain and discipline, performed to enhance athletes’ physical and psychological skills as well as commitment to the athlete identity. Youth athletes are still developing physically, emotionally, intellectually and socially through adolescence. This both influences and is influenced by their training regimens. But many parents and coaches, with the best intentions, overlook this by prioritizing performance over well-being when they view athletes as mini-professionals instead of liminal persons in transition. Based on my doctoral research and over 20 years’ experience with elite youth sport, in particular Florida junior tennis, I explore issues related to well-being and (dis)empowerment of “professionalized youth athletes”—trained from young ages for professional/Olympic careers. These issues merit further anthropological study as they raise additional questions about the experience of sport, youth, the body, health, well-being and power.

Click here to read the entire article.

Read more Olympic articles in the new online summer edition of Anthropology News.

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