The Leeds symposium on ‘Sport in Conquest’ was held at the University of Leeds on 1-2 October 2010. It was the first event in a planned series that aims at creating a network of scholars working on the relationship between literature and sport. This is the argument of the symposium and indeed of the network, as written by John McLeod and Alexis Tadié in February 2010.
Whether it be migrant Trinidadian calypsonians singing and dancing around the wicket at Lord’s to celebrate the West Indian cricket team’s first victory on English soil in 1950, or the Conservative MP Norman Tebbit’s infamous 1990 ‘cricket test’ for ‘ethnic minority’ Britons, sport has played a central and often under-explored role in indexing the social, political and cultural transformations of Europe’s various national and international fortunes. While historians such as J. A. Mangan and Georges Vigarello have explored sport as an important cultural and social phenomenon, its creative and figurative articulation literary works (poetry, fiction, drama, essays, magazines, reportage, etc.) is rarely a preoccupation of current scholarship of sport. But from hunting and boxing in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century literature to cricket, football, and running in contemporary writing, sporting endeavours have maintained a considerable yet under-researched presence in a range of key imaginative works. The aim of this new scholarly research project – a collaborative venture between the Universities of Leeds, UK, and Sorbonne, France – is to explore the significance of representations of sport not simply for their intrinsic worth but as fundamental figurative strategies which frame key social and cultural concerns.
The proposed symposium intends will initiate a new International Research Network for Literature and Sport which will bring together scholars from a diverse range of research areas to consider the range of issues which arise from our central concern for ‘Sport in Conquest’. Key to this project is the shared conception of representations of sport as ways of figuring, exploring and critiquing significant social and cultural tensions that emerge from wider conquests within, and by, Europe since the Eighteenth Century: between competing cultures, classes, gendered identities, nationalities and empires. Modern Europe’s domestic and colonial fortunes from the eighteenth century to the present are marked by competing pursuits: class contests, colonial authority and subaltern resistance, masculinity and its modalities, authenticating nationalisms, negotiating multiculturalism, and much more. For example, the development of sport in Britain was at one level indebted to the reform of the public schools in the middle of the nineteenth century and the ideology of ‘athleticism’ developed at that time. It determined the training of future administrators of the Empire and it influenced the education of local elites, in particular through schools that were set up in the colonies on the same model. Similarly, the pursuit and representation of cricket and boxing in post-war Britain have played a highly significant role in the cultural visibility of so-called ‘black Britons’ and impacted irreversibly on the renegotiation and contestation of racialised ideas of national identity in social as well as cultural terms. Across a variety of historical moments and locations circumscribed by Europe’s modernity and its colonial consequences, then, the creative and cultural articulation of sporting endeavour has proved to be a fundamental way of expressing and exploring those key conquests which have come to characterise many of key contexts of European development and expansion.
Our symposium, ‘Sport in Conquest’, will facilitate a gathering of international scholars so that we may address a number of important research questions which will define the parameters of the Research Network as a whole. These include: what kinds of comparative connections can be forged between sporting representations across specific national and historical contexts? How might sporting notions articulated in literature confront, temper or challenge illiberal political notions of (inter/national) conquest? Is there a specific literary sporting discourse about conquest, and what might this achieve? What are the modes of perception of sport through literary discourse? How does one define and read the figures of sport and conquest in hinged historical contexts? Looking beyond the specifics of representation, the project is also keen to ask wider questions such as: what are the points of contact – past and present – between sport’s conventions, audiences, communities of readers and spectators? How did sport and literature collectively broker new local, national and international encounters and alliances, and how might it do so in a new global world order today? How might the competing loyalties of sport’s cosmopolitan and national concerns – the mega-rich ‘club’ vs. the national ‘team’, for example – resource the wider cultural critique of (to borrow Arjun Appadurai’s terms) the ‘cellular’ global world order’s conquest of the modern ‘vertebrate’ system of national governance?