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Rethinking the Olympics: Cultural Histories of the Olympic Games.

Rethinking the Olympics: Cultural Histories of the Olympic Games. Edited by Robert K. Barney. (Morgantown, West Virginia University: FIT, 2010). Reviewed by Otto J. Schantz, University of Koblenz-Landau, Germany.

Rethinking the Olympics is an anthology of articles previously published in Olympika: The International Journal of Olympic Studies, for some time, the only, and arguably, still the best academic journal specializing in Olympic studies. In order to assemble this anthology Robert K. Barney, the founder of the International Centre for Olympic Studies and editor in chief of the journal Olympika, selected 17 out of some 90 peer-reviewed articles which have been published since the first edition of the journal in 1992. The editor's aim was to address what he feels are key themes in Olympic studies.

The book is organized in a tripartite fashion, focusing first on the history of the Games, then on persistent problems, issues, crises, and finally, on the future of the Olympic Movement. The historical part is structured in three sections and covers ancient Olympic history and its legacy (4 articles), the modern Olympic ideology of Pierre de Coubertin (2 articles) and the "Most Controversial Games--Berlin 1936" (2 Articles). Part II, entitled Persistent Problems, Issues, and Crises, is arranged into four sections. The first of these sections addresses the tenacious problem of illicit performance enhancement (2 articles). Another examines commercialization (2 articles). The remaining two sections of Part II are dedicated respectively to "Enduring Controversies" and "The Politics of Hosting Olympic Games." Part III contains only one article; it raises the question of the future, a future of the Olympic Games in the problematical context of globalization.

The articles assembled in this anthology are all written by leading academics in the field of classical or modern sport history, sport sociology or political science. All chapters are of high, albeit diveregent quality, but each reflects the high academic standard of the journal Olympika.

The topics of the different articles address historical, political and social-cultural issues that have been and still remain of great importance for the modern Olympic movement. Even though only six of the 17 articles were published in the last ten years, and only three of them since 2005, most of them are still relevant today. However, during the last 15 years Olympic studies have gained momentum and our insight into some issues concerning the modern evolution of the games has evolved considerably, partly because the IOC's archives have become much more accessible. In order for the reader to be able to situate the time of original publication it would have been useful to indicate the specific date of publication for each article.

In the very first issue of Olympika (1992), John MacAloon, the celebrated anthropologist of ritual from the University of Chicago, wrote an important article (not included in Rethinking the Olympics) entitled "Sport, Science and Intercultural Relations." (1) In that article, which led Olypika's inaugural issue, MacAloon called for a more energetic and internationalized disciplinary approach to Olympic studies, a field largely and traditionally dominated by European scholars. Reading Robert Barney's anthology we get the impression that John MacAloon's wish has been more than fulfilled. Lending support to this impression is the fact that the volume's illustrious line-up of academic authors includes contributors from the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and England. A chapter by the Norwegian philosopher Sigmund Loland is the only piece in the volume contributed by a non-Anglo-Saxon European author. This over-representation of authors from English-speaking countries is probably not due to a selection bias of the editor, nor is it due to the lack of non-Anglo-Saxon academics in Olympic studies, but rather to the difficulties inherent in publishing in a language another than your mother tongue.

Some consternation is also caused by the fact that a specific group of researchers is underrepresented--our female scholarly colleagues. Roberta Park and Jan Rintala/Judith A. Bischoff are the only women to contribute to this anthology. Rintala and Bischoff are the co-authors of the article, "Leadership Positions for Women in Olympic Sport Governing Bodies." Roberta Park, the distinguished University of California-Berkeley historian, contributed a remarkable piece on the history of the body and sport-related sciences, even though, in comparison to the other contributions in the anthology, it has a less indelible connection to the Olympic Movement.

Despite these points of criticism, Robert Barney's anthology can be considered an excellent overview and introduction to the most relevant issues of Olympic studies. It presents a valuable collection of research papers that will be extremely useful not only for undergraduates, graduates, but also for researchers who are interested in the cultural history of the Olympic Movement. At the same time it will be a show-case attesting to the high quality of the leading international journal dealing with Olympic studies, Olympika.


(1) John J. MacAloon, "Sport, Science and Intercultural Relations" Olympika. The International Journal for Olympic Studies 1 (1992), 1-28.
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Author:Schantz, Otto J.
Publication:Olympika: The International Journal of Olympic Studies
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jan 1, 2010
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