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Sport, Philosophy and Practice (IL022)


Sport has profound connections with our physical, social, and psychological lives. It perforates our everyday experiences whether we participate in it or not. What precisely do we understand as 'sport' and what constitutes a sporting environment? What is the distinctive value and nature of sport in human experience? How do ethics, aesthetics, and a search for knowledge about ourselves and the world factor into our sporting endeavours? Where does sport as an extra-curricular activity meet established curricula? These are just some of the questions this module will invite you to explore. In addressing them you will encounter theories from a variety of disciplines, have the chance to analyse film, literature, and your own sporting practice, and engage in practical field work through active learning.

Please note, students should come to class wearing comfortable clothing and should be aware that some classes may be outdoors (going ahead whatever the weather).

When a sport is pursued for its own sake, its rules willingly followed, its finest conventions upheld, it becomes an ennobling and worthwhile form of life. It is the sort of human practice by which individuals can be judged and civilisation tested.” 

Peter Arnold, Sport, Ethics, and Education

Module Aims

The main aim of this module is to engage students in a practice-based and critically-reflective philosophical study of sport. In order to do so it will:

  • Develop student understanding of sporting practices as seen through ethical, aesthetic, and phenomenological lenses.
  • Introduce and problematize historical and contemporary conceptions of gender, identity, health, knowledge, power-relations, the body, play, ageing, and ‘the extracurricular’ in relation to sporting practice.
  • Through self-reflective practice allow students to formulate their own philosophies and critical understandings of sport and the role it plays in their lives.
  • Engage students with a variety of learning methods including Open-Space Learning workshops, close textual analysis, practical fieldwork, and reflective writing.
  • Open up new opportunities for inter- and trans-disciplinary approaches.

Why should such an unnecessary activity have become such a defining necessity for human beings?”

Steven Connor, A Philosophy of Sport


Image taken by Peter Marsh/Ashmore Visuals from 'Sport, Philosophy, and Practice: A Gymnasium' during the session 'Boys Dancing' led by Dave McKenna from Being Frank.


The module may change each year. The below is the 2018 format and should be taken as indicative only.


Week 1: Introduction to module. Students will consider the ethics, aesthetics and phenomenologies of sport, exercise and physical activity.

Suggested reading:

  • Ryall, Emily. 2016. Philosophy of Sport: Key Questions, London, Bloomsbury (pp.1-24 can be found on the 'Readings' page)
  • Young, Damon. 2014. How to Think About Exercise, London, Macmillan (pp. 1-18 can be found on the 'Readings' page)
  • Connor, Steven. 2011. A Philosophy of Sport, London, Reaktion (pp. 7-19 can be found on the 'Readings' page)

Unit 1 – Bodies (aesthetics)

Week 2: Play
This week will look at philosophies of play, analyse critical readings on ludic practice (e.g. Caillois, Bateson, and Sutton-Smith) and consider the differences between playfulness, games and sport.

Suggested Reading:

  • Connor, S. 2011. A Philosophy of Sport, London, Reaktion, pp.20-48. Found on the readings page.

Week 3: Movement
This week will explore human movement from interdisciplinary perspectives (e.g. dance studies and biomechanical engineering), and consider the differences between physical activity, exercise and sport.

Suggested Viewing:

  • Billy Elliot (2000), dir. Stephen Daldry.

Week 4: Beauty

This week will consider perspectives from theatre, performance, and philosophy and will reflect upon sport, dance, and ritual activities as cultural, embodied practice. It will use examples from artistic gymnastics, olympic diving and weightlifting/bodybuilding.

Suggested Reading:

  • Young, Damon. 2014 'Beauty', in How to Think About Exercise, London, Macmillan, pp.67-81. Found on the readings page.
  • Ryall, Emily. 2016. Philosophy of Sport: Key Questions, London, Bloomsbury, pp. 135-49. Found on the readings page.
The athlete’s body, which unifies beauty and discipline into a calm readiness for action, offers itself as one of the most understandable and convincing manifestations of authority.”

Peter Sloterdijk, You Must Change Your Life

Unit 2 - Dilemmas (ethics)

Week 5: Gender
This week will consider representations of gendered sport in the news and fiction alongside critical readings in gender and queer studies (for example, the work of Judith Butler and Jack Halberstam). We will also consider the experiences of trans- athletes.

Suggested Reading:

  • Chapters 10 and 11 in Ryall, Emily. 2016. Philosophy of Sport: Key Questions, London, Bloomsbury. Found on the readings page.

Suggested Viewing:

  • A League of Their Own (1992), dir. Penny Marshall.
  • No League of Their Own: Transgender Athletes (2015), online

Week 6: Coaching

This week will look at the role of rules in sport, sport as a space for ethical development, and the impact the relationship between a player and a coach can have on these. This session will invite students to reflect upon the rules being set as part of the coach-player relationship and will consider critical readings in social politics and current philosophical thinking regarding rule-bound activity in sports.

Suggested Reading:

  • Feezell, Randolph. 2014. 'Coach as Sage', in Sport, Philosophy, and Good Lives, Nebraska, University of Nebraska Press, pp.155-184. Found on the readings page.

Suggested Viewing:

  • Foxcatcher (2014), dir. Bennet Miller

Week 7: Health
This week will involve perspectives from the health sciences and look at readings related to public health and contemporary health movements. It was also consider the relationship between bodily experience and mental well-being alongside philosophical questions concerning how far should we be allowed to push our bodies and jeopardise our health for the sake of sporting endeavours.

Suggested Reading:

  • Young, Damon. 2014. 'Pain', in How to Think About Exercise, London, Macmillan, pp.99-112. Found on readings page.
  • Howe, L. A. 2015. 'Sport, Risk, and Danger', in Torres C. R. (ed.), The Bloomsbury Companion to the Philosophy of Sport, London, Bloomsbury, pp.148-162. Found on readings page.

Unit 3 - Experiences (phenomenology)

Week 8: Event
This week will involve collaborative student presentations reflecting upon the examples encountered as part of the module and in relation to its overarching themes.

Suggested Reading:

  • Revisit Connor, Steven. 2011. A Philosophy of Sport, London, Reaktion, pp. 7-19, found on the 'readings' page.

Week 9: Environment

This week will focus upon the basis for phenomenological analysis: first-hand experience of sporting environments. We will also reflect upon 'philosophy of sport' as an interdisciplinary field of enquiry.

Suggested Reading:

  • Morgan, William J. 2000.'The Philosophy of Sport' in The Handbook of Sports Studies, ed. Croakley & Dunning, Sage, pp. 204-213.

Week 10: Extracurriculum
This week will focus on preparing students for their assessed projects and consider how extra-curricular activity has been and can be incorporated in the curriculum. There will also be an overview and reflection of the module.

Sport is world-forming. It makes a world apart, a field of actions and operations that are organised according to a set of rules peculiar to itself […] There are no laws that suspend the operation of ordinary civil laws on the field of play, but we act as though there are […] But these worlds are not content to remain merely adjacent or isomorphic to the real world. Sport seems to have built in to it the desire to become identical with the world as such.”

Steven Connor, ‘Sporting World, Worlding Sport’

Module convenors

Jonathan Heron
Image by Peter Marsh / ashmorevisuals

Dr Jonathan Heron
(Jonathan dot Heron at warwick dot ac dot uk)

Sarah Penny

Sarah Penny
(S dot Penny at warwick dot ac dot uk)


Term 2 (Spring) 2018
Wednesdays, 9.00-11.00am


Humanities Studio


For 12 CATS:

3 Reflective blog posts (20%)

1,000-1,500 word written essay or critical review of sporting event (40%)

Student devised activity (40%)

For 15 CATS:

4 Reflective blog posts (20%)

1,500-2,000 word written essay or critical review of sporting event (40%)

Student devised activity (40%)

Assessment Deadlines

Edited Blogs 05/03/18

Practical Exam 16/03/18

Presentation/Notes 19/03/18

Essays/Reviews 23/04/18