Andrew Blake's The Body Language begins with a mystery. Given that the book is dedicated to "all the players, officials and supporters of Tottenham Hotspur" it is surprising that it is not a reference to The Arsenal Stadium Mystery (1939) but rather to the failure of cultural studies to consider fully the importance and significance of sport.
As Blake argues, sport is a "crucial component of contemporary society" yet it remains marginalised as an area of academic study. While sport has made "inroads" into areas such as sociology, history and most recently law as a subject worthy of investigation, Blake's main concern is to argue the case for sport within cultural studies and to construct an appropriate analytical framework. It is to Blake's credit that he succeeds in so doing in a book that is ambitious in scope and admirable in its clarity.
Beginning with an analysis of the physical appearance of sport in modern society and setting sport within its broader historical and sociological context, Blake goes on to show the importance of his field of inquiry by exploring the relationship between sport, the nation and (inter)national consciousness. By drawing on a myriad examples, Blake demonstrates how sport can contribute to the formation and (re)formation of national identity. As Blake observes, "sport can provide a narrative of emergence, of national growth, or of opposition; it can narrate collective, national aesthetic styles". Indeed, this notion of identity is pervasive throughout. For example, Blake goes on to examine the relationship between sport and the individual performer and the direct and indirect consumer within this context. A minor quibble might be that the role of television and its crucial role within the world of sport does not really get the depth of treatment it perhaps merits, given the fundamental effect it has upon sports' globalisation and commodification. However, given constraints of time and space, it is perhaps understandable that Blake chose to leave this area for further excavation in the future.
This is a very enlightening book, thought-provoking and critical at times but also full of recollections of sporting cultural history.
Steve Greenfield and Guy Osborn are directors, Centre for the Study of Law, Society and Popular Culture, University of Westminster.
The Body Language: The Meaning of Modern Sport
Author - Andrew Blake
ISBN - 0 85315 834 7
Publisher - Lawrence and Wishart
Price - £12.99
Pages - 222