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Kraftkarlar och knockouts: Kraftsporter, kropp och klass i Sverige 1920–1960
Stockholm University, Faculty of Humanities, Department of History.
2017 (Swedish)Doctoral thesis, monograph (Other academic)Alternative title
Strong Men and Knockouts : Power Sports, Body and Class in Sweden, 1920–1960 (English)
Abstract [en]

The thesis analyses representations of body and class, and their wider ideological meaning, in Swedish power sports from 1920 to 1960. Boxing and weightlifting – sports dominated by manual workers – are chosen as study objects. The sources used are magazines connected to the power sports, and autobiographies by four prominent athletes. The thesis relates to different areas of previous research. One concerns the body as such, from a social and cultural history perspective, another revolves around medial and autobiographical representations in relation to sports, and a third is about the relationships between body, class and sport.

In the analysis, the Bourdieusian concepts capital and hexis are added to a discussion on the ways that value is attached to the body, linked to the notions of use value and exchange value. The content analysis of the source material makes ground for an analysis of more implicit ideological aspects, e.g. using Barthes’s theory on mythology.

Manual labour and working life appear as central organising themes in the source material. Boxing and weightlifting were largely regarded and designated as professions, challenging ideals of amateurism. A physically demanding manual work was depicted as natural breeding grounds where sports practitioners became skilled. This masculine ideal united people from various manual working groups (not only from the working class in its socio-economic sense) where the emphasis was put on the physical strength and ability of the athlete to work hard.

The body was used in a form of class polemics, preferably against middle and upper class people. Certain aspects of strength and style of athletic performance were related to particular levels of intelligence and education. Power athletes from the manual working groups were depicted as “natural”, with associations to rural areas, not least working in the forest. The ideas of naturalness in its most derogatory sense of being close to animals and lacking civilisation, was however mostly used in connections with black athletes.

Success stories were common narratives about power sports as arenas of success. They included a powerful norm that success must be cultivated, where the responsibility was put upon the athlete himself. Successful athletes from manual working groups could transform their physical capital into economic capital, which was often depicted as short-lived because of aging and individual shortcomings.

A commercial consumer culture became more explicit in the 1950s, when bodybuilding had its Swedish breakthrough within weightlifting. Sports training was rationalised and largely decoupled from its associations with manual work. This led to an increased reification of the body as pure surface, which was attributed a value itself. The body became an area of consumption, a commodity with an exchange value, when decoupled from its use value as labour or tool for sporting success.

As to the ideological aspects of the development, it is shown that there was a widespread individualist norm. Only the individual himself had the possibility to rise up and achieve success. The ideal of manual work was more of a moral and cultural nature, than political. Although there were some collectivist features in that rhetoric, the manual worker idealisation fundamentally carried an individualistic tendency. It is argued that this idealisation, or workerism, is a fruitful object for further analyses.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: Historiska institutionen, Stockholms universitet , 2017. , 324 p.
Keyword [en]
power sports, boxing, weightlifting, bodybuilding, class, body, manual work, workerism, masculinity
Keyword [sv]
kraftsporter, boxning, tyngdlyftning, bodybuilding, klass, kropp, kroppsarbete, arbetarism, maskulinitet
National Category
History
Research subject
History
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-140946ISBN: 978-91-7649-766-1 (print)ISBN: 978-91-7649-767-8 (electronic)OAI: oai:DiVA.org:su-140946DiVA: diva2:1085397
Public defence
2017-05-24, Nordenskiöldsalen, Geovetenskapens hus, Svante Arrhenius väg 12, Stockholm, 10:00 (Swedish)
Opponent
Supervisors
Available from: 2017-04-28 Created: 2017-03-28 Last updated: 2017-04-21Bibliographically approved

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