Sports and Society: Culture, Power, and Identity

Co-Conveners: Peter Benson and Noah Cohan

“Sports and Society: Culture, Power, and Identity” is an AMCS program initiative that aims to generate scholarship, pedagogical tools, venues, and activities focused on the intersections of athletics, identity, and social power. The initiative probes the impact of American sports on broader discourses concerning politics, the economy, nationhood, and identity formation in the contemporary moment. Embracing an intersectional approach, the initiative aims to generate inclusive critical insights on the problems and possibilities presented by American sports cultures. We reject the notion that the purview of scholarship on sports is limited by the hegemonic norms thought to be pervasive in the games’ dominant media and popular consumption, and we foster an environment of critical inquiry and dialogue that is welcoming to participants of diverse orientations and perspectives. We are interested in examining how institutions of sports and the lives of athletes and fans are shaped by the cultural dynamics of race, gender, and sexuality, as well as the role that sports, teams, and athletes play in affecting public discourse on matters of inequality and justice, and the alternative and broader roles that they could play. “Sports and Society” also queries the public health consequences of sporting cultures and economies, such as opioid and steroid use or the football concussion crisis, and examines sports-related public health problems from the standpoints of both participation and spectatorship. We are finally concerned with the capitalistic organizational structures and highly mediated commercial nature of spectator sports—the fact that sports are industries—and the effects of capitalism in sports on the discourses and behaviors of athletes and fans.

The initiative is composed of three major components: a faculty reading group, course offerings, and public events.

  1. The faculty reading group, convened three times a semester since the Fall of 2017, offers scholars from WashU and across the St. Louis region an opportunity to meet and discuss important research and writing pertaining to sports and American culture. The meetings can also function as workshops for group members to present work in process and receive feedback from their colleagues.
  2. For undergraduates, we offer a two-course sequence taught by Dr. Noah Cohan (beginning in the spring of 2019). The first course covers the history of American sports from 1865 to the present, paying particular attention to politics, justice, and matters of race, gender, and sexuality, while the second considers more contemporary topics (1990s to the present), and uses rhetorical and cultural studies methods to consider sport in relation to matters of national and regional identity, popular culture, identity politics, and public health.
  3. Our public events feature invited guest speakers on a variety of topics related to sport and American society. Our upcoming events for the 2018-19 academic year include a fall public lecture by Dr. Dan Gilbert, Assistant Professor of Labor Relations at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (October 5, 2018), and a spring visit from Distinguished Visiting Scholar Frank Guridy, Associate Professor of History at Columbia (February 2019, details TBA).

Questions? Interested in joining us? E-mail to get involved.

key contacts

Noah Cohan

Lecturer and University College MA Program Coordinator

Peter Benson


Associate Professor, Sociocultural Anthropology