Michel Serres on Sport in 'Cahiers de Formation'

Activity: Talk or presentationOral presentationAcademic


Michel Serres (1930-2019) was a philosopher and historian of science who, in most of his seminal works, reflected on sport. Serres wrote about rugby in ‘Le parasite’ (1980), athletics and swimming in ‘Les cinq sens’ (1985), mountaineering in ‘Le contrat naturel’ (1990) and goalkeeping in ‘Le Tiers-Instruit’ (1991). It is tempting to read these remarks on sport as mere illustrations of how things work in other fields, such as science, anthropology, law or education. Unsurprisingly, Serres's work has not been seen as containing a philosophy of sport itself.

The publication of Serres's working diaries between 1960 and 1974 as the 'Cahiers de Formation' in 2022 provides a unique insight into the development of a framework for understanding sport. In discussion with phenomenology, Marxism and the historical epistemology of Bachelard and Canguilhem, Serres sets the stage for understanding modern sport as thoroughly technological. Within this framework, sport collects, distributes and regroups micro-societies through its technical objects, such as the ball, the stadium and the camera. Sport could therefore also be seen as experimental, dangerous and "a monumental slap in the face to those in power" (Serres, 2022).

The main aim of my paper is to provide a coherent account of Serres's philosophy of sport based on his 'Cahiers'. I will relate Serres's remarks in the Cahiers to later elaborations on the referee, Olympism, doping and rugby (Serres, 2021). I argue that Serres sees modern sport as encapsulating a model of a society that has left the Neolithic and entered an epoch of 'hominescence' (Serres, 2001). Finally, I consider how this 'model' can be used as a 'module': as an inspiration for a global sport beyond biopolitical regimes and planetary destruction.
Period13 Jun 2024
Event titleOther Bodies, Other Games Conference
Event typeConference
LocationParis, FranceShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational