Ungrounding Homo Ludens: On Agamben and Modern Sports

Sandra Meeuwsen*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


In this paper, I argue that the central ontological presupposition in the philosophy of sport is the ‘sport-as-play’ paradigm. In reconstructing its archaeological origins, a normative narrative is uncovered in which ‘play’ represents a creative and ‘lusory’ social practice, governed by game rules. In the philosophy of sports discourse, Homo Ludens is considered as the ideal, virtuous and innocent character, free from repressive, work-related duties or constraints. In the early works of Giorgio Agamben (1942), the conceptual pair play—ritual offers a contemporary frame of reference, rigorously different from our Homo Ludens ideal. In Agamben’s later works, the provocative Homo Sacer concept can hardly be more opposite to the utopian Homo Ludens paradigm. As Agamben states, political power in late modernity is based on a so-called ‘state-of-exception’, in which ‘bare life’ (as expressed in Homo Sacer) at first is excluded from society, but then again reincluded as an exception, in order to realize law and order. In this paper, I introduce philosophical archaeology as a promising new method in the philosophy of sport, debunking our prevailing Homo Ludens discourse. I argue that modern sports in our times—inadvertently—more and more seem to function as a ‘state-of-exception’, strengthening bio-political power.

Original languageEnglish
JournalSport, Ethics and Philosophy
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 19 Aug 2021
Externally publishedYes


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