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Disability has become an increasingly important field of investment for modern welfare policy-visible in architecture for wheelchair users as well as in budgets for health care. This documents a gain in solidarity, but it implies also some challenges of practical and philosophical character. Play and games (of, for, and with disabled people) make these challenges bodily. These challenges will here be explored in three steps.
In the first step, we discover the paradoxes of equality and categorization, normalization and deviance in the understanding of disability. Ableism, a negative view on disability, is just around the corner. The Paralympic sports for disabled people make this visible. However, play with disabled people shows alternative ways. And it calls to our attention how little we know, so far, about how disabled people play.
The second step leads to an existential phenomenology of disablement. Sport and play make visible to what degree the building of “handicap” is a cultural achievement. All human beings are born disabled and finally die disabled-and inbetween they create hindrances to make life dis-eased. Dis-ease is a human condition.
However, and this is an important third step, disablement and dis-eased life are not just one, but highly differentiated. These differences are relevant for political practice and have to be recognized. Attention to differences opens up a differential phenomenology of disablement and of disabled people in play-as a basis for politics of recognition.
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The comparative, differential phenomenology of play and games has a critical political point. A mainstream discourse identifies – more or less – sport with play and game and describes sport as just a modernized extension of play or as a universal phenomenon that has existed since the Stone Age or the ancient Greek Olympics. This may be problematical, as there was no sport before industrial modernity. Before 1800, people were involved in a richness of play and games, competitions, festivities, and dances, which to large extent have disappeared or were marginalized, suppressed, and replaced by sport. The established rhetoric of “ancient Greek sport”, “medieval tournament sport”, etc., can be questioned.
Configurational analysis as a procedure of differential phenomenology can help in analyzing sport as a specific modern game which produces objectified results through bodily movement. This analysis casts light not only on the phenomenon of sport itself, but also on the methodological and epistemological challenge of studying play, movement, and body culture.
Movement studies are - like health studies - placed between natural sciences and cultural studies as well as between quantitative and qualitative methods. That is why they are challenged by some methodological contradictions. Yet the dual relations between nature and culture, and between quantitative and qualitative methods, may be of superficial character. Deeper beneath, one finds tensions with theoretical implications: between the quest for evidence and the comparative method, between generalization and case study, between explanation and understanding, between the correctness of the answer and the quality of the question, between affirmative and fluent knowledge, between factors and connections, between data and patterns, between the state of research and historical change of knowledge, between objectivity and subjectivity, and between theory and philosophy. There seems to be something akin to cultural struggle in the field of knowledge. Yet the dual contradictions do not comprise two neatly separated “cultures of knowledge” that exclude each other. There are cross-disciplinary connections and overlaps, which help toward an understanding of human life.
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