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UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The will to overcome : experiments in mud running, modernism and more than human kinetics Weedon, Gavin


Mud running is an expression of physical culture that champions the naturality of functional fitness, the primacy and playfulness of ‘premodern’ life, labour and leisure, and the capacity of all-comers to overcome mud-laden obstacle courses. The ambition of this dissertation is to bring posthumanist theory into contact with mud running and its humanistic ethic of ‘overcoming obstacles,’ and in doing so to extend knowledge of the prevailing history, theoretical premises and embodied experiences of physical culture. Emerging from an array of research practices, from fieldwork to textual analyses, each of my studies critically addresses the understandings of nature, body, self and society that prevail in mud running. In the first study, I pursue the ontological inheritance that makes it possible to invoke humankind as being outside of nature; at a critical distance from mud, dirt, and soil. This genealogical approach suggests mud running to be a recuperation of nineteenth century forms of physical culture which also encouraged getting somehow ‘back-to-nature,’ as well as identifying mud running and physical culture as expressions of their modernist, colonial heritage. The second study recasts the ‘camaraderie’ for which mud running is renowned as an outcome of material, corporeal and symbolic enactments in which a whole host of actors, human and otherwise, make dramatic and subtle contributions. Contra the modernist notion of humans overcoming natural or technological obstacles, this analysis recasts the conventional hero figure, the super-human athlete, to afford due attention to the often unsung ensemble of intra- and supra-human materialities with which these athletes share an ecology. The third study draws from affect theory to evoke mud running as a sensoria in which runners are not simply overcoming obstacles, but are themselves overcome by affective registers and responses. I describe how atavistic nostalgia, military-hero mimesis, as well as compassion and inspiration emerge from encounters with obstacle courses. At stake in these studies are not only questions surrounding the remarkable rise of events such as Tough Mudder and Spartan Race in recent years or their physical cultural heritage, but their shared claims as to what it means, and what it takes to be human.

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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 Canada