Coming up soon at King’s! Workshop exploring the concept of Health & Disease, Ability and Dis-ability in Elite Sports.

Disciplinary boundaries often unnecessarily separate students with similar interests. “King’s Interdisciplinary Discussion Society” (KIDS) is a new King’s College group seeking to bring together postgraduates and staff from all schools to discuss the philosophy and ethics of health. The next KIDS Winter Workshop, co-organized with the Centre for the Humanities & Health, will explore the concept of health and disease, able and dis-abled in relation to sports and the construction of categories in elite competitions. The workshop is organized by Dr Silvia Camporesi based at the CHH and Dr John Owens and Dr Andrew Papanikitas of the KIDS group.
The event will be opened by Professor Brian Hurwitz, Director of the CHH and D’Oyly Carte Professor of Medicine and the Arts in the Department of English. Mike McNamee, Professor of Applied Ethics at Swansea University, will give us philosophical insights into the concept of enhancement in sports. Professor McNamee is the former President of the International Association for the Philosophy of Sport, and was the founding Chair of the British Philosophy of Sport Association.

An example of an Olympic and enhanced bike in Bejing

Mike is also the founding Editor of Sport, Ethics and Philosophy and has written or edited a total of 11 books in philosophy and ethics applied to sport, including Sports, Virtues and Vices: morality play (Routledge, 2008). Dr Vanessa Heggie is based at the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at Cambridge University, and will offer us a historical and ethical perspective into the history of gender testing in sports. In 2010 Vanessa published a paper titled “Testing sex and gender in sports; reinventing, reimagining and reconstructing histories” and in March this year her first book “A History of British Sports Medicine” was published by Manchester University Press. A medical perspective on enhancement in sports will be given by Professor Trisha Greenhalgh, lead of the Healthcare Innovation and Policy Unit at Queen Mary University. Trisha’s research interests lie at the interface between sociology and medicine, where she uses innovative interdisciplinary approaches, drawing on narrative, ethnographic and participatory methods, to explore complex, policy-related issues in contemporary healthcare.
We hope to see many of you on November 10 in the Great Hall (King’s College Strand Campus). The event is free of charge but you need to write an email to to indicate the number of places you’d like to reserve as the number of attendees is limited. The event will run from 430 to 730 pm, with drinks reception to follow!

A Workshop on ‘Enhancement, identity and the construction of category in the Olympics’. Coming up in November at King’s.

For the first time in the history of track & field, in August 2011 a double-amputee athlete athlete competed against able-bodied athletes in the 400-meter event at World Championships in Daegu, South Korea. Oscar Pistorius, 24 years old, was born with congenital absence of the fibulae in both legs, which were amputated just below the knees when he was 11 months old, and made it up to the semifinals in Daegu (you can watch the video of Oscar qualifying for the semifinals here).

Oscar Pistorius with two fellow athletes of the South African team at Daegu.

Pistorius’ case spurred debate four years ago, when he was banned from running with able-bodied athletes on grounds that his prosthesis gave him an “unfair” competitive edge over able-bodied athletes. Oscar appealed to the supreme Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne (Switzerland), which in May 2008 reversed the sentence, and judged that Oscar does not have an unfair advantage over the other “able bodied” athletes (those interested can read more on the debate here). The story of Oscar Pistorius prompts a reflection on the construction of categories in sports: to what extent are they based on categories existing in nature, and to what are they instead a social construction? Also, to what extent are these categories informed by science and medicine, and to what by ethics, philosophy and eventually law? And what does it mean to be able, or disabled, in sports? Is it legitimate to talk about super-ability, enhancement and post-humans for the case of Oscar Pistorius? When can enhancement be considered doping? These are only some of the issues that arise when considering the effect of mechanical prostheses on the athletes, and when reflecting on how our concept of an Olympic athlete is going to be shaped by different kinds of enhancement, and to look like in, say, twenty years from now. Not only does Oscar Pistorius’ case prompts a reflection on the construction of categories in sports, but it also demands a broader one on the meaning and aims of sport, in other words, its ethics and philosophy.

The Centre for the Humanities & Health, together with the King’s Interdisciplinary Discussion Society (KIDS), are bringing together a panel of scientific and medical experts, ethicists and philosophers to discuss these issues in an open to the public workshop which will take place at King’s College on Thursday, November 10, 2011. The program of the event, complete with timetable and list of speakers will be published soon on this blog. Stay tuned!