Animated by Uncertainty

Rugby and the Performance of History in South Africa
Joshua D. Rubin

Examines the political significance of rugby in South Africa’s post-apartheid present


In Animated by Uncertainty, Joshua D. Rubin analyzes South African rugby through the lens of aesthetic politics. Building on 17 months of ethnographic research with rugby coaches, players, and administrators, the author argues that rugby is a form of performance and further that the qualities that define rugby shape the political ends to which the sport can be put. In this respect, Animated by Uncertainty demonstrates that theories of sporting politics cannot afford to overlook the qualities of the sports themselves, and it provides a theoretical approach to illustrate how these qualities can be studied. The book also analyzes the ways that apartheid and colonialism inhere in South African institutions and practices. Drawing inspiration from the observation that South Africans could always abandon rugby if they chose to do so, Rubin highlights how the continuing significance of rugby as a form of performance brings traces of South Africa's apartheid and colonial past into the country's contemporary political moment.

Joshua D. Rubin is Lecturer in Anthropology at Bates College.

Praise / Awards

  • "This book makes delightful dance partners of two groups which typically look right past each other: sports historians and anthropologists of performance. Animated by Uncertainty is both theoretically bold and ethnographically rich, allowing the reader to feel how pain and injury, as they relate to performances of masculinity in sport, offer deep insights into the embodied legacies of Apartheid’s lingering manifestations of corporeal punishment on South African bruised bodies and psyches."
    – Laura Fair, Columbia University

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 280pp.
  • 7 illustrations.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 2021
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-07500-3

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  • $75.00 U.S.

  • Paper
  • 2021
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-05500-5

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  • $29.95 U.S.

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  • South Africa; post-apartheid; apartheid; colonialism; race and sports; racism; Super Rugby; professional rugby; rugby union; sport; sports; aesthetics; masculinity; Afrikaans; Afrikaner identity; art; performance; uncertainty; unpredictability; injuries; steroids; Theodor Adorno; Arthur Danto; Walter Benjamin