Embodied Nation: Sport, Masculinity, and the Making of Modern Laos

Paperback: $30.00
ISBN-13: 9780824875121
Published: August 2017
Hardback: $80.00
ISBN-13: 9780824838898
Published: December 2014

Additional Information

348 pages | 50 b&w illustrations
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  • About the Book
  • This strikingly original book examines how sport and ideas of physicality have shaped the politics and culture of modern Laos. Viewing the country's extraordinary transitions—from French colonialism to royalist nationalism to revolutionary socialism to the modern development state—through the lens of physical culture, Simon Creak's lively and incisive narrative illuminates a nation that has no reputation in sport and is typically viewed, even from within, as a country of cheerful but lazy people. Creak argues that sport and related physical practices—including physical education, gymnastics, and military training—have shaped a national consciousness by locating it in everyday experience. These practices are popular, participatory, performative, and, above all, physical in character and embody ideas and ideologies in a symbolic and experiential way.

    Embodied Nation takes readers on a brisk ride through more than a century of Lao history, from a nineteenth-century game of tikhi—an indigenous game resembling field hockey—to the country's unprecedented outpouring of nationalist sentiment when hosting the 2009 Southeast Asian Games. En route, we witness a Lao-Vietnamese soccer brawl in 1936, the fascist-inspired body ethic of the early 1940s, the novel modes of military masculinity that blossomed with national independence, the spectacular state theatrics of power represented by Olympic-inspired sports festivals, and the high hopes and frequent failures of socialist sport in the 1970s and 1980s. Of central concern in Creak's narrative are the twin motifs of gender and civilization. Despite increasing female participation since the early twentieth century, he demonstrates the major role that sport and physical culture have played in forming hegemonic masculinities in Laos. Even with limited national sporting success—Laos has never won an Olympic medal—the healthy, toned, and muscular form has come to symbolize material development and prosperity. Embodied Nation outlines the complex ways in which these motifs, through sport and physical culture, articulate with state power.

    Combining cultural and intellectual history with historical thick description, Creak draws on a creative array of Lao and French sources from previously unexplored archives, newspapers, and magazines, and from ethnographic writing, war photography, and cartoons. More than an “imagined community” or “geobody,” he shows that Laos was also a “body at work,” making substantive theoretical contributions not only to Southeast Asian studies and history, but to the study of the physical culture, nationalism, masculinity, and modernity in all modern societies.

  • About the Author(s)
    • Simon Creak, Author

      Simon Creak is lecturer in Southeast Asian History at the University of Melbourne.
    • David P. Chandler, Series Editor

    • Rita Smith Kipp, Series Editor

  • Reviews and Endorsements
    • This is an insightful and intellectually demanding study, and theoretical references do not in places make it easy reading. . . . Footnoting is extensive, and so is the bibliography. In conclusion, the book makes a substantial contribution to Lao historiography, and will be required reading for those with a serious interest in Lao history.
      —Journal of the Siam Society
    • Embodied Nation succeeds in taking on a fundamental if neglected aspect of the political history of Laos from colonial times to current post-socialist developmentalism. Creak’s argument that the interest in the body has been a constant through different regimes is compellingly presented, and his work will become a reference for all interested in the anthropology of the state in Southeast Asia, inspiring hopefully similar research on other countries in that region.
      —The Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology
    • Simon Creak’s book is a rewarding read not only for regional specialists, but also for any historian and anthropologist interested in the social and political dimensions of sports.
      —Sojourn: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia
    • Creak provides with Embodied Nation an easy to understand historiography of Laos, which does not lose itself in technical terms and thus provides, and also provides non-specialist readers a fascinating read from a hitherto unique perspective.
      —Australian Journal of Southeast Asian Studies
    • Meanwhile, the book, rich with photographs and rare illustrations, provides a unique narrative of Laos’s (modest) performance in international competitions and at meets with “fraternal countries” during the Cold War.
      —Le Monde Diplomatique
    • It is unusual to conclude a review by quoting from the glowing statements to be found on the dust
      jacket of the book that is being reviewed. In this case, however, the words used to describe Embodied
      Nation
      are fitting – “superb”, “well-written”, “outstanding” and “highly original”. Creak has much to
      offer sport scholars as well as those with a specialist interest in the modern history of Laos or in
      south-east Asia more generally. He is to be heartily congratulated on this fine publication.


      —International Journal of Asian Studies
    • Creak’s book … will be the authoritative account of this history for years to come.
      New Mandala
    • Creak’s work extends and specifies theory and scholarship about sport culture and politics with this detailed case study. Embodied Nation addresses aspects of Lao society (sport and physical culture, masculinity) that have not yet been explored, at least in English language scholarly work. Creak’s extensive referencing of official Lao and French language documents may guide other researchers to similar useful sources. Advanced students, scholars, and practitioners in the following fields will be interested in this well written and scholarly work: history, culture, and politics of Laos and Southeast Asia; sport and culture; and gender studies, especially masculinity.
      —Pacific Affairs
    • This book is a welcome addition to the literature on an under-studied country, Laos, on an also under-studied topic, sport in relation to nationalism and masculinity. . . . Creak’s work is commendable for offering more than a historical account of the development of sport in Laos by using various theoretical frameworks in order to grasp this evolution, some of the theoretical analyses could be more fully developed through the use of examples. . . . Creak has collected many sources, which allows him to present a rich account of various issues in relation to sport in Laos. Thus, this is an important book for people interested in ideologies and state building in Laos over time from the vantage point of sport and physical education.
      —Southeast Asian Studies
    • This superb, well-written book shows how nationalism became embodied through state promoted physical practices promoting discipline. For those interested primarily in Laos, it is a treasure trove, showing how sport emerged from play and ritualised play to become a central metaphor of Lao nationalism. For those whose main interest is in sport theory, Creak supplies a wonderful case study that can be emulated.
      Grant Evans, École Française d’Extrême-Orient, Laos
    • Simon Creak’s outstanding and highly original study explores how colonial and pre-colonial conceptions of the body and sports contributed to the making of modern Laos and how physicality became a weapon in the cultural contests of the Cold War. This is a fascinating account of how colonial, national, and communist leaders used physical culture to embody quite literally their political projects throughout the twentieth century.
      Christopher E. Goscha, Université du Québec à Montréal