“This work is part of a personal fresco, of eras and practices I experienced myself,” he sums up.
His fourth academic book on running, which began writing in 2017, seeks to shed light on running as a social phenomenon over the past half-century. “Running is part of everyday life. It seems banal, but it is a total social fact that says a lot about our society, our way of being, our relationship with the body, our relationship with others,” he says on his couch. Piles of sociology and history books pile up on his desk. An IGN map is dragging on the coffee table. On the wall a very nice triptych of a skier alone in the mountains.
The police at the start
The material was such that he soon opted for a trilogy. Part 1, “Running without hindrance”, deciphers the first revolution in running, inscribed in postmodern society, between 1968 and 1990. “Before 68, running was not much in France. 1968 symbolizes the Cultural Revolution. Jogging is influenced by the American culture but also the values that develop in the postmodern culture, in France. Jogging is a way of dressing that comes from the clothing guns used until now. It is the embodiment of a new way of racing.”
“For 68, running in France wasn’t much.”
Olivier Besse speaks of “freestyle”, as opposed to track and field athletics, which is elitist and traditional. Gradually, running will come out of the stadiums and become more feminized. “This revolution in methods, this evolution of body representations has led to conflicts with the French Athletics Federation (FFA),” explains the sociologist of sport, leisure and tourism.
Case in point: The gendarmes are called up at the 1975 Marvejols-Mende race to evict an FFA official who blocked his car to prevent the start of the event.
The strength of the work of the professor at the University of Pau and Pays de l’Adour is to combine a scientific approach and concepts, popularized, with the analysis of the content of the press of the time, interviews with practitioners without his own personal experience. The reader identifies himself, can find meaning in his pedestrian engagement to answer the question “What makes me run?”
The meaning of running and of an event differs per context.
The meaning of running and of an event differs per context. For example, 152 runners completed the first Paris marathon in 1976. The first Madrid marathon in 1978 brought together 7,000 runners. “He was a symbol of political and social renewal, of the reconquest of freedom, just after Francoism. In the early 1990s, it seemed that the Paris Marathon had not yet found its place in relation to the city’s cultural identity, its tourist ambitions and the evolution of runners’ expectations. “Paris” will catch up in the coming decades by embracing the values of cutting edge modernity. It will be a globalized marathon with a high tourist value.”
Part 2 (expected by the end of the year) runs from 1990 to 2008, the year of the subprime crisis. This is a period when running is hybridized into hypermodernity: performance at all costs, sole proprietorship, extreme running (ultra trail, etc.). Part 3 (expected in 2023) connects running and transmodernity. “It is the coexistence of conflicting values. The race for performance, to go faster and faster; and the race to slow down, in search of meaning, socializing with others with unclassified breeds, in a less dominant relationship with nature,” concludes Olivier Bessy.