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Constructing the ideal body: health, sporting space and the new Dutch City

Piercey, NAE (2017) Constructing the ideal body: health, sporting space and the new Dutch City. In: Urban History Group Conference 2018, 05 April 2018 - 06 April 2018, Keele, United Kingdom. (Unpublished)


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In the second half of the 19th Century, Dutch cities underwent a dramatic environmental change focused upon the provision of facilities, services and spaces dedicated to improving the health of their citizens. This paper will chart the development of sporting spaces in Dutch cities around 1900 and demonstrate that the cementing of sport within the city was intrinsically linked to wider discourses of the new ideal healthy body – the sporting body. As Van der Woud notes, the period around 1900 saw a cultural revolution in the Netherlands which was marked by a clash between two distinct cultures; an old civilisation focused upon spiritual needs and a newer, materialist, culture, which placed measurable and improvable bodies and spaces at the heart of scientific, architectural, economic, cultural and political life. As demonstrated by new laws on housing and public health (1901), the ordered, regulated and visible city became the centre of this new culture. While recreational space in the Dutch city increased after 1850, as private philanthropic initiatives cooperated with public organisations to improve health and hygiene, the development of sporting space in the new Dutch city marked a new relationship between citizens, public and private organisations and the discourses of health. Influenced by Foucauldian concepts of spatial and corporal discipline, this paper will demonstrate how lines between private and public organisations became increasingly blurred within new sporting organisations and how, based upon the new materialistic culture, discourses of corporal and societal health, allied with a new mass culture, were used to reproduce discipline, adherence, surveillance and control in the new Dutch city.

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