Yago Colas's Cultures of Basketball Hits SXSW

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Part of Sunday's South by Southwest Interactive line-up is a presentation by Yago Colas, Michigan professor, huge basketball fan, intrepid pick-up warrior, and a friend of the program. Yago first offered his "Cultures of Basketball" course in 2010, bringing together current UM players and regular old students to explore the history, and meaning, of the game. Note: "Cultures of Basketball" uses one of the FreeDarko books as a text, and Yago brought me to campus in 2011 to sit in on the class, so I am biased. But it's been fascinating to watch how one single syllabus has turned into a whole new professional focus for Yago—not to mention the source of some very good publicity.

Check him out if you're in Austin, and even if you're not, read this Q&A. You can follow Yago on Twitter @yagocolas.

Bethlehem Shoals: Did you know that the Driskell Hotel, where you're presenting, is haunted?

Yago Colas: I did not know this. But I will now reorganize my presentation around a seance resulting in a panel discussion among myself and the spirits of James Naismith and Wilt Chamberlain.

Shoals: Which player do you plan to mention the most?

Colas: Besides myself?

Shoals: How did you end up doing this presentation? Why solo?

Colas: I don't really know, which is scary to me. Andrew McNeil, who blogs about the Spurs and works for SXSW, wrote me with an invitation. I imagine he has been regretting it since and if he hasn't, he certainly will by Sunday afternoon. Maybe because a) I didn't have the energy to organize into a panel; and b) I like to talk too much to share the floor"

Shoals: Who is the audience for the talk? Are you a tech phenomenon?

Colas: I am a tech macrophenomenon. Oops, I actually wrote "text" macrophenomenon by accident, which tells you everything you need to know about my relationship with technology. I am equal parts drawn to and bewildered by technology and social media. But, more seriously, I know I'm only appearing at SXSW because of technology and social media. And, in fact, though totally unplanned, the combination of teaching the course, blogging about it, and collaborating with individuals, like you, who have more experience and a more established web presence than myself has had and continues to have an impact on the way I am thinking about teaching and scholarship and the relationship of the humanist academy to digital and social media.

Others know a lot more about this than I do, but it's an issue in which I have a growing stake and interest. So I imagine my audience to be a mix of individuals interested in basketball, in new forms of writing about the game facilitated by social media, in experimental pedagogies (also in some ways facilitated by social media), in the complex actual and possible ways of configuring the relationship between athletics and academics in higher education, and in what counts as scholarly production in the academy.

Shoals: Are you going to mention any Longhorns for local cred?

Colas: Resolutely not. Go Blue!

Shoals: I get the sense that the course, to you, is a larger project than just a class. And that what it stands for is potentially something bigger—like a movement in the way basketball is read or taught. Respond!

Colas: I think the course is part of a couple of intersecting projects. One has to do with the way basketball is read, taught, and written about, wherein I'm interested in an approach to the game that can combine the passion of the enthusiast, the detachment of the sociology of sport academic, and the eye and appreciation for concrete micro-forms of subtlety of the literary/art/music critic. The other larger project has to do with trying to teach and write in ways that elude the conservatism, slowness, and sterility of the academic humanities.  

This is not just about replacing traditional humanist objects of study with more popular ones (that's already happened and most academics writing on popular forms of culture exhibit the same problems as those who write on traditional forms). It is about instantiating in our practice as university teachers and writers a different way of conceiving of what we do, how knowledge gets generated and imparted, regardless of what it is we are studying and writing and teaching about. What I try to do is make more space for subjectivity and emotion in scholarship and teaching, to make more space for collaboration and collectivity in scholarship and teaching, and to insist that scholarship and teaching make the objects of study of the humanities responsive to the practical—let's say existential—needs of daily life. Literature, which is what I was trained to study and teach, no less than basketball—which is a narrative generator—should be studied and taught as equipment for living.  

Shoals: SXSW is kind of also known for music. If you could book any band to play alongside your appearance, what woul it be?

Colas: The Shondes or Earth, Wind and Fire.

Shoals: If you don't go to Mi Madre's I will be upset.

Colas: I will plan on it.

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