The public swimming pool, place of construction of a social order

Have you ever railed against those swimmers who are too slow, too fast, too equipped, who take the wrong line, those who confuse the pool with their living room or even those who prevent you from keeping up with your weekly lengths? If the circulation corridors are not always well respected, they still allow several people to swim in a small aquatic area. Imagine that even a few years ago, they didn’t even exist.

Their history and that of swimming testify to a real evolution in the practice of sport, linked, as research shows, to a certain political organization of space and the control of individuals by others, then by themselves.

According l’historien du sport Allen Guttmannit is the ritualization processes and the rules that accompany each sport that are truly educational, more than the practice itself.

Rituals of control

Thus, sporting activity, whatever the age, contributes to the education and forms citizenship practicesa phenomenon that is gaining momentum as recreational sport developsfrom the end of the 19the century. The political, ideological, moral or social then appear next to a certain hygienism. Sport is gradually becoming a modern tool of control, even of indoctrination of the masses, to serve the community by nourishing different ideologies.

For example, from 1920, in a post-war context marked by the search for physical and social hygiene to improve “the French race”the prefect of Calvados Maurice Helitasnicknamed the prefect “sportophile and alcoholophobe”is working on the construction of a public swimming pool and a departmental stadium, worried about the misdeeds of idleness.

It was about educating and “to occupy our youth made very free by the eight-hour law”, referring here to the law on the reduction of working time to move to eight-hour days. Swimming is part of this long history.

France swimming

Based on the latest studies of the Ministry of Sports, published in 2020, we can say that the French are a people of swimmers and swimmers. There are around 13 million French people, aged over 15, who practice recreational swimming every year in the 4,135 swimming pools and 6,412 public pools that counts France.

Some 80% of them, almost as many women as men, practice it freely and fall, that is to say outside of a club or association with supervisory staff. This makes it the second most practiced sporting activity by the French, after leisure walking.

How does this activity contribute today to the creation of citizens? How does this unsupervised sport contribute to the acquisition and maintenance of prosocial and civic attitudes, such as obeying the rules by conforming to socially accepted behaviors for living together?

Sensitive lines

In France, covered or uncovered swimming pools are generally rectangular in shape and of different lengths (25 meters, 33 meters, 50 meters, 100 meters, up to 150 meters for the largest, located in Toulouse). To organize the circulation of the movements of so-called “free” swimmers, the lifeguards generally divide these swimming areas into separate lanes with lanes.

Thus, swimmers can freely choose according to their level, gender, age and from an offer of pre-established lanes, between the one prohibited for the breaststroke, the one only for the front crawl and the backstroke, the one for the four strokes, the one for the palms.

This manifest evolution towards
organization of bodies
movement of swimmers brings us back to the question of order in sociology and philosophy.

But according to the testimonies of lifeguards that I am collecting for an ongoing investigation, this spatial division has not always been appropriate in public swimming pools. It would go back to about thirty years, and resulted in the disappearance of a good number of children who came to play by carrying out, in all directions of the basin, including under water, rather short and noisy movements.

That is to say if these uses came regularly to hinder and hinder that of free swimmers, motivated by the sequence of pool lengths, sometimes interspersed with breaks, to maintain physical contact.

Routines and monitoring

This obvious evolution with regard to the organization of the moving bodies of swimmers brings us back to the question of order in sociology and philosophy. Overall, the pools constitute interactional spaces of sociability, in which the actions of the users are constrained by internal regulations specific to each public swimming pool.

It goes without saying that breaches of the internal regulations (types of swimsuits authorized, wearing a swimming cap, compulsory shower) constitute an obstacle to reciprocal expectations and can go as far as exclusion from the swimming pool or even a criminal sanction.

In addition, swimmers’ movements are circumscribed by the physical dimensions of the pools and the identical circulation rules in each swimming lane. Generally, free swimmers move in single file, starting to the right of the median line (black line), placed in each line at the bottom of the pool.

In addition, in many public swimming pools, it is customary for this circulation to be indicated on signs placed on the edges of the pool or the starting blocks. Refusal of these circulation routines usually results in reluctant swimmers being disciplined or excluded by other swimmers. Besides, according to British sociologist Susie Scott, “the first thing you notice when entering a swimming pool is how orderly and civilized it is […]the order they create is maintained”.

The spatial division of the basins and the ordering of bodily movements that it induces also refer us, among other things, to the work of the American sociologist Erving Goffman concerning the construction of the order of the interaction. “These routines associated with the fundamental rules, all of this constitutes what one could call a ‘social order’.”

Powerful self-regulation

In addition to these sociological analyses, and although a public swimming pool is not a prison, a swimming pool, between its rules and the scheduling of swimmers’ movements, can be studied in the light of the panoptic device concept of the philosopher Michel Foucault.

Thus, if the lengths achieved in pools cut into swimming lanes give more strength and motor powers to swimmers, they are permanently subject to respecting rules and customs as to the way of circulating there to succeed in swimming together. in the same territory.

Powerful for sociability and citizenship, this self-regulated device also does its work without the intervention, generally, of a lifeguard.

Order and disorder

For political power, apart from the fact that swimming practiced freely maintains the health of fellow citizens and occupies idle time, it participates in the production of citizenship in action and living together, as shown by the latest work of the French sociologist Benoît Hachet.

The sociologist points out in particular that the ordering of free Parisian swimmers is a vector of sociability and citizenship. On the other hand, he wonders about “the disorder” which can sometimes occur there when, in summer, their directors remove the swimming lanes by removing the lanes to respond to the massive influx of recreational swimmers.

They are then forced to deploy security guards to sometimes expel uncivil swimmers who refuse to comply with the rules and/or who disturb other more polite swimmers. According to him, “the question of order could well, therefore, be answered by the question of disorder, in terms of incivility, even physical violence towards other swimmers, when this putting in order is removed in particular thanks to the swimming lanes in the pools».

However, let us be reassured: in the vast majority of French public swimming pools, free swimmers and their order take precedence over the disorder which can, here and there, occur among swimmers reluctant to apply rules municipalities. Paradoxically, the latter do not function without social rules, far from it. Those who organize their lives are generally more strict and violent than those of a public swimming pool.

Finally, in a historical period, struck by the harmful effects linked to a sedentary lifestyle, lack of physical activity, digital technology and poor food hygiene, it is regrettable that the scheduling of swimmers in corridors kept children away from rectangular pools, then made less playful, and often, from a health point of view, the most fragile of them.

This article is republished from The Conversation sous licence Creative Commons. Lire l’article original.

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