Habit Displaced: The Disruption of Skilful Performance



This paper develops ideas in cultural geography around bodily capacities and their limits to think about the sustainability of skilful performance. Taking golf as its empirical moment and affective theorisations of habit as its conceptual lure, the paper outlines how the bodily proficiencies required for skilful sporting performance are acquired through intensive processes of transformation that emerge through repetition, which make bodily movements easier and more intuitive over time. However, a phenomenon known as the yips intrudes on these trajectories of increasing ease and proficiency where, suddenly and inexplicably, skilful performance breaks down. Where current medicalised debates on the etiology of the yips are quick to attempt to separate the apparently psychological from the physical genesis, this paper draws principally on the writings of Félix Ravaisson to consider how the symptoms of the yips signal changes in the brain–body–environment circuits of habit. The bodily thresholds that these changes give rise to invite us to embrace an appreciation of skilful performance that is much more contingent on its immanent disruption, and an apprehension of habit that acknowledges the volatilities inherent to it.