From Hard Work to Grit: On the discursive formation of talent

by Magnus Kilger

Vol. 10 2019, pages 29–50
Published April 3, 2019


This article examines the long historical interest for the selection of young talented children in sports. This seemingly everlasting search for talents and the quest for the especially gifted is followed by the practice of trying to find and select the right individuals. This paper elucidates historical representations of talent and talent selection in a series of professional sports literature in Sweden during the 1930s, 1980s, 1990s and 2010s.

Drawing on a discourse analytic approach, it illustrates the historical understanding of selection and how such practices produce formations of legitimacy. The study shows how certain historical elements reoccur in contemporary selection discourse and how specific actions are transformed into personal characteristics. These selection processes construct a rationale for a legitimate selection and illustrate how talent selection is based on historically specific assumptions, normative and moral statements and activities connected to a specific discursive formation. This insight underlines that talent selection cannot be understood as essential skills identified through observation, tests or interviews. It is rather to be understood as a discursive repertoire responding to a specific historical legitimacy.

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About the Author

MAGNUS KILGER holds a doctoral degree in Child and Youth Science, and currently works as a Senior Lecturer in Sport Science, specialized in educational science, at the Swedish School of Sport and Health Sciences (GIH) in Stockholm. His research deals with organized child and youth sports, focusing on talent selection and youth identity in sporting contexts. His research interests include social interaction and ethnography from a child and youth perspective. His methodological works is primarily within the fields of narrative and discourse analysis.