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UMSL professor Susan Brownell is studying hospitality at the 2018 Winter Olympics

The Olympic Games are historic festivals that showcase a wide variety of athletic talent – but they also go beyond sports entertainment.

On Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air, producer Alex Heuer talked to UMSL professor Susan Brownell, who is attending the Olympics in South Korea and plans to study them from an anthropological point of view.

Listen to the full discussion:

As a China scholar, Brownell said she was interested in attending games in South Korea games because the next three Olympics are in East Asian countries.

“I just think it’s a really interesting moment in Olympic history and maybe world history when this big mega-event has left the conventional western powers for the first time in its over 100-year-history for three Olympic Games,” Brownell said.

The 2018 Winter Olympics is the sixth Olympics Brownell will attend. She said that there are commonalities between the games, such as the street festivals and hospitality houses, which are buildings open to the public hosted by different nations.

“You do start getting addicted to [going to the games],” she said. “There are certainly hardcore fans that just go to one game after another to experience that joy of being human.”

She explained that the historic athletic festival has become a “global ritual” for celebrating humanity. She noted that tremendous amounts of global and internet coverage of the Olympics helps build shared experiences.

“I’ve been interested in the ritual aspect of the Olympic Games ever since I was an undergraduate, just because there is this theory in anthropology that rituals build a sense of humanity and solidarity,” she said.

She will study that theory by analyzing the hospitality houses in South Korea. She said she’s interested to see what goes on in the houses, where often times, corporate sponsors and national Olympic committees have rooms to host VIPs and arrange meetings.

She’ll also look at how host countries try to promote their own businesses during the games.

“There’s actually a lot of very serious networking,” she said, particularly in the corporate world. “I feel that this is just a part of the growing integration of the global economy and the increasingly multinational nature of so many of the corporations in the world today.”

Brownell said these economic ties between countries are beneficial since it’s less likely that countries with strong economic ties go to war with each other.

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary EdwardsAlex Heuer and Lara Hamdan give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.


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Lara is the Engagement Editor at St. Louis Public Radio.