Although neither the title of the book nor the cover photograph excites the imagination, Case Studies in Sport Socialisation is in fact a rare treat – a collection of erudite single-authored chapters focusing on the relationship between sport and socialisation in a relatively wide range of contexts. Following an introductory chapter, the contents are organised in three sections which address the themes of (1) socialisation into sport, (2) out of sport, and (3) through sport respectively. Part 1 consists of chapters on child athletes in the People’s Republic of China, race and social channelling of African Americans into sport, and corporate sports socialisation and habitus with specific reference to adventure racing and dragon boating. Part 2 contains chapters on Muslim women in sport, women in esports and the case of intersex athletes. Part 3 comprises chapters on (dis)empowerment for Para-Olympians, women who fight, young athletes and character development, and ends with a concluding chapter which, amongst other things, looks toward future cases.
Inevitably the chapters are uneven in length and in quality. No single scholar could be expected to demonstrate a consistent level of expertise in such a wide range of areas. Nevertheless, the author, who works at the National University of Singapore, is to be commended for writing a book which could easily be used as a prescribed set text for modules or courses on sport and socialisation. He also deserves great praise for his use of sociological theory throughout. The fact that this encompasses the work of Elias, Gramsci, Marx, Althusser, Goffman, Bourdieu and Foucault is worthy of comment as is the quote at the start of the chapter from Terry Eagleton’s (2007) The Meaning of Life which almost brought a tear to the eye of this reviewer so rare is it these days to meet scholars in sport studies who are even aware of Eagleton’s work. Whether sport provides the human solidarity that Eagleton claims for it is, at best, debatable but it is undeniable that for huge numbers of people, in every part of the world, it certainly provides some meaning to, what would otherwise be, an increasingly unfathomable existence.
The voices of western researchers working in Asia are relatively seldom heard and they are all the more welcome for that very reason. Mark Brooke’s introductory chapter provides a comprehensive, theoretically informed account of the history of ideas about sport and play. What is particularly refreshing is that he also uses the chapter to say something about the development of sport in east Asia, noting the significance of Burmese Chinlone (cane ball), Sepak Takraw on the Malay peninsula and. perhaps less surprisingly, Chinese martial arts.However, the analysis of the use of dragon boating in Singapore is demonstrably the product of his own original research. He concludes that dragon boating participation offers what Bourdieu terms “social capital”.
Brooke’s chapter on child talent in the PRC offers perhaps the most informative and insightful discussion in the book. China’s state ideology has undeniably contributed to recent success in the Summer Olympics and may even bear fruit when the Winter Games take place in Beijing and neighbouring towns in Hebei province in 2022. Talent identification and subsequent socialisation into sport are hugely important elements in China’s pursuit of Olympic medals with training beginning for many young athletes as early as six years of age. Such a system is not, of course, without its inherent problems. Hardship and abuse have been regularly reported and training practises in sport schools have been criticised for being at odds with human rights. However, according to Brooke, ‘more recent institutions appear to acknowledge the importance of providing students with an education and this is coupled with a reduction in the number of very early starters being socialised into sport by the regime’ (p. 30).
The chapter on social channelling of African Americans into sport tells an arguably much better known story, at least to scholars in the United States. Its relative originality lies mainly in a discussion of sports films. I was a little surprised that there was not greater engagement with John Hoberman’s (1997) Darwin’s Athletes, whether scandalised or persuaded by its central arguments. The chapter is distinguished once again by its use of theory; in this case Paulo Freire’s pedagogy of the oppressed.
Theory, specifically that of Bourdieu, also helps to illuminate the arguments presented in the next chapter where, ironically given the subject matter, Brooke appears to be on safer ground and, as a result, has more to offer a global readership. His discussion of the corporate use of adventure racing draws upon the work of other researchers. However, the analysis of the use of dragon boating in Singapore is demonstrably the product of his own original research. He concludes that dragon boating participation offers what Bourdieu terms “social capital”. It helps to construct participant and group identities’ (p. 51). While the main focus of this chapter is on water, Brooke concludes by providing a more general assessment of examples of companies’ other uses sport and corporate events, all of which sound horrendous to this reviewer.
The second part of the book begins with a discussion of Muslim women in sport, another well- trodden path but one to which Brooke makes a meaningful contribution simply by adopting a nuanced perspective – a lesson here for other non-Muslim scholars are inclined to offer their opinions on this matter. In the case of women in esports, it seems that, at present, this remains something of a non-story although one assumes that this might change in the future.
The discussion of intersex athletes in the third part of the book has inevitably been overtaken by events, not least those involving Caster Semenya, and the discussion of Para-Olympians adds relatively little to existing knowledge. The chapter on women who fight is interesting and theoretically well informed, thereby making a valuable contribution to ongoing debates about gender and sport. Rather strangely, however, Brooke focuses almost exclusively on mixed martial arts and largely ignores the noble art of boxing. The final chapter in this part of the book which looks at youth development is brief but sensibly concludes with the incontrovertible observation that the ‘sport builds character’ narrative ‘should not be taken for granted’ (p. 110).
Brooke concludes by identifying topics worthy of future research. These include the influence of families, disordered eating, older elite athletes and sport’s links with the armed forces – subject matter for a second book perhaps or for the attention of our students. This a brave book. It is, by no means, perfect but in it Brooke consistently challenges us to think more critically and in greater analytical depth about the relationship between sport and socialisation. It is well worth reading.