“The quest for interdisciplinarity will have to wait for another day”

Alan Bairner
Loughborough University, UK

Joseph Maguire (red) Social Sciences in Sport 384 sidor, inb. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics 2014 ISBN 978-0-7360-8958-6
Joseph Maguire (red)
Social Sciences in Sport
384 sidor, inb.
Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics 2014
ISBN 978-0-7360-8958-6

In a short preface, the editor, eminent sociologist of sport, Joseph Maguire, outlines the main aims of this collection of essays – ‘first, to provide in-depth coverage of current knowledge in a range of disciplines; and second, to draw connections between these disciplines to help illuminate key issues and concerns regarding sport and thereby to hold out the possibility of change (p. x). In a longer subsequent introduction, Maguire proceeds to argue that a social science perspective better equips us to address three main themes,

  • the function and meaning of sport in the lives of people,
  • the role that sport does, and could, play in dealing with societal problems, issues and concerns, and
  • local and global questions of inequality, power, governance, democracy, transparency, and accountability in sport and society more broadly.

With such issues in mind, the book consists of fourteen chapters and an epilogue written by the editor. The chapters themselves are sub-divided into four thematic sections – (1) Identity: Definitions, Development, and the Individual, (2) Community: Place, Space, Image, and the Social, (3) Capital: Wealth, Power, and Resources, and (4) Governance: Regulation, Organization, and Implementation.

So far so good. However, whilst the book’s sub-title includes the word ‘interdisciplinary’, despite the attempt to justify this by grouping chapters in thematic sections, the contents of the chapters themselves suggest that this is very much a multidisciplinary collection with relatively few of the authors looking much beyond their own sub-disciplines in an attempt to work towards the broader social science approach for which Maguire calls. Indeed, whilst the editor himself rails against the hegemonic position of the natural sciences in sport in his epilogue, claiming quite correctly that ‘the problems, challenges, and dilemmas facing sport worlds cannot be addressed solely from a bioscientific perspective’ (p. 373), I remain unconvinced that a sub-discipline such as sports psychology is fully on board with an inclusive and interdisciplinary social science project despite a relatively recent appreciation that qualitative research methods might have something to offer.

The authors of the psychology chapter, David Lavallee, John Kremer and Aidan Moran, all recognised leaders in their field, claim that ‘contemporary sport psychology is incredibly diverse, and this diversity is reflected in the continued growth in professional organizations and journals each with their own orientation’ (p. 62). It is worth noting their use of the term ‘sport psychology’ here, given that presumably the editor of the collection has chosen to use ‘Psychology of Sport’ for the chapter title. Whilst there is, in my view and that of others, Maguire included (see his own chapter in this collection), a strong case for referring to ‘the sociology of sport’ as opposed to ‘sport sociology’, even though mainstream sociologists do not always appear to take seriously the endeavours of those peers who choose to write about sport, sport psychology usually looks like a discreet entity that is relatively detached from the conceptual and methodological advances that are constantly taking place in the wider field of social psychology. In that respect, sport psychology seems closer in kind to sport and exercise physiology than to the social sciences of sport as commonly understood.

There can be fewer quibbles about the choice of the collection’s other subject matter although it should be noted that whilst some chapters are identifiably sub-discipline based – sociology, history, political science, economics, geography and so on, others are arguably more thematic, the clearest example of this being David Rowe’s discussion of media studies and sport. As a consequence, readers are likely to pick and choose which chapters are of particular interest to them, largely ignoring the broader concerns that are identified in the four section headings. This was certainly my approach to the collection and I had one burning question in mind – which of the authors would demonstrate that their sub-discipline was willing and able to engage with others in a genuine interdisciplinary project?

To this end, he suggests that ‘the first obstacle is to recognize that intradisciplinary inertia need not prevent geographers from seeking out colleagues in other disciplines’

I was immediately drawn to Christopher Gaffney’s chapter on the Geography of Sport where the potential for the cross-fertilization of ideas seems to me to be particularly strong. Indeed, Gaffney argues that a new, critical geography of sport should be open to exploring a range of possibilities. To this end, he suggests that ‘the first obstacle is to recognize that intradisciplinary inertia need not prevent geographers from seeking out colleagues in other disciplines’ (p. 130). This is good advice although, in light of such a call to arms, it is perhaps unfortunate that Gaffney fails to acknowledge in this chapter the work of spatially aware theorists such as David Andrews, Michael Atkinson, and Michael Silk.

Writing about the Anthropology of Sport, Alan Klein encourages ‘sport anthropologists to be less concerned with gaining the respect of their natal field and to embrace the larger community of sport scholars’ (p. 85). Wise words, indeed, and Klein supplements them by describing how he himself found support among sport sociologists upon realising that ‘his anthropological audience was limited’ (p. 78). Indeed, he could have strengthened this argument still further by mentioning his own collaborative work with Paul Darby on baseball academies in the Dominican Republic and football academies in Ghana.

As someone who graduated in Politics but would never describe myself as a political scientist, I was also interested to read Jonathan Grix’s chapter on Political Science and Sport. Grix’s analysis is informative and thought-provoking but nothing in it makes me think that I made the wrong decision when I abandoned the study of politics as understood in this chapter in favour of the sociology of sport. It is hardly surprising, indeed, that Grix himself accepts that much of the (good) work on the relationship between politics and sport ‘has been penned by sociologists, sports studies scholars, and especially historians’ (p. 194). He asserts that nascent political science infused literature ‘has vastly expanded the notions of the “political”’ (p. 197) but not enough, I fear.

The chapters that have not been mentioned so far are History of Sport (Vamplew), Philosophy of Sport (Loland and McNamee), Economics and Sport (Szymanski), International Relations and Sport (Levermore and Beacom), Sport and the Law (Healey), Sport and Social Policy (Spaaij), Sport and Management Studies (Thibault), and Sport and Education (Penney) – a star studded cast and an impressive range of subjects. Who will read the book in its entirety? Undergraduate students possibly, if their degree programme is sufficiently comprehensive. Otherwise, individual scholars will, for the most part, read those chapters that are closest to their own interests and the quest for interdisciplinarity will have to wait for another day and arguably for another collection of essays.

Copyright © Alan Bairner 2014

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