A sport sociology research handbook with a unique selling point


Alan Bairner
School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences, Loughborough University

Elizabeth C.J. Pike (ed.)
Research Handbook on Sport and Society
407 pages, hardcover
Cheltenham, Glos: Edward Elgar 2021
ISBN 978-1-78990-359-1

Although I find it impossible to resist beginning this review with the words ‘another day, another handbook’, this particular collection of essays has two significant selling points. First, it is no surprise that the editor, Elizabeth Pike, a stalwart member of the international sociology of sport community for many years, has been able to enlist a sizeable and diverse group of scholars to contribute chapters on a wide-ranging set of topics. Second, each contributor has been instructed to provide an account of their personal journey through the world of sport studies and, in particular, of what attracted them to the subject matter for which they are responsible in the handbook.

Pike writes that the handbook is intended to ‘enable exploration of sports and society from multiple perspectives to provide a holistic understanding’ (p. 3). To that end, in addition to an editorial introduction, the book is organised into seven parts consisting of between one and eight chapters. The headings of these parts are The Governance, The Economic, The Events, The Workplace, The Athletes, The Issues and The Future.

Pike’s second aim was to allow the contributors to tell the story of their own work and reach ‘in order to develop understanding of [the] relationship between scholarship and activism…’ (p. 3). I have two slight concerns about the value of this ambition. First, there is relatively little evidence of activism (apart from the activism of others) in most of the chapters which suggests that there persists a divide between scholarship and activism in the minds of many of the authors. Second, as those of us who have tried to use autobiographies as sources of data sets know, it is difficult to be sure how much we can trust what we are being told.

The chapter which I found most original, largely because of my previous ignorance of the subject, was Anima Adjepong’s ‘For a sociology of women’s sport in the African continent’.

For example, in his chapter on sport, politics and the public intellectual, I am grateful to David Hassan for his unwarranted description of me as ‘one of the great intellectuals of this field’ (p. 11). However, I cannot recall ever attending a Cliftonville FC game with him at Solitude in North Belfast. Of course, that may say more about my faulty memory than David’s. More seriously, I note that my friend and colleague, Dominic Malcolm, has written in a blurb on the book’s back cover that it ‘is set to become compulsory reading for students and researchers alike’. That may well be true although I am seldom convinced that any handbook should be considered as compulsory reading. What I would suggest, however, is that nowadays very few students could care less about the stories behind our work. With a few honourable exceptions, their major concern is with the marks that we give them and how we came to find ourselves in a position from which we assign these marks is largely irrelevant. For fellow academics, on the other hand, it is possible that it is this element of the chapters will have most appeal.

My attention was drawn to the life stories of people I have known for many years and who have made major contributions to the social scientific study of sport – Liz Pike herself, Larry Wenner, Michael Atkinson, John Horne, Simon Darnell and Jay Coakley amongst others.  Although I had no doubt already heard some of their stories, it was good to be reminded of them. I was disappointed, however, that in his chapter on sport mega events, John Horne neglected to mention our trip together to watch Dunfermline Athletic play at Livingston FC’s ground now known, for sponsorship reasons, as the Tony Macaroni Arena.

Most of the chapters address issues that will be familiar, albeit to varying degrees, to most readers of this review. The chapter which I found most original, largely because of my previous ignorance of the subject, was Anima Adjepong’s ‘For a sociology of women’s sport in the African continent’. As Adjepong argues, women’s sport in Africa remains largely ignored by the international sociology of sport community. However, she argues that ‘by turning a critical analytical lens to women’s sports in Africa, the social inequalities embedded within this popular cultural terrain and how these inequalities reverberate across the landscape can be righty assessed and corrected’ (p. 286). Whether this can be achieved while simultaneously generalising about such a large and culturally diverse continent is another matter.

I was disappointed that so little attention was paid in the book to environmental issues and specifically to the climate crisis. This is true even of Jay Coakley’s chapter on the future of sport which ultimately will be dependent on the survival of the planet.  A chapter on what sport can do to help in this regard would surely have been warranted. To his credit, Coakley briefly discusses athlete activism which is another topic that would have been worthy of a chapter of its own.

On the other hand, in terms of contemporary significance, Mike Atkinson’s chapter on mental illness in sport and Ramón Spaaij’s discussion of terrorism and sport are both very welcome although, in the case of the latter, I look forward to a time when sociologists of sport take more interest in the circumstances that drive some people towards so-called terrorist activities rather than focusing primarily, and sometimes exclusively, on terrorism as a problem for sport.  From my own experience, I can confidently say that some terrorists like sport too (Bairner, 2016).

In sum, like all handbooks and many other edited collections, the overall quality of the contributions is inevitably uneven. Because of the autobiographical element in each chapter, however, this particular collection has a unique selling point. One assumes that the book is primarily aimed at the academic library market. The fact that it is available in eBook format will undoubtedly ensure that it is used by students on a range of sport courses. It is perhaps too introspective to appeal to a wider readership. Nevertheless, there can be no doubt that Pike has achieved the aims that she set for herself.

Copyright © Alan Bairner 2021


Bairner, A. (2016) ‘My first victim was a hurling player…’: sport in the lives of Northern Ireland’s political prisoners, American Behavioral Scientist, 60 (9), 1086-1100.


Table of Content

Introduction to sports and society: scholarship, activism and impact
Elizabeth C.J. Pike


Sport, politics and the public intellectual
David Hassan

Sport organisations, politics and gender policies
Jorid Hovden

Researching and working in sport policy and development
Andy Smith

Sport, social movements and digital media
Simon C. Darnell, Sabrina Razack and Janelle Joseph


Economic determinants of sport performance
Wladimir Andreff and Nicolas Scelles

The industry of gambling on sport: deconstructing sports betting as a market, a product and a public health issue
Hibai Lopez-Gonzalez

Sport, advertising and promotional culture
Andrew Grainger

Media, sports, and society
Lawrence A. Wenner


Sports mega-events
John Horne

Fandom and well-being
Yuhei Inoue


Gender and social inequity in and through sport leadership
Lucy V. Piggott

Renaming and reshaping the challenge of improving gender equity sport coaching
Leanne Norman

Respecting referees? An analysis of abuse, support, retention and policy
Jamie Cleland

Volunteering within sport for development and peace (SDP) projects
Megan Chawansky


Social perspectives on athlete pathways
Outi Aarresola, Jari Lamsa and Astrid Schubring

Foreign-born sportspeople in the Olympics and the Football World Cup: migration, citizenship and nationhood
Gijs van Campenhout and Joost Jansen

From fascination to revelation: my research journey with older Masters/Veteran athletes
Rylee A. Dionigi


Living in the along: reflections on inquiring into experiences of women in sport
Lombe A. Mwambwa and Elizabeth C.J. Pike

For a sociology of women’s sports on the African continent
Anima Adjepong

Disability inclusion in sport for all: ‘Baskin’ as a best practice model
Florian Kiuppis

Filing the podium: cheating, doping and corruption
James Connor

Researching pain and injury in sport
Ivan Waddington

Non-accidental violence in sports
Kari Fasting

Mental illness in sport
Michael Atkinson

Terrorism and sport
Ramón Spaaij


The future of sports and society: a reflection and call to action
Jay Coakley

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