Centre for English Language Communication
National University of Singapore
This book is part of a cross-disciplinary Palgrave Macmillan series of works for which Younghan Cho is the series editor. The series critically explores Asian sport from global and comparative perspectives. Younghan Cho’s own book entitled Global Sports Fandom in South Korea: American Major League Baseball and Its Fans in the Online Community explores the transformation of cultural and national identity of global sports fans in South Korea since the late 1990s. Through netnographic research of Korean Major League Baseball fans and their online community, Younghan Cho seeks to demonstrate how a postcolonial nation and its people have developed a long-distance relationship with American sports which cohabits with nationalist and regional sentiments.
The book consists of chapter 1, an introduction and chapter 8, a post-script. In between are six chapters categorised into two parts: Part I: Sports Governmentality: Glocalization of American Sports in South Korea, and Part 2: Undoing Nationalism: Ethnography of Korean Major League Baseball Fans. In Part I, Younghan Cho explores the complexity of global sports and fandom since the late 1990s in South Korea. In Part 2, the author analyzes the development of consumption of MLB online by Korean fans and how this enables them to build individual and collective identities as global sports fans.
Chapter 1, the introduction, sets out by explaining the theoretical underpinnings related to the cultural politics of sports in the era of globalization, and the methodology, internet ethnography, which is applied in the following chapters of the work. The theory links global sports fandom to concepts such as identity politics; nationalism/nation-state; and glocalization. The method is discussed as a strategy, enabling researchers to take advantage of new mediascapes. The author then presents his chosen ethnographic object: the online community of MLBPARK, and its member interactions.
It also allows the book to employ new mediascapes to go beyond postcolonial studies that have tended to focus on migrators to new cities in the West, and to better examine people who embrace elements of globalization and its influences from their own localities.
In the first chapter of Part 1, “Sport and Crisis of Nation Under Globalization”, the author describes South Korea’s economic crisis in the late 90s, how the International Monetary Fund (IMF) imposed structural economic reform of the country, and how the explosion of public interest in MLB can be understood through Chan-ho Park, the first Korean MLB player in the US. Because of his successes with the L.A. Dodgers, he became symbolic of the nation’s development and its future competitiveness with the West. After that, chapter 3 presents how the MLB further developed through an alliance between the South Korean government, transnational corporations, and American sporting league. The author contends that representing MLB helped develop new norms of a self-governing individual in South Korea as well as economic competitiveness and nationalism. Chapter 4 goes on to look at how, through fans’ daily use of the website MLBPARK, a global sports fanbase has grown. The author views this as a unique type of fandom made up of multiple senses of spatialities and temporalities. However, it is not replacing but adding to the experience of traditional fandom.
In Part II the author asserts that as Korean MLB fans have enjoyed baseball and interacted in their online community, their fandom has been instigated by a combination of personal, family-oriented, and arbitrary experiences, mixed with national emotion, hope for modernization, and postcolonial anguish. Chapter 5 traces Korean MLB fans’ narratives of their following of Chan-ho Park’s successes in the late 1990s. It also points out that disputes between fans brought up the legitimacy of South Korean national fandom of MLB. Chapter 6 goes on to employ Raymond Williams’ notion of structures of feeling (1977) to examine how the structures of the national have been changing as Korean MLB fans enjoy the league in their online community. In his analysis, Younghan Cho suggests the term “individuated nationalism,” to describe South Korean MLB fandom as fans rationalize and advocate their national sentiments as a personal choice, based on their individual experiences. In chapter 7, the last of part II, the author focuses on the fans’ online interactions during the MLB-organised 2006 World Baseball Classic. This event not only produced fan identities with global and national but also regional consciousness and sensibilities.
Finally, in the Postscript, the author explores two questions about the significance of sport in cultural and national identity transformations as well as how this book contributes to the expanding understanding of global sports fans in different times and spaces. He also brings up the caveat that the global sports fandom in the study can also be very conservative in terms of gender and race, often taking on a hostile position against feminists, LGBT (lesbian, gay, bi, and trans-sexualities) groups, immigrants, and refugees. The author concludes by calling for further rigorous and theoretical discussion of global sports fandoms in different times and spaces, particularly in the context of post-Westernization, inter-Asian connections and political empowerment.
The book is an excellent exploration of the historical development of South Korean MLB fans. As noted, Younghan Cho guides the reader through a decade of online MLB fandom and articulates how the fans’ identities have developed over time since the amazing career of their national hero Chan-ho Park. Also noteworthy is that it publishes research from netnography, a method growing in stature. This method enables the author to work at several complementary macro and micro levels, connecting the strongly emotive personal with the collective in terms of the individual, familial, regional, national and global. It also allows the book to employ new mediascapes to go beyond postcolonial studies that have tended to focus on migrators to new cities in the West, and to better examine people who embrace elements of globalization and its influences from their own localities.
This book is well worth reading for researchers and sport studies experts from a range of fields including anthropology, critical and cultural studies, economics, history, media studies, politics, and sociology.
Copyright © Mark Brooke 2021