Two text books on the sociology of sport that probably work best together

Jay Coakley
University of Colorado, Colorado Springs

The social dimensions and implications of sports have attracted the attention of scholars across a range of social science disciplines, as well as physical education, kinesiology, physical cultural studies, coaching, sports studies, and sport management. Over the past six decades this has led to the emergence of the sociology of sport as a subdiscipline of sociology and as an emphasis area in multiple sport-related disciplines.

The diverse geographical and academic locations of courses and scholars who teach and do research on sports as social phenomena has made it difficult to write books that introduce students to the field in comprehensive, relevant and regularly updated manner.

At the same time, academic publishers worldwide are struggling to survive in markets that are fractured and rapidly changing. Instructors who teach courses on “sports, society, and culture” have diverse preferences when selecting learning materials for their students. Their use of hard copy, digital, and multimedia materials make it difficult to anticipate their need for introductory books. Market pressures and a push to create labor-saving learning management systems for high demand courses are leading some publishers to make learning materials, especially introductory books, available in digital formats that are increasingly interactive.

Changes in the formats of books available for sociology of sport courses are, at this point, coming more slowly than they are for courses in larger disciplines that have well-established and predictable introductory content. The two books chosen for this review, both published by Sage and written or edited by authors in the United Kingdom, are good examples of the English-language hard copy print formats widely used in courses that introduce students to the study of sports, society and culture.

Sport Sociology, a textbook written primarily by Peter Craig, and Sport and Society, an anthology edited by Barrie Houlihan and Dominic Malcolm, each available in their 3rd editions, provide two distinct alternatives for instructors and students. I will review each and offer a comparative overview from the perspective of teaching an introductory course.

Sport Sociology (3rd edition)

Peter Craig
Sport Sociology: 3rd Edition
372 pages, paperback.
London: Sage Publications 2016 (Active Learning in Sport Series)
ISBN 978-1-4739-1948-8

Peter Craig is a Principle Lecturer in the University of Bedfordshire’s Department of Sport Science and Physical Activity. His degrees, professional experiences, and current appointment have led him to see sport sociology as a critically oriented discipline that is practically related to health, well-being, physical activity, and physical education. Craig is also sensitive to the prospect that many of his readers are looking ahead to employment possibilities related to sports.

Sport Sociology is a well-integrated and cohesive textbook consisting of 12 chapters. Concepts are woven together across chapters as Craig focuses on sports in the context of contemporary capitalism and changing social and physical environments. Given this conceptual integration, the chapters are best read in order. That he has limited the book to 372 pages makes it a reasonable choice for a single term course, although it could be used over two terms with complimentary sources (such as the Houlihan and Malcolm anthology).

Craig uses an explicit pedagogical approach in which he emphasizes critical thinking and makes a concerted effort to raise critical questions for students to consider. Each chapter contains learning objectives, a list of key terms, a summary, a mini case study, student reflection tasks, and a key thinker section. Nearly all of these are well chosen and designed to break up chapter text, engage readers, and (importantly) provide instructors with projects that can be assigned to students. For example, the “reflection tasks” and “mini case studies” push students to use what they are reading in the text as a guide for seeking additional sources and making sense of real world sport situations.

There is continuity from chapter to chapter as Craig uses the concept of “modernity” (ala Giddens), as a basis for discussing historical materials and the structural dimensions of sports. Modernity is the focus of Chapter 2, which gives students a good foundation for subsequently understanding historical materials and discussions of how contemporary sports are organized. Craig also uses the Key Thinker boxes to encourage students to seek out additional materials showing that chapter content is grounded in a related body of literature.

Craig divides chapters into four sections: Background to Sport Sociology, Foundational Themes in the Sociology of Sport, Postmodern Themes in Sport Sociology, and Emergent Themes in Sport Sociology. Chapter titles include Sport’s Organization and Governance; Sport, Physical Education and Socialisation; Class and Gender Differentiation in Sport; Sport Diversity and Community; Sport and the Body; Sport and Consumer Society; Sport and the Media; and Sport in a Global World. The final two chapters “Sport in a Digital age” (written with Mike Bartle) and “Sport, Climate Change and Sustainability” are unique and provocative. They provide students with topics that connect with many of their interests, and they emphasize that more research is needed to further our understanding of these topics.

As I read the book from the perspective of today’s beginning undergraduates, I thought that Craig’s paragraphs were sometimes too long and comprised of vocabulary and sentence structure that was overly dense. More concrete examples would have helped when presenting complex explanations. Craig responsibly recognizes the work of scholars in the field, but he uses their names without putting them and their work into context. Of course, many of us do this in our journal articles, but this doesn’t work well in an introductory text. Finally, there is scant coverage of methodology in any of the chapters, and putting references at the end of each chapter results in an inefficient use of space (minor detail!).

Sport and Society (3rd edition)

Barrie Houlihan & Dominic Malcolm (red)
Sport and Society: 3rd Edition
582 pages, paperback.
London: Sage Publications 2016
ISBN 978-1-4462-7618-1

Sport and Society is a collection of essays edited by Barrie Houlihan and Dominic Malcolm, both of whom have appointments at Loughborough University. Houlihan is a Professor of Sport Policy and Malcolm is a Reader in the Sociology of Sport in the School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences. Their anthology consists of 24 original essays, including 8 new to this edition. Essays are written as introductions to specific topics that are covered regularly in courses dealing with sport, society, and culture. This relatively comprehensive coverage, carefully planned and coordinated by the editors, stretches the book to 582 pages.

The essays are divided into four sections: Perspectives on Sport, Structuring Opportunities in Sport, The Impact of Commercialisation, and International Comparison and Context. Each essay is preceded by a brief outline that lists the main sections of the essay, and each is followed by a chapter summary, recommendations for further reading, and references cited. The only two essays dropped in this 3rd edition were Sport in Australia and Sport, Physical Education and Schools.

There are forty-three “special topics boxes” distributed across the essays along with twenty-eight tables and seven figures. These provide visual and sometimes provocative breaks from the pages of text. The essays are written by a combined thirty-five authors from multiple disciplines, twenty-one of whom are new to this edition. Twenty-one currently work in the UK, five in Canada, and the remaining nine in Norway, the United States, Belgium, Taiwan, Qatar, Australia and New Zealand. The authors are noteworthy scholars respected for their work on the topics for which they were chosen to write. Much of the information in the essays focuses on the UK, although there are informative essays on Physical Culture and the Polarized American Metropolis, Sport in North America; Sport in East Asia; Sport and Development in the Arab World; and Sport, the Role of the European Union and the Decline of the Nation State?

The essays provide a multidisciplinary overview of knowledge on sport and society, and there is a general emphasis on policy and government in many of the essays. Most of the authors make efforts to write for students rather than colleagues, although some students would want more examples and content related to their experiences.

Essay titles that stand out because they are not always covered in introductory courses are Lifestyle Sports; Sport, Health and Medicine; Sport for Development and Peace; Sports and Tourism; Sports Fandom; and the two essays on Sports in East Asia and Sport and Development in the Arab World.

As with many anthologies, the essays are not explicitly linked to each other in terms of content, section introductions, or section summaries. Continuity and integration must be provided by readers, instructors, or an accompanying text. There are no discussion questions or student projects related to the essays and there are no references to digital or media-based learning materials that might be of interest to students. Additionally, there is no explicit discussion of research methods.

Comparing the Books

In addition to reading these two informative books, I surveyed the indexes in each. The Sport Sociology index indicates that Craig’s primary sources for theory are Giddens, Marx and Marxism, Jarvie, Sugden, Castels, Horne, Hargreaves (John and Jennifer, respectively), Foucault, Bauman, Weber, Maguire, Harvey, Houlihan, and Baudrillard in rough priority order across chapters. The Sport and Society index shows that the essays don’t have an explicit focus on  theory apart from Malcolm’s essay on “Sport and Sociological Theory,” and the Amis and Slack essay on “Organizational Theory and the Management of Sport Organizations.” Overall, there are few references to the theories or theorists generally used to make sense of sport and society.

Other topics noticeable for the absence in each index were research and research methods. Deviance, violence, and terrorism don’t appear in the Sport Sociology index, and violence is mentioned only in passing in Sport and Society. There are over a dozen references to Physical education in Sport Sociology, and some are multi-page references, whereas this topic is not listed in the Sport and Society index.  There are numerous references related to policy, government, and organizational topics in both books, with the Olympic Games, IOC, FIFA, World Cup, football and cricket receiving relatively consistent attention across chapters and essays.

As you already know, there is no textbook or anthology of reasonable length and price that can be all things to all of us and our students.

Overall, Sport Sociology integrates theory and theorists into its coverage, and it is relatively strong on analysis to compliment descriptions of the social dimensions of sports. This and other features make it student friendly. Sport and Society covers a wide range of topics and the essays are heavy on descriptive materials which provide students with extensive information about the organization of sports. If I were using only Craig’s text in my course, I would pay special attention to expanding the students’ awareness of the many topics encompassed by work in the sociology of sport and I would include concrete examples of everyday sport situations in class sessions. If I were using only the Houlihan and Malcolm anthology, I would focus class sessions on the theories and concepts that students need to pull together material in the essays and see the conceptual foundations that exist when scholars study sport, society and culture. With both books, I would pay attention to research methods and how scholars in the field systematically study sports as social phenomena.

Of course, few of us limit reading material to one book in our introductory courses. We generally compliment a central book with other sources. With the Craig text, I’d use selected cases of research on topics not given much coverage in his text. With the Houlihan and Malcolm collection I’d use a short book or selected readings that focus on theory and critical analysis in addition to selected examples of research that is clearly guided by theory.

Finally, each of these books is a worthy addition to the sources used by those of us who teach introductory courses on sport, society and culture. Given their reasonable cost, they could be used together in a course, especially one that spans an entire academic year. Choosing one or the other creates two different scenarios for selecting complimentary materials and planning lecture and classroom discussion content. The choice depends on an instructor’s academic strengths, personal interests, and classroom teaching abilities and styles. As you already know, there is no textbook or anthology of reasonable length and price that can be all things to all of us and our students.

Copyright © Jay Coakley 2017


Table of Content


Chapter 1: Introduction to Sport Sociology
Chapter 2: Sport and Modernity


Chapter 3: Sport’s Organisation and Governance
Chapter 4: Sport, Physical Education and Socialisation | Joanne Hill
Chapter 5: Class and Gender Differentiation in Sport | Joanne Hill
Chapter 6: Sport Diversity and Community


Chapter 7: Sport and the Body | Joanne Hill and Amanda Jones
Chapter 8: Sport and Consumer Society
Chapter 9: Sport and the Media | Ping Wu
Chapter 10: Sport in a global world


Chapter 11: Sport in a Digital Age | Mike Bartle
Chapter 12: Sport Climate Change and Sustainability


Table of Content


Dominic Malcolm: Sport and Social Theory
Barrie Houlihan: Power, Politics and Sport
Martin Polley and Fiona Skillen: History and Sport



Michael F. Collins: Social Exclusion from Sport and Leisure
Belinda Wheaton: Lifestyle Sport
Ruth Jeanes and Laura Hills; Women, Sport and Gender Inequity
Parissa Safai and Dominic Malcolm: Sport and Health
Richard Giulianotti: Sport for Development
Nigel Thomas and Andy Smith: Sport and Disability
Ben Carrington and Ian McDonald: The Politics of ‘Race’ and Sports Policy in the United Kingdom
David Andrews, Mike Silk and Robert Pitter: Physical Culture and the Polarised American Metropolis



Leigh Robinson: The Business of Sport
Richard Haynes: Sport and the Media
John Amis and Trevor Slack: Organisation Theory and the Management of Sport Organisations
Barrie Houlihan: Doping and Sport
Mike Weed and Guy Jackson: The Relationship between Sport and Tourism
Holger Preuss: The Olympic Games: Winners and Losers
Kevin Dixon: Fandom
Arnout Geeraert: Sport Governance



Trevor Slack and Milena Parent: Sport in North America: The United States and Canada
Alan Bairner and Jung Woo Lee: Sport in the Asia-Pacific region
Ian P. Henry: Sport, the role of the European Union and the decline of the national state?
Mahfoud Amara: An Introduction to the Study of Sport in the Muslim World
Barrie Houlihan: Sport and Globalisation


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