The Aristocratic Taste for Sport among Swedish Sport Researchers


Jonny Hjelm
Department of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies,
Umeå University


The cultural-scientific capital of sports researchers turns them into important arbiters of what is to count as a legitimate understanding of modern sport, and what is to be considered good and bad in sport. Drawing on the extensive work of Swedish sports researchers in social sciences and humanities between 1970 and 2010, the aim of this paper is to present a succinct view of how modern sport is portrayed in this intellectual milieu. The aim is to find out what its ascribed characteristics and essential values are, and then to contextualize this understanding socially and historically. The theoretical point of departure is the French cultural sociologist Pierre Bourdieu’s writings on social classes and their different tastes for sport. Bourdieu’s views on upper-class cultural fractions, which in his view includes university teachers and researchers, and their aristocratic attitude towards physical activity is of particular interest. This attitude includes a general distaste for win-at-all-cost – ‘serious’ – competitions, and a specific distaste for sports with a pronounced element of bodily contact such as boxing and football (soccer). According to the analysis presented here, this has also become the mainstream attitude among contemporary sport researchers in Sweden. The competition-critical discourse that is pronounced among Swedish researchers has one root in the general left-wing critique of the competitive market society prevalent in the 1970s, and another in specifically pedagogical ideas which claim that playful learning processes are always the most efficacious.

Click here to read this peer reviewed article in
Scandinavian Sport Studies Forum, Vol. 8 201

About the Author

JONNY HJELM is Professor in history at the Department of History, Philosophical and Religious studies at Umeå University. He is also an associated coworker within Umeå School of Sport Sciences. He has since the late 1980s worked with labor and trade union history research. The last 15 years he has also explored women’s football history and the competition-critical discourse in Swedish sport research (in social sciences and humanities). He is currently leading the research project The sport club as a milieu for democratic fostering and – which represents a new track in his research – Freethinkers. Pro-secular organizations in Sweden 1880-2010.

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