Professor John Horne PhD FAcSS
Professor of Sport and Sociology
University of Central Lancashire
Although sport has been a subject for undergraduate degree level study in its own right for well over thirty years, some people still express surprise that the subject is considered appropriate for academic analysis. It is seen by some as too trivial, marginal or epiphenomenal to warrant serious attention. Others view sport as a hermetically sealed world of its own, apart from the rest of society. Indeed, for participants and spectators this perceived separateness may be part of its appeal. Yet by any standards sport is a set of cultural practices with significant sociological resonances.
An historical sociological understanding of sport and its place in processes of social change and cultural reproduction makes it clear that ‘sport’ has no fixed meaning—it has had different meanings in different societies, and refers to different activities at different historical moments. Most people would not now regard cruelty to animals as a sport, but until the early nineteenth century, cruelty to animals was a central aspect of sport. Hunting and shooting are now seen as rather marginal sporting activities, yet in the eighteenth century they would have been at the heart of the meaning of the term, indeed the very notion of the ‘sporting man’ referred to the hunting man. The meaning of the term sport, therefore, involves a form of social construction, which can be analyzed from a sociological perspective.
Today, sport and fitness loom large in the mass media. Sports television programmes, dedicated sport channels, sports pages and sport supplements in newspapers, specialist sport magazines, and sport-related websites have become increasingly prominent. Although only a small minority of the population are active participants, a great many more have some degree of interest in following sport. The images derived from sport play a significant role in constituting our notions of the body and how it should, ideally, look. In both representational forms and in lived practices, sport is one of the cultural spheres that most distinctively mark out gender identities and differences. The activities of top sport stars are highly publicized, and debate rages about the extent to which they are role models who have a responsibility to set a good example. Many politicians are fond of sporting metaphors. Alongside this, sport has consistently provided a forum for the expression of national identity.
The growth in the sociological study of sport, and the volume of research into specialist aspects of sport and society, has produced a burgeoning literature, of books, edited collections and specialist journals as explained in Malcolm 2012. The bibliography offered here (follow the link below to a draft of an article that has been accepted for publication by Oxford University Press in Oxford Bibliographies in Sociology, edited by Janeen Baxter, and due for publication in 2015) is mainly a guide to texts – textbooks, collections of articles and monographs – rather than journal articles. Those looking for specific journal article references could use the reading lists in the textbooks, the journals mentioned in the relevant section or the following online resources.
When the article/bibliograpgy is available (online) it will have more functionality and will be revised from time to time. Suggestions for additions and revisions are always welcome (JDHorne@uclan.ac.uk).