Offside: Soccer and American Exceptionalism

By Andrei S. Markovits; Steven L. Hellerman | Go to book overview

One
The Argument: Sports As Culture in
Industrial Societies

AMERICAN CONFORMITIES AND EXCEPTIONS

ERIC HOBSBAWM brilliantly argued that throughout the twentieth century in “the field of popular culture the world was American or it was provincial” with one unique exception: that of sport. Hobsbawm credits soccer as the universalizing agent for sport in the twentieth century the way American culture was for much of everything else. Hobsbawm states: “The sport the world made its own was association football, the child of Britain's global presence. … This simple and elegant game, unhampered by complex rules and equipment, and which could be practiced on any more or less flat open space of the required size, made its way through the world entirely on its merits.” 1 But not in the United States. Our study is to shed light on this matter. In particular, we harness the classics of modern and contemporary political sociology as well as comparative politics and political economy to gain a conceptual understanding of this major difference between the United States (and Canada) on the one hand, and Europe, indeed much of the rest of the world, on the other. As such, this book is a study in the comparative political sociology of advanced industrial societies and their public cultures from the late nineteenth century to the present and beyond. It is also a study of the United States and a major aspect of its popular culture. In particular, we locate and analyze the United States as an advanced industrial democracy that shares many cultural facets with other countries of comparable economic development and political rule but also exhibits features that are clearly sui generis and different from features found in other industrial societies. The literature on American exceptionalism is vast. 2 Still, let us offer a cursory sketch of its major arguments so as to better contextualize our own.

In the conventional parlance of comparative political sociology, American exceptionalism refers to the curious situation in which the United States was the only major industrial country of the twentieth century without the presence of a significant socialist/social democratic and/or communist party in its polity. Erroneously, though conveniently labeled “socialism,” this formation based on parties advocating the interests of the male, skilled, industrial working class as an expression of progressive

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