Sport Histories: Figurational Studies in the Development of Modern Sport

Sport Histories: Figurational Studies in the Development of Modern Sport

Sport Histories: Figurational Studies in the Development of Modern Sport

Sport Histories: Figurational Studies in the Development of Modern Sport


Sports Histories draws on figurational sociology to provide a fresh approach to analysing the development of modern sport. The book brings together ten case studies from a wide range of sports, including mainstream sports such as soccer, rugby, baseball, boxing and cricket, to other sports that until now have been largely neglected by sports historians, such as shooting, motor racing, tennis, gymnastics and martial arts. This groundbreaking work highlights key debates in the analysis of modern sport, such as: *The relative influence of intra-national class conflict and international conflict *The relative prominence of commercially led processes in different contexts *The centrality of concerns over violence *Differences between elite and mass-led sports developments Above all, Sport Histories proves the distinctiveness of the figurational sociological approach and its usefulness in the study of the development of modern sport.


The chapters in this volume were written by teachers, students or visiting scholars at the University of Leicester's now former Centre for Research into Sport and Society. A guiding thread that runs through each of them is an understanding of the 'figurational' or 'process-sociological' approach developed by Norbert Elias (1897-1990), a pioneering figure in sociology generally as well as in the sociology of sport. Elias taught at or was otherwise associated with the Leicester Department of Sociology from 1954 to 1978. In this Introduction, we outline and comment on some of his key contributions, starting with a discussion of his view of time, the relations between history and sociology, and why sociology ought to be a process-orientated subject.

Processes in space-time: Norbert Elias on the relations between sociology and history

In 1991, sports historian, Dennis Brailsford, published a book entitled Sport, Time and Society: The British at Play. It is a well written book, solidly researched and packed with interesting information. However, it is only about 'time' in a taken-for-granted, unreflexive and conventional sense. Consider how Brailsford wrote about time in his preface. 'It is', he said, 'the collapse of the barriers of time that has made the present sporting world a possibility. Sport has conquered the calendar that confined it in the past, and can now invade every hour of every day of the year' (Brailsford 1991: xi). Brailsford may want to argue that he was being metaphorical in this passage but, in our view, he was closer to being metaphysical. That is, the literal implication of what he wrote is that it is not humans with their discoveries and inventions who have made the modern sporting world with, for example, its possibility of watching sport from all over the world for 24 hours a day on television, but an impersonal, non-human process involving 'the collapse of the barriers of time'. Towards the end of his book, Brailsford wrote in similar vein that:

… there can be no final reflections on this theme of sport and time. There is no bottom line to be drawn. The pace of the years and the centuries will

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