Sport and Society: History, Power and Culture

Sport and Society: History, Power and Culture

Sport and Society: History, Power and Culture

Sport and Society: History, Power and Culture


This is a succinct and comprehensive account of the contemporary sociology of sport. It starts by tracing the key 'moments' in the transition from pre-modern to modern sport, giving detailed accounts of the athletic competition in the ancient games at Olympia; the genesis of modern track-and-field athletics in nineteenth-century England; and the reconstruction by de Coubertin and unfolding of the Olympic movement through the twentieth century.

The second section analyses features of sport in detail:

  • The links between exercise, sport and health, including a look at growing rates of obesity and of the role of drug use in society and sport
  • The hyper-commodification of football in the 1990s
  • Representations of sport in the media
  • Sports iconography, with sociological portraits of Muhammad Ali and David Beckham
  • The re-emergence of violence in sport
The third section critically analyses the various theoretical approaches adopted by sociologists, and presents a distinctive new theoretical framework for understanding the changing role of sport in society in the era of global disorganized capitalism.

This is key reading for students and researchers in sociology of sport and leisure, sport science and health.


The social sciences contribute to a greater understanding of the working of societies and dynamics of social life. They are often, however, not given due credit for this role and much writing has been devoted to why this should be the case. At the same time, we are living in an age in which the role of science in society is being re-evaluated. This has led to both a defence of science as the disinterested pursuit of knowledge and an attack on science as nothing more than an institutionalized assertion of faith with no greater claim to validity than mythology and folklore. These debates tend to generate more heat than light.

In the meantime the social sciences, in order to remain vibrant and relevant, will reflect the changing nature of these public debates. In so doing they provide mirrors upon which we gaze in order to understand not only what we have been and what we are now, but to inform ideas about what we might become. This is not simply about understanding the reasons people give for their actions in terms of the contexts in which they act, as well as analysing the relations of cause and effect in the social, political and economic spheres, but about the hopes, wishes and aspirations that people, in their different cultural ways, hold.

In any society that claims to have democratic aspirations, these hopes and wishes are not for the social scientist to prescribe. For this to happen it would mean that the social sciences were able to predict human behaviour with certainty. This would require one theory and one method applicable to all times and places. The physical sciences do not live up to such stringent criteria, whilst the conditions in societies which provided for this outcome would be intolerable. Why? Because a necessary condition of human freedom is the ability to have acted otherwise and to imagine and practice different ways of organizing societies and living together.

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