Karen L. Wall, Game Plan: A Social History of Sport in Alberta

By Kossuth, Robert S. | Labour/Le Travail, Fall 2013 | Go to article overview

Karen L. Wall, Game Plan: A Social History of Sport in Alberta


Kossuth, Robert S., Labour/Le Travail


Karen L. Wall, Game Plan: A Social History of Sport in Alberta (Edmonton: University of Alberta Press 2012)

IN THIS MONOGRAPH, Karen L. Wall engages in an ambitious and wide-ranging examination of sport in Alberta from the period of Euro-Canadian settlement in the 1800s to the present. The discussion is presented in three parts. The first section, "Inventing Alberta Sports Culture," outlines Wall's social and cultural position based within the theoretical concept of modernization. Next, "Writing the Rule Book" focuses on "core" sports, both team and individual, played in either summer or winter. The third part, "The Social Body," assumes a theme-based approach that addresses specific questions related to sport's place in Alberta's social and cultural milieu. Topics examined here include social control, gender, risk and aggression, mass media, and community engagement. Assessing whether Wall adequately and effectively treats the broad range of questions surrounding the history of sport in Alberta will depend upon the reader's comfort with modernization theory and their familiarity with broader issues addressed in the study of the history of sport and specifically Canadian sport history. Ultimately, the question is whether Wall provides sufficient insight into the historical role of sport in Alberta while simultaneously engaging the sport enthusiast's interest in the topic.

Wall addresses the theoretical underpinnings of the study, primarily within the social concept of modernization, in the introduction. She provides the caveat that this approach seeks to avoid a deterministic view of sport development by recognizing that "active human engagement is as important as such economic trends as modernization and urbanization in explaining socio-cultural developments in leisure and sport." (10) She argues, therefore, that sport in Alberta developed over time, not necessarily uniformly, from traditional or unorganized activities to organized sport in the form of developed and organized social practices. This modernization thesis certainly will be received with some resistance from scholars actively engaged in the production of sport history, where increasingly arguments for cultural approaches that deconstruct understandings of sport in society have become prominent. A consideration of the book's structure and organization, its content and analysis, and its sources, will show the strengths and limitations of Wall's project. It is important to note that her monograph is, in many respects, breaking new ground in Canadian sport history and the comments that follow must be considered in this light.

The two most substantial parts of Game Plan are the examinations of the core sports and the final set of chapters that provide a thematic approach centred on the concept of the social body. Organizing the discussion in this manner effectively provides several distinct entry points into the examination of Alberta's sport history, albeit at the expense of some repetition. This is evident, for example, in the case of the Edmonton Grads basketball team. (71-73, 241-242, 255-58, 315-16) Although teams such as the Grads provide an important window into the history of sport in the province, such examples could have been addressed more concisely. In fairness, given the breadth of topics and availability of research, Wall has had to make difficult decisions regarding specific topics to include. This awareness of the limitations of inclusion is evident in Wall's acknowledgement that the history of Aboriginal sport and specifically that of First Nations women in Alberta has not yet been sufficiently addressed. …

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