Collected ballpark figures

The Stadium and the City
March 8, 1996

This book is the product of a seminar held in Gothenburg, Sweden, in 1993. But the set of essays has more coherence than the usual collections assembled for publication from academic gatherings. The topic is focused. The 15 authors either have written case studies on the connections of individual stadiums to specific cities or have written overviews of the problems social scientists face when they approach the business of spectator sport and its relation to contemporary urban society.

There is also a commendable breadth in the disciplinary perspectives and the international affiliations of the scholars. The selection of urban areas chosen for study is also impressive. Denmark and Sweden are over-represented, but there are essays on Toronto, Vienna, Indianapolis, and, most interestingly, Beijing, as well as on English football grounds.

The essays do not advance understanding so much as sum up conceptual work in the field, accompanied by applications of these concepts to new cases. Overall, the economic issues are best surveyed. Two essays on Danish and Swedish instances sympathetically make the point that sports grounds give positive meaning to the lives of many people. But this crucial aspect of sports for the masses is generally underplayed.

The weakness in the volume is the half-dozen or more papers that I would count as theoretical ruminations about the way to investigate the place of stadiums in modern life. A couple of these bring useful economic interpretations to the understanding of the venue of professional sports. But the preponderant speculative model is cultural and not economic. The problem here is threefold. First the cultural essays are predictable: Foucault's version of postmodernism is applied to ball parks. Second, authors repeat that what scholars must do is to find the appropriate Foucaultian metaphors to understand how stadiums fit in to city life. The most favoured of such metaphors is that of Foucault's panopticon. I would prefer analyses of what the stadium is, rather than free association by academics on what it may be like. I also confess an irritation with scholars who find a fundamental similarity between my eager desire to go to the ball park for a few hours with the quintessential panopticon experience of long and involuntary incarceration.

The third problem is that some of these theoretical essays have been written by scholars whose first language is not English and are virtually unreadable. And such theoretical pieces will confirm the prejudices of those who think academics can ruin the study of anything - even soccer, ice hockey, baseball, and American football.

Bruce Kuklick is Killebrew professor of history, University of Pennsylvania.

The Stadium and the City

Editor - John Bale and Olof Moen
ISBN - 1 85331 110 3
Publisher - Keele University Press
Price - £45.00
Pages - 347

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