Media star can't get invite

Handbook of Sports Studies
November 2, 2001

Many in the academic community have historically viewed sport with suspicion, and its position has been often marginalised in terms of its wider social significance. Indeed, when discussing what he termed the mystery of sport's (dis)appearance within cultural studies, Andrew Blake posited in The Body Language (1996) that: "The body of sport lies, not dead but virtually invisible, in the rapidly growing library which is the world of cultural studies. This relative invisibility is puzzling: cultural studies is above all concerned with popular culture, and sport is very much part of popular culture." Certainly, a cursory glance at the various media representations and reports provides testament to sport's ability to fascinate, frustrate and fixate in equal measure. Its prominence within the media shows that to many, sport is a fundamental and important part of their lives.

Jay Coakley and Eric Dunning's Handbook of Sports Studies goes a long way to solving the mystery of sports marginalisation in academic study and provides a base for future development and excavation. The book is wide in scope and breathtaking in depth and ambition. The aims are set out in the introduction. These include signposting developments and trends of the latter half of the 20th century; providing a guide to principal conflicts and difficulties; recruiting new scholars and galvanising research and providing a guide and research tool for teachers wanting to developing their work in new areas.

To this end, the book is split into four parts, the first dealing with the key major perspectives in the sociology of sport. This section seeks to illustrate the diversity of approach and methodology that has been adopted within sports studies, with seven key chapters covering functionalism, Marxism, cultural studies, feminism, interpretive sociology, figurational sociology and post-structuralism.

All the chapters are lucid and well constructed, providing a very useful entrance point to these often-competing approaches and theories. The fact that these are accessible does not belittle their academic content. In common with the rest of the book, full bibliographies and references are provided in line with the editors' wish to provide a research tool and kick-start further interventions.

Part two of the book covers inter and cross-disciplinary approaches and connections. This is perhaps the area in which subjects such as sports studies come into their own because they are able and willing to engage with different disciplines to produce some of the most fascinating approaches and outcomes. As Coakley and Dunning put it: "This mix of backgrounds among scholars has created openness to using work on sport and society from a range of social science disciplines. Furthermore, most scholars in the field have realised that multiple disciplinary perspectives are required if they wish to understand more fully the complexities of sport as a social and cultural phenomenon."

The approaches in the seven chapters are vibrant and draw together in one section an excellent selection of some of the key cross-disciplinary figures that again illustrate the benefits of, to borrow a term from Steve Redhead ( Unpopular Cultures 1995),"dancing critically on the edge" of other disciplines. The seven chapters in this part cover history, politics, philosophy, anthropology, human geography, psychology and economics and again are well constructed, engaging and thorough.

Part three shifts the focus to particular key themes. This is the most substantive part of the text and covers a wide variety of topics by the key figures in their respective themes. Briefed by the editors to ensure the chapters were accessible introductions that also provided a sense of where, perhaps, the area ought to "colonise" next, the contributors largely achieve that aim. John Sugden and Alan Tomlinson for example, in "Theorising sport, class and status" provide a masterly and cutting-edge analysis of historical trends and theoretical underpinnings of sport's relationship with society, while articulating the need to go beyond the rhetoric of class struggle to understand notions of status and power.

Other chapters deal with areas such as gender (Nancy Therberge), the media (Garry Whannel) and globalisation (Joe Maguire). To find authors of this calibre collected in one volume illustrates the editors' sway and prominence in the field. In addition, students will find these very useful introductions. The book provides a launch pad for many in areas where the material is scattered and diverse.

In some ways, the final part is the weakest in content, but the most fascinating in terms of its possibilities. As the editors point out, the aim of these chapters is largely to facilitate and add to the growth and vitality that many of the contributors have witnessed in other countries and regions. The chapters in this part cover developments in a number of countries from Africa via Europe to the Far East (12 regions or countries in all).

The editors note in their general introduction, when reviewing the shift in emphasis and coverage from the first edition, that perhaps the hypothetical 2020 edition might be edited by "a Latin American woman and a black man from post-colonial Africa" and that those editors might view the 2000 edition as naive and incomplete in key areas. Indeed, the editors hope that this is the case and that their own text will have provided the fulcrum for future critical engagement and debate.

Guy Osborn is co-director, Centre for the Study of Law, Society and Popular Culture, University of Westminster.

Handbook of Sports Studies

Editor - Jay Coakley and Eric Dunning
ISBN - 0 8039 7552 Xand 0 7619 4949 6
Publisher - Sage
Price - £75.00 and £29.00
Pages - 570

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