Interaction Ritual Theory and Sports Fans: Emotion, Symbols, and Solidarity

in Sociology of Sport Journal
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The study of sport spectatorship has an increasing focus on the importance of fandom beyond fan violence. Fundamental to understanding fan behavior are the meaningful rituals and emotions experienced by fans. In this paper, I use the theoretical work of Randall Collins to examine the ritualistic outcomes of collective effervescence, emotional energy, and group symbols and solidarity among sport fans. I illustrate these concepts using case study data from participant observation of fans of a U.S. football team, the Pittsburgh Steelers, and content analysis of news articles. I extend Collins’ interaction ritual (IR) theory by taking the group as the unit of analysis and analyzing group solidarity beyond situational interactions and typical sport settings, including the significant life events of weddings and funerals. While critiquing Collins’ (2004) a priori portrayal of sports fans, the analysis advances IR theory, improving its utility for understanding sports fan behavior.

Cottingham is with the Department of Sociology University of Akron, Akron, OH.

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