Making the Familiar Strange: Writing Critical Sports Narratives

in Sociology of Sport Journal

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Douglas E. FoleyUniversity of Texas, Austin

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Ethnographies of sports are generally thought to be critical if they employ a theoretical perspective that challenges conventional, mainstream views of sports. This paper contends that what makes sports ethnographies critical also depends on the narrative devices used to make such a familiar cultural practice seem strange. Various writings of postmodern ethnographers are reviewed to suggest some promising narrative experimentation that breaks with the earlier scientific realist narrative style. Some elements of a postpositivist definition of science and interpretation are also presented as the philosophical basis of these recent experimentations with narratives. Finally, the author’s own attempt to write a more experimental critical sports narrative on Texas football is contrasted to journalist H.G. Bissinger’s best-seller, Friday Night Lights. The strengths and limits of Bissinger’s “dramatic recall” narrative for creating a more reflexive text are considered. The paper concludes with some provisional suggestions for altering scientific realist narratives with what Van Maanen calls a more impressionist narrative style.

Douglas E. Foley is with the Depts. of Anthropology and Multilingual Studies in Education at the University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX 78712.

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