This article deploys a qualitative media content analysis to examine discourses linking sport, head injury, and longer term neurocognitive decline. It draws on a seminal British television documentary and associated print media coverage to demonstrate that the representation of sport-related brain injury is intricately connected to both conceptions of risk in sport and a wider social response to aging and dementia. The article augments existing North American analyses to provide the first cross-cultural comparison of this phenomenon and, in doing so, illustrates how the social prominence of cultural representations of sport-related brain injury relates in part to the distinct characteristics of the sport-related phenomenon, which extend and amplify both the broader cultural crisis of concussion in sport and existing representations of dementia. The study is therefore important because it provides a unique perspective on both a key contemporary sporting issue and this global health concern.
Soccer, CTE, and the Cultural Representation of Dementia
Stacking in Cricket: A Figurational Sociological Reappraisal of Centrality
This paper examines the phenomenon of stacking in the sport of cricket. It is argued that cricket is a particularly revealing case study of “race” relations in Britain because of the diversity of “racial” groups that play it and the variety of national identities that are expressed through it. Data presented show that the two minority “racial” groups in British cricket are stacked in different positions; Asians as high-status batters, and Blacks as low-status bowlers (pitchers). The author uses the work of Norbert Elias to argue that stacking can best be explained, not in terms of positional centrality, but through a developmental analysis of cricket that focuses on historical class relations and Imperial relations in the Caribbean and Indian subcontinent.
Concussion in Sport: Public, Professional and Critical Sociologies
This article explores the emerging agenda in relation to concussion in sport to illustrate the threats and opportunities currently faced by the sociology of sport as an academic sub-discipline. The article begins by delineating aspects of the “crisis” in sociology, Burawoy’s call for an enhanced public sociology as a (part) solution, and responses to these ideas within the sociology of sport. It then identifies how the engagement of sociologists in this terrain must be understood in relation to the recent medicalization of sports-related concussion, and illustrates the impact of this on sociologists of sport through an examination of recent social scientific scholarship in relation to concussion. It argues that a successful public sociology of sport should be predicated on the subdiscipline’s distinctive contribution to the production of knowledge. To this end, the article concludes by reporting the findings of an empirical study of concussion in English professional soccer, to outline a framework for sportrelated health research, and thus the basis on which a socially influential sociology of concussion in sport could develop.
Unprofessional Practice? The Status and Power of Sport Physicians
In this article I examine the role and working practice of rugby union club doctors in England. While medicine is widely perceived to be one of the most powerful professions in Western societies, sociologists of sport have argued that sport clinicians often wield relatively limited power over their athlete-patients. In this article I therefore attempt to shed further light on the “peculiar” character of sports medicine. Using data drawn from interviews and questionnaires, I argue that this phenomenon can be understood only by looking at the structure of the sports medicine profession, the specificities of the rugby club as a workplace setting, and the relationships club doctors have with clients (coaches and athletes) and other health care providers (physiotherapists).
Medical Uncertainty and Clinician–Athlete Relations: The Management of Concussion Injuries in Rugby Union
This article addresses clinical practice in sport medicine. Combining notions of medical uncertainty with a figurational sociological emphasis on interdependence, the article illustrates how uncertainty characterizes the medical understanding, clinical treatment, and patient experience of concussion. Faced with uncertainty, the clinician’s desire for recognition and validation through athletes’ dependence on them enables medically based diagnostic and treatment guidelines to be replaced by the understanding and definition of concussion dominant in the sport subculture. Clinicians further invoke strategies that protect their professional status and therefore secure their interdependence with others in the sport club figuration. The study advances our understanding by illuminating the basis on which clinicians and athletes negotiate treatment and the impact of these experiences on clinicians’ actions and beliefs.
Sport Medicine, Injured Athletes and Norbert Elias’s Sociology of Knowledge
This paper seeks to develop understanding of both clinician-patient encounters within sport and Elias’s sociology of knowledge. Premised on a belief that there is a relatively high degree of consensus between figurational and “non-figurational” research on the social organization of sport medicine, and that such a consensus contrasts with the rather acrimonious relations which have characterized similar perspectival relations in the past, a review of literature is undertaken to highlight aspects of implicit agreement. Using a range of Elias’s concepts, this paper argues that there is broad agreement between researchers that clinician-patient relations are fundamentally structured according to mutually coexisting bodies of knowledge, and that there is cross-theoretical acceptance that such bodies of knowledge are shaped by, and make sense within, the distinct social context in which the respective parties are located. In examining aspects of Elias’s theoretical perspective which have hitherto received relatively little attention in the sociology of sport, this paper invites a revision of readings of this theoretical approach within the subdiscipline.
“Pain in the Assets”: The Effects of Commercialization and Professionalization on the Management of Injury in English Rugby Union
Dominic Malcolm and Kenneth Sheard
This paper examines the management of injuries in men’s elite rugby union in England and, in particular, how this has altered as a consequence of the (formal) professionalization of the game in 1995. Data are drawn from 42 in-depth, semistructured interviews, conducted with seven coaches/directors of rugby, nine rugby club doctors, ten physiotherapists, and sixteen players. Partly as a consequence of examining pain and injury developmentally, our findings contrast with much of the existing sociological research in the area. The professionalization of rugby union, we argue, has not led to a greater acceptance of pain and injury in the sport or to a higher level of pressure upon, or “coercion” of, players to play under such conditions. Rather professional players receive markedly better medical backup and seem increasingly disposed to utilizing it.
Could and Should Sport Coaching Become a Profession? Some Sociological Reflections
Dominic Malcolm, Claudia Pinheiro, and Nuno Pimenta
This paper provides sociological reflections on the professionalization of sport coaching and the attempts of sport coaches to attain such a status. It explicates existing sociological analyses of the professions, highlighting and critiquing the so-called “trait” approach which currently dominates discussions of the professionalization of sport coaching. It subsequently suggests that the “power approach” to professions, as epitomized by the work of Johnson, Larson and Abbott, provides a more realistic depiction of professionalization, alerting us to the conflictual and exclusionary aspects endemic in such a process. Finally the paper explores some twenty-first century trends towards the declining influence and social power of professional groups, and the specific characteristics and social standing of sport coaching which will serve to constrain sport coaches from achieving the goal of professional status. This analysis leads us to question whether professionalization should be viewed as an inherently “positive” development, and whether professionalization is a realistic goal for an occupational group such as sport coaching.
Women’s Experiences in the Mixed Martial Arts: A Quest for Excitement?
Mark Mierzwinski, Philippa Velija, and Dominic Malcolm
Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), like the majority of relatively violent sports, has mainly been organized around the capabilities of the male body. However various indices suggest that women’s engagement with MMA is growing. The purpose of this paper is to offer an analysis of women’s involvement in MMA using a figurational sociological approach. In doing so, we draw on interview data with “elite” female mixed martial artists to explore the extent to which females within MMA experience a specifically gendered “quest for excitement.” The paper further illustrates how the notion of “civilized bodies” can be used to interpret the distinctly gendered experiences of shame in relation to fighting in combat sports, the physical markings incurred as a consequence, and perceptions of sexual intimacy in the close physical contact of bodies. In so doing this paper provides the first figurationally-informed study of female sport involvement to focus explicitly on the role of violence in mediating social relations, while refining aspects of the figurational sociological approach to provide a more adequate framework for the analysis of gender relations.