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Douglas E. Foley

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.

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Douglas E. Foley

An ethnographic study of one football season in a small South Texas town is presented to explore the extent that community sport is, as various critical theorists have suggested, a potential site for counterhegemonic cultural practices. Football is conceptualized as a major community ritual that socializes future generations of youth. This broad, holistic description of socialization also notes various moments of ethnic resistance engendered by the Chicano civil rights movement. Other moments of class and gender resistance to the football ritual are also noted. Finally, the way players generally resisted attempts to thoroughly rationalize their sport is also described. In spite of these moments of resistance, this study ultimately shows how deeply implicated community sport—in this case high school football—is in the reproduction of class, gender, and racial inequality. The white ruling class and the town’s patriarchal system of gender relations are preserved in spite of concessions to the new ethnic challenges. When seen from a historical community perspective, sport may be less a site for progressive, counterhegemonic practices than critical sport theorists hope.