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Social Issues In Sport

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 3480 words Published: 11th May 2017

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Sociology is the study of how society is structured and how people experience life through its processes, directly or indirectly. A basic understanding of social issues helps us to learn how these processes affect us in everyday life. Discussing social issues in sport can help us understand different sociological concepts and perspectives of sport in society. These sociological perspectives can help explain the underlying reality of sports organisations, participation barriers, influence on sport performance, and how to develop strategies to deal with social complexities. Such concepts include that of; functionalism, figuration, class and Bourdieu, conflict and Marxism. Functionalism is a perspective that examines society through a functional framework which stresses that everyone and everything, no matter how seemingly harmful or out of place, serves a purpose. Society is looked at on a macro scale so it generalises ideas toward the whole of society. For example they look at what education does for society as a whole not just certain people in society. Functionalists also believe that society is based on consensus or agreement that we are all brought up to agree on how to behave and what values are right and wrong. Functionalism could be described as the most generalized of the sociological perspectives. It does not distinguish between cultures and it cannot effectively explain change. It also assumes that all social groups benefit equally from sports. The functionalist viewpoint is a distinct contrast to that of figuration.

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Figuration is a sociological concept that believes everyone is linked in groups of interdependence, such as schools, families and in the workplace. Sports games are seen as microcosms of social life. For example, a basketball match is in a constant state of flow, with ongoing tests of physical and mental balance between opponents. It suggests power exists only through interconnected relationships and that a stronger competitor still needs weaker opposition to be successful. Due to a more increasingly complex society, there is a greater need for social interdependency, therefore continuing the civilizing process. Unlike the Bourdieu theory, where there are distinct divisions between social classes.

The Bourdieu theory of class and classification evaluates the social world and expresses the division between classes, age groups and the sexes. It believes there is a highly complex system of social positions, structured and fighting for the ultimate goal of control over capital. The field is a competitive system of social relations in an area or place where there is a struggle for power between the dominant and subordinate classes. Capital may be categorized as social, cultural or economic. This sociological concept also explains the use of habitus, a conscious or unconscious train of thought stemming from social origins. It influences the way we act by our common preconceptions. Were it not for the influence of Pierre Bourdieu, the notion of class would be given surprisingly little individual attention in the sociology of sport. In contrast to this perspective, there is the theory of Conflict which resembles some of the conceptions of figuration.

Conflict theory and Marxism is a structural sociological hypothesis, structural meaning that our actions are determined by social forces and structures. Conflict theory explains society as a fight for authority, linking groups that are struggling for limited capital. Karl Marx was the socialist thinker behind conflict theory. He believed that capitalism would in due course be overtaken by communism. This Marxist based theory suggests that the social classes within society are in a constant fight to gain capital, and that the more powerful groups, usually higher class, use that power to exploit those with less power, usually the lower working class, in a bid to stay in control. This will now be discussed further, as a more detailed explanation into Marxism and Conflict theory will be given.

Karl Marx is best known as a philosopher, a revolutionary communist and a social scientist (Burke, 2000), whose works inspired the foundation of many communist regimes in the twentieth century. He believed that capitalism would ultimately be replaced with communism, a classless, stateless society. He thought that society consisted of two interconnecting parts; infrastructure and superstructure, each playing there part in the process. Infrastructure includes and signifies all the power of production. This includes method of production, labour force, the logical and physical abilities of workers and the organization of social classes. Infrastructure interlocks with superstructure, which is the foundation, and which refers to the different forms of societal consciousness, such as; ideology, religion, philosophy and the political structure. As Coakley (2002) reiterates, Marxist theory focuses on economic activities and relations, the infrastructure, and their impact on social institutions, such as politics and culture, the superstructure. Marxist theorists assume that social development is initiated through economic processes, in particular, any change in the system of production. The economic conditions of capitalism involuntarily generate social economic conflict between the owners of production and the workers; this is known as the class struggle for power. Marx believed that this exploitation would become conscious to the working class and unite the people, resulting in the elimination of the class struggle. Marx saw the upward rise of the working class as the driving force of its own freedom. It would be this working class, created and organized into an industrial workforce that would overcome its domination and lead in a society liberated from exploitation and oppression. What the bourgeoisie consequently would produce would be its own downfall (Burke, 2000). In his disapproval of the wage structure and the acceptance of the working class to live with it, Marx explained the need for false consciousness, used by the Bourgeois class and how social life influences consciousness. What Marx meant by this is that the ruling capitalistic class within society reap the benefits because it is very one sided.

Antonio Gramsci was one of the first Marxist theorists to work on the problems of major change in twentieth century western society and to recognize the importance of the battle against bourgeois values, such as an ideological cultural struggle (Burke, 1999, 2005). Marx claimed that one way to help release the stranglehold of the bourgeois on the proletariat was to remove control over education. He assumed that education had been used to reinforce class consciousness and the capitalists system of production and with power wrested from the bourgeoisie, the proletariat’s position would then be reinforced by the promotion of proletarian ideology through education (Carr, 1972). Marx felt that education, as a social institution that imparts values, and by the introduction of free education, this would guarantee a distribution of cultural opportunity. Therefore, no longer would education support class distinctions and capitalist ideology, although in today’s society it does still happen, with private schooling available to those with greater economic capital.

One of the main topics within the study of Marxism is the thought that all social changes result from conflict between existing classes in society. Marxists believe that the main ideology of each society is the ideology of the ruling class. Marx believed that this concept could be applied throughout all of history and would continue to exist, ultimately resulting in a proletariat revolution and the abolishment of all classes. Burke (2000) suggests that what Marx brought was to recognize that the existence of classes was made due to the production or economic structure and that the proletariat, a new working class that capitalism had shaped, had a historical capability in helping toward the collapse of all classes and to the construction of a classless social order, resulting in the creation of communism. Berger (1982) also shows that “history is based on unending class conflict” just as Marx stated. In contrast to this view, Boyne (2002) suggests that class appears to be less noticeably determinant of social action now than was the case just a quarter of a century ago, and that it has even been overtaken in the ranks of social structural influences by ethnicity, economic geography and gender. Marx’s view was complete economic sight. The two classes have interests in common; therefore they are in conflict with those of a whole other class. This is turn leads to conflict between individual members of different classes (Berger, 1982). In addition, Marx did not recognise other systems of classification. The Marx’s perspective only views the classes between employer and employee as a substantial system of classification, and others like; religion, race, and nation, are not included. The reasons behind this being that, Marx believed these social influences were not natural or useful to humans.

It is in the relationship between work and sport that socialist sport theorists draw a strong association. A basic physical relationship is seen between work and sport, in so much that fundamental forms of work activity are repeated in the motor movements of sport. Although the technical development of society is now at a stage where elite sport as a preparation for productive work is no longer necessary in the manner that Marx envisaged it, the approach supporting the relationship between production and sport still exists even though a certain degree of independence is now granted to sporting activity. Through these similarities, sport was used as a capitalist control tool. As shown by Delany T and Madigan T (2009), Karl Marx said that “religion is the opiate of the masses”, this is means that Marx saw religion as a way of dulling the pain of reality by encouraging a feeling that no matter how oppressed of unfulfilled the working class may be, there will be a joyous afterlife for those who endure such inequalities on earth. Since then, a Marxist perspective from Hoch (1972) said that, “Five generations ago, Karl Marx called religion the opiate of the masses. Today that role has been taken over by sports”. He suggested that people were more concerned by baseball and football scores than the Vietnam War at the time. Both views relate, as both are social institutions within society, and the realisation that sports is in the age of the spectator and consumer, giving an escape from reality that some people crave during everyday life.

The bourgeois as a social class, is defined by Marx as those with ownership of capital and power. Therefore, they do not agree with the Marxism concept, simply because a communist society would not be beneficial to them in anyway, showing that those with power and influence do not wish to share or lose it.

Sport, just like society, is an ever changing institution that has grew and moved on with the times. Sport is not the same kind of activity in the advanced capitalist societies of the late twentieth century as it was in the pre-capitalist societies of the seventeenth century. As Jones (1988) states, in the early stages of industrialisation sports was a diversion, but more than that, it was linked to rules and hierarchies of an established social order, as well as often a release from them. The society reinforcing sport was very different to today’s democratic interests and commercialised lifestyle. By the twentieth century football has become structured and pacified, despite the hooligan element. It has become a spectator sport, controlled on a national basis and is a fundamental aspect of today’s consumer culture. It is a necessary distraction in their lives. For millions of people, participation in sport offers an escape from the hard work of everyday life, and something that they benefit from. For many others, watching sport live or more so these days, on television, gives both a release from workday stresses and allows a straightforward and easy identification with sports athletes or sports clubs which offer them satisfaction in their lives.

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Football related disorder, or what it is more commonly known as, football hooliganism, is a kind of behaviour ranging from verbal abuse and aggressive posturing through to rioting and even murder. Such things have been a regular topic of many books, DVD’s, web sites, digital games, features films and documentaries in the UK over the last two decades. Although this subject has been portrayed in many ways in recent history, it is a very real concept, and can be explained by many theorists relating to sociological issues. As shown by (Dunning, E. Murphy, P. Williams, J. 1986) the early works of Ian Taylor, from a Marxist point of view, states that the rise of the football hooligan stems from the boursification and internationalisation of the game, and that clubs used to be the working man’s voice or resistance movement against the middle class groups seeking to gain control and to implement their middle class values on society. It was believed that spectacularisation of the game through pre match shows, better seating and increased commercialisation alienated the working class fans. A largely similar approach was developed by Clarke (1978), he argued that hooliganism originated in the way in which the traditional forms of football watching encounter the professionalization and spectacularization of the game, saying it was a consequence of the changing relationship of its audience and the game. He also believed that due to some sub cultural differences, young working class males needed to resolve essential conflict in their lives, so in turn choose hooliganism.

Over recent years, professionalism has been increasingly associated with sporting organisations. Clubs and sporting organisations must perform well financially, or at the very least remain viable, if they want to survive in the highly competitive world of commercialised sport. Elite sport has developed into a business that demands nothing less than specific, professional preparation. As Shilbury and Deane (2001) suggests, institutions must now conform to commercial process of professionalism, which give emphasis to minimalist inputs, business decision making and a keen awareness of the financial interests of the shareholders.

Wilson. B (2007) argues that sport has become increasing globalised and transnationalised to a point where it is possible to analyse a team or individual athlete from any country in the world and be constantly updated of their activities, even from the side of the planet. He also points out the effects that it has on the sport related cultures around the world, not to mention the increasingly realized potential and means of promotion of a capitalist agenda. This shows the capability of the media and the internet to internationalise or globalise almost any brand, allowing a capitalist ideology to be explored globally.

In sport today there is an unhealthy and unequal distribution of resources, this can easily be seen when comparing economic growth between sports in Britain. For instance, football in Britain far exceeds any other sport in economic growth and in media coverage. You only have to look at the sports section in almost any newspaper in the UK, to see that is dominated by football. This is especially true when you consider the number of games broadcasted across television and the increasing need for internet streaming, all of which results in a huge financial difference between football and other sports in the UK.

Burke (1999, 2005) suggests that Gramsci identified two rather distinct forms of political control, domination and hegemony. The domination refers to direct physical force by authorities, and hegemony, which referred to both ideological control and more importantly, consent. He assumed that no rule, regardless of how authoritarian it might be, could sustain itself continuously through state power and force. In the long run, it had to have popular support and legality in order to maintain stability. Even in real life today, the capitalist governing body are desperately seeking a revival to the current economic crisis, and are looking to economic business for recovery. As Woods (2009) proposed, the governing class are concerned about the social and political effects of the economic situation. That’s why they invest huge sums of money into the economy, which creates exceptionally large levels of debt. As people know, sooner or later these debts must be repaid, and that in itself is a recipe for an enormous crisis in the future.

The theory of class conflict explains the human social history between two classes, the exploiting and the exploited. As Marx explained, in the interests of the bourgeois, ownership of the means of production enables them to employ a system of exploitation to a large mass of wage workers, the proletariat, and usually out of necessity the workers go along with this system as they have no means of livelihood other than to sell their labour to the property owners. Marxists argue that new wealth is created through work, therefore if someone gains wealth that they did not work for, and then someone else has to work for it and they do not receive the full wealth created by their work. In other words, that someone else is exploited. This is how the capitalist bourgeois might turn a large profit by exploiting workers. An example of this is shown in work by Hickman (2010) where it is suggested that many of today’s top brands such as; Nike, Puma and Adidas, were found to be exploiting low wage labour workers from developing countries to a means of economic production. This can also be shown in sport through the form of child labour, which gained a lot of attention recently when extensive media coverage reported that sporting goods manufacturers were using underage child labour in a range of developing countries, the children were paid much less than the minimum wage and were used to manufacture footballs and football merchandise. The news was extremely damaging to the sporting goods industry, especially because the children would never have the chance to use any of the equipment manufactured in the factories. This evidence shows that children are being openly exploited in the sports industry and that large divisions of the industry remain unregulated. As shown by Keys (2010), child exploitation has been ongoing since the late eighteenth century, just to sustain the capitalist class and produce their economic surplus value.

The theory of Marxism does contain strengths and weaknesses in relation to today’s society. As is derived from Marxist principles, the increase in production in all areas of socialist life is extremely important to the success of socialism. Physical education contributes effectively towards increasing the total work output of the socialist community. The progressive development of socialism depends upon the socialist consciousness of each individual. Sport provides a good means for the development of political assurance because of the possibilities it provides for social training. Marxism can be also be viewed in a good light simply because some people, like to know there place in society as it gives them a sense of the order of things, it also gives good opportunity for personal growth. Although, the Marxist concept does show a number of weaknesses, especially as some of their views may be outdated in today’s society. The industrial proletariat described by Marx is undeniably a threatened species, particularly in western societies, in which heavy manual labour is increasingly a thing of the past. To the extent that most adults can be described as workers in terms of their relationship to the means of production, Marx’s original understanding of the idea of a working class becomes less tenable. Students relate how their parents have worked all their lives. That they also earn large amounts of money and acquire considerable social status from their occupations, so this does not necessarily invalidate the claim that they are, workers. The Marxist perspective also ignores the possibility that spectatorship or participation in sport can empower individuals within capitalist societies. Furthermore Marxism only gives an exclusive focus on economic factors and underplays the significance of non economic types of conflict, for example; gender, race, age, sexual orientation and ethnicity.


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