Bourdieu’s sociological assessment of sport as a cultural phenomenon is built upon the idea that sports are a socially-mandated consumer product. His essay is primarily an analysis of how “sport” is valued and sold to varying classes of people. What was most interesting to me was Bourdieu’s articulating that sports are a means of reinforcing social divisions (in a modern context, we might say that sports carry varying amounts of privilege, or are evidence of such privilege, and actually serve to entrench those lines of privilege). He addresses this phenomenon primarily in the language of class “habitus”, or “how people are” based on their class. I found it unclear whether this was something Bourdieu thought was a product of sports (the industry of sports have imposed/strengthened social divisions by fostering certain class ‘tendencies’) or whether he thought the patterns we see in sports and the class divisions they enforce are a result of class habitus (people are a certain ‘way’ depending on their social class, therefore they value/enjoy/appreciate certain sports over others).
Which of the two positions do you subscribe to? In light of Bourdieu’s essay, and your own perception of which came first – the habitus or the sport – is the industry of sports a product of the socio-economic divisions we have created, or are they a tool to maintain socio-economic divisions? What follows from that might be a discussion about whether we can ascribe values of “good” or “bad” to the sports industry, and perhaps an evaluation of the role we give sports in shaping our social and cultural experiences.
I reject that sports are a reflection of some innate tendency dependent upon social class. Rather, they are a tool of the dominant social and cultural groups to maintain control over other groups. By providing the product of popular, vulgar sports (often in a spectator context) for entertainment and consumption of the masses, creating expectations to rally around a notion of regional, national, or other “team spirit”, and making “a sporting career… one of the few paths of upward mobility open to the children of the dominated classes”, the dominant classes can maintain a hold on economic, social, and cultural capital (Bourdieu, 349). We see this today, in our own society, in the relationship between sports and success for minority groups. Bourdieu articulates the phenomenon exactly: The dominant classes feed a product to the dominated classes (from the sale and consumption of which the dominant class obviously benefits) and in so doing keep them from moving upward for a combination of reasons. It’s not an original formula – the Romans had this winning combination, “bread and circuses”, thousands of years ago. All we’ve done in a modern context is legitimize it and integrate it more completely into our social and cultural fabric. In so doing, we entrench means by which those with socio-economic and cultural privilege can continue to monopolize that privilege.