Reading Guide to: Dunning, E. (1990) 'Sociological Reflections on Sport, Violence and Civilization', in International Review for the Sociology of Sport, Vol. 25, no 1: 65 -- 83.
There is a view that we are facing rising tides of violence sufficient to threaten civilization itself. Sporting violence, especially football hooliganism, is seen as one of the major examples. This article attempts to investigate this claim sociologically, by referring to Elias on the civilising process.
The civilising process refers to 'a more or less continuous refinement of manners and social standards... together with an increase in the social pressure on people to exercise stricter, more even and continuous self control over their feelings and behaviour' (66). Self constraint comes to regulate behaviour more than external constraint, at the unconscious level. People now are less likely to obtain pleasure from taking part in or witnessing violent acts. There is now a stronger internal restraint, so that guilt is present. Evidence for this trend can be seen in the abandonment of public executions, and the 'stigmatisation, hospitalisation, imprisonment' (66) of those who take pleasure in violence.
Social changes are responsible for this trend, especially the emergence of the modern European nation state, and growing wealth. Basically, the state monopolises the right to use force and violence, and this helps to pacify violent societies. Upper class groups spread the civilising process to those lower down.
The development of sport can be seen in this light. If we examine the 'sports' of the ancient world, classical Greece and Rome, we can see that the brutality and cruelty of these sports show a different set of social values from our own. Violence affected not only the participants, but the crowds watching as well, who were sometimes seen to riot, in one case in an episode that cost 30,000 lives (see page 67). Greek sports were just as violent, as in 'the pankration', a kind of no-holds-barred fighting, and again crowds were often unruly and rowdy. Ancient sports 'involved a tradition of "honour" rather than of "fairness"' (68). Violence in sport was 'consonant' with frequent civil violence and war.
In medieval Europe, folk games included early variants of football, where the ball could be thrown.kicked or hit with sticks, where teams were of variable size, 'sometimes in excess of 1000', and rules were locally specific (69). Levels of physical violence were much higher than is permitted today. An account in 1533, for example, reports considerable bodily harm being done after a football match, and one in 1602, describing Cornish 'hurling', reports the players returning home with broken bones and other serious injuries. Some participants played on horseback and wielded cudgels. In Italy, a game known as 'the gioco della pugna' was described as'... little better than a pitched battle... fought with weapons provided by nature', and often ending in bloodshed and death (70).
Modern forms of football emerged as these folk versions were regulated and became more restrained. In England, two main phases can be identified, one beginning in the 18th century, and dominated by the aristocracy and gentry, and the second, in the 19th century dominated by it 'members of ascendant bourgeois groups' (70). Other trends were also reflecting greater social stability and increased English state formation, such as the regulation of boxing, fox hunting, horse racing or cricket. Sport came to be seen as a healthy activity in its own right, rather than at preparation for warfare.
The role of the industrial revolution in Britain is not sufficient to explain matters on its own -- this would place too much stress on economic factors. Instead, political forces were predominant. In the 17th century, Britain was a violent place associated with civil war and revolution, as well as religious conflict. In the 18th century things began to calm down, and parliamentary struggle had replaced civil war -- both parliamentary struggle and 'the emerging rituals of modern sport' indicated a common attempt to change lives in a civilising direction. Thus boxing became codified, and the use of legs and feet was banned; foxes were killed by proxy in a much more 'civilised' and ritualised way than had been the case in the traditional hunt. After the reformation of the central Staste, and the political settlements, the aristocracy and gentry were left free to play a major role in the transformation of leisure in this way.
Soccer and rugby also developed in a civilised direction, showing that self restraint by the players was to be expected:
(a) numbers of participants were limited and made equal
(b) moves such as kicking, handling, throwing or striking with sticks were regularised and eventually separately institutionalised in the form of different games
(c) a rule-making body developed, and written rules emerged, which often forbade violent play
(d) special game related sanctions and roles emerged -- penalties, referees and so on.
A history of the emergence of soccer and rugby rules follows (73f), and the role of public schools, especially Rugby, Eton and Winchester became crucial. Those schools themselves were once dominated by considerable violence and pupil riot and had been reformed. The regulation of violence in football emerged in parallel with these reforms. Rivalries between public schools 'lay behind' the eventual split between soccer and rugby (73). Increasing participation of 'gentlemen' led to the formation of clubs and associations, and led to the first meeting of the Football Association in 1863, and the Rugby Football Union in 1871. Even so, there were still considerable variations in the games played by different schools and clubs. Nevertheless, a common trend is detectable 'in the direction of greater civilization... the elimination of some forms of physical violence and the general demand that participants should exercise stricter self control over the violent and aggressive impulses for which sport serve as a central avenue of expression' (74).
What of football hooliganism? Present day football can be seen as preserving the 'intense expression of local rivalries' which traditional football expressed (75). Other factors add complexity, including the increasing support by the working class for football. Soccer in particular seems to feature crowd violence for several reasons:
(a) the sport itself is relatively non violent, leaving spectators with no opportunities for vicarious participation. 'However, such a hypothesis is doubtful' (75)
(b) soccer features intensive partisanship, but no more so than other sports, and indeed, in France 'rugby rather than soccer has traditionally provided the main focus for hooligan rivalries' (75), and crowd violence seems to be growing at American football.
(c) crowd violence is more frequent at soccer matches, simply because soccer is far more popular, and thus attracts the greatest publicity and the largest crowds, especially working class participants
Working class supporters seem more likely to be disorderly, although there has been a series of peaks and troughs in crowd violence. However 'spectator disorderliness' dates from the earliest days of the professional game, although types of violence vary -- thus attacks on players and officials were once more common, unlike the modern fights between fans. Since the 1960s, we have seen contests between 'working-class fighting gangs and the police... [and]... football has come to form a major focus for the enactment of violent masculinity rituals... [involving]... territorial control and... physical dominance over... rivals' (76).
Gangs tend to be formed among the 'poorer, less well educated sections of the working class' (76). The values of these groups stress ability and willingness to fight, intense 'peer group and local identification', an inability to 'tolerate differences of local origin, class, gender and race' (76). Child rearing patterns, especially play without adult supervision and adult use of violence are partly responsible. Male adolescents find themselves dominating the local streets, and coming into conflict with neighbouring groups: this reinforces their own solidarity and aggressiveness. Ability to fight leads to high prestige and thus 'the arousal of self love and pleasurable feelings', in a kind of amplified 'feedback cycle' (76).
These groups became attracted to football, to local grounds at first (hence the attacks on officials and visiting players). Between the wars, these groups became both wealthier and more incorporated 'into dominant values', but some remained unincorporated (77). Travel to away matches, and the increasing popularity of football after the 1966 World Cup win, combined with sensationalised media reports, which acted as 'self-fulfilling prophecies for, by inadvertently advertising soccer as a context where fighting and exciting action regularly take place, they helped to draw lower working class fighting gangs into attending the game more regularly than ever before (77). At the same time, soccer grounds are an ideal location for masculine rituals, with large crowds (opportunities for fighting rivals and for escaping), and teams 'symbolically representing working-class collectivities' (77).
The reaction of the authorities have been ineffective, because they have attempted control by punishment. This can increase the solidarity and organisational skills of fighting gangs. What is needed instead are 'more positive measures... reducing the macho emphasis in the game... giving fans a real sense of membership... hence increasing their feelings of responsibility and increasing the likelihood that crowds will become self policing... integrating clubs more effectively into the local communities... educational and other measures designed to wean hooligans away from fighting and to provide them with opportunities for... more socially acceptable pursuits' (78). Excessive punishment at football grounds could exacerbate violence in other locations as in 'British hooliganism on the Costa Brava' (78).
The civilising process has never been even. We may be experiencing a blip or a longer term process of decivilising. However, civilization is unpredictable because it 'is a continuing process in the sense of depending on the unplanned interweaving of the actions of conflicting interdependent groups' (78). [This seems to be hinting at a central problem, the tension between the unpredictability of figurations, and the insistence on a long-term trend towards civilization -- see Rojek on this]. Figurational research cannot lead to more effective policies.
NB There is an interesting footnote on page 79 on the notion of cause. Dunning points out that Elias has reservations about the term, and uses terms instead such as processes of 'sociogenesis' and 'psychogenesis', or the 'immanent dynamics of figurations'. These terms are supposed to emphasise unplanned outcomes balanced against 'at least retrospectively determinable' ones.