Tuck, J. (2003) 'The Men in White. Reflections on Rugby Union, the Media and Englishness', in International Review for the Sociology of Sport, Vol 38, No 2: 177 - 199.
[This article examines the way in which a coverage of rugby union in the media, during the 1995 World Cup, can be read as a discourse about the nation. Rather conventional gramscian analysis of the media is preceded by figurational analysis referring to the national 'habitus code'. There are many useful references to previous analyses, including media coverage of football . Whether these two frameworks really do go together to produce an 'innovative conceptual framework' (195), or whether they are strictly speaking incompatible is debatable. Any recent English fans remembering coverage of the successful 2003 World Cup campaign might also be able to comment on recent changes. Apologies to any readers who do not understand rugby -- this is not too technical I promise.]
There are complex relationships between sport, national identity and national habitus codes. Rugby Union has become a convenient way to explore these relationships given its emergence as a potentially more national game. Sport has long been thought of as a way to indicate national characteristics and national identity, a way of realising the imagined community of the nation second only to war. In the coverage of the 1995 World Cup, the media did attempt to portray the English rugby team as an embodiment of England in various ways.
Figurational analyses of national identity turn on the work of Elias on the formation of communities. Elias uses the concept of habitus and the national habitus code, the relationships between the established and outsiders, and the connections between '"I -", "we -" and "they-images"' (178). The habitus replaces the false dichotomy between individual actors and societies [much as in Bourdieu]. It can be defined as 'a complex, multi-layered interlocking "container" for the balance of tensions (or identifications) within the subconscious' (179). There are both individual and social layers. The social level includes shared 'personality characteristics'. Individual and social layers are discussed in terms of the '"we - I. balance"' (179). Networks of identification offer shifting possibilities sliding between personal and social. The so-called national character provides one option -- Elias thinks of this as a particularly privileged option '"characteristic of membership of a particular social survival group"' (179) [this seems like a curiously biological functional notion which confuses nations with biological groups?].
A new flexibility has been introduced by the effects of globalisation, which figurationalists explore in terms of '"diminishing contrasts and increasing varieties"' (179) [I'm not sure if this is a quote from Elias still]. Nations can be weakened, strengthened (in reaction) or pluralised as a result. Nations are still related to powerful we-images and have the potential to affect individual images, especially by offering strong contrasts between 'us' and 'them'. Elias argues that these images are protected by a '"fantasy shield" which is raised intermittently to protect the status of established groups' (180). This fantasy is constructed by selective contrasts between the best elements of 'us' and the worst elements of 'them' [see also Dunning and Waddington on this]. Such contrasts are sedimented in the national habitus code, and in that location they can be easily connected to personal images -- the nation becomes the individual and vice-versa, although the relations between the two levels can vary between harder and softer linkages. Elias refers to the specific mechanisms of latent memories evoked by common symbols, and suggests that the narrative of the nation is continually refreshed by actual events -- among them sporting events.
Sports can become metaphors for nations, and international sports 'are forms of "patriot games"' (180). Individual sportsmen are 'patriots at play', who 'both define and reflect the "special charisma" of nations writ large... sport becomes one of those "fantasy shields" whereby "imagined charisma" is both fuelled and protected' (181). The media clearly play a role in reflecting and reinforcing the national character.
[This is where the theoretical framework changes, and Tuck goes on to offer a classic analysis of the media as offering dominant ideology, or possibly hegemonic ideology. If so, the reservations about this approach in figurationalism seen clear -- apart from anything else, the approach is too deterministic, unconcerned with process and the complexities of social interactions.]
National character can be defined 'through interconnected social funds of knowledge' (181). Tuck wants to borrow from the work of Giddens here who suggests there are 'practical' and 'discursive' levels of consciousness, mostly to deny that national identity is located simply at the discursive level. There must also be a 'real and powerful emotional vocabulary' based at the practical level. [Borrowing from Elias?] there must be '"mental traffic" conducted between the two levels of consciousness which can reawaken sleeping memories and, through the practical actions of people, make the nation more "real"' (181). This traffic connects the elements in the national habitus code. For example, on actually meeting outsiders, these codes ' tend to harden and become more explicit... [and traffic]... between discursive practices (such as the production and consumption of media - sport discourse) and "practical consciousness" intensifies' (181).
This leads to analysis of media-sport discourses, and whether they employe national habitus codes [it is assumed until the very end that such discourses will then affect practical consciousness]. There may be some variation in how different aspects of the media actually operate, and a diagram on page 182 separates the classic discourses of BBC broadcasting and quality newspapers from those of Sky and the tabloids. For the former, national codes are operated 'in a weaker, more "barometric" manner' (182), while the latter use more intense codes 'which tend to amplify the importance of sport to the nation' (182).
Britain is in a crisis of identity [drawing on some curious and dated 'New Left Analysis' by Nairn of the 1970s]. This means that sport plays a key role. John Major, then Prime Minister agreed [so what?]. Hitherto, English national identity was 'latent and reserved', partly because 'the English' have always been culturally very diverse. However a more intense Englishness has appeared in the UK as a response to the identity crisis: this can be seen in the increasingly nationalist celebrations of English sport [soccer mostly]. This is now affecting rugby.
Traditionally, rugby was tied to white upper-middle-class, amateur and gentlemanly values, featuring 'university - educated masculinity', but not overt patriotism (184). However increasing bureaucratisation and professionalism have had an impact, as has commercialism -- the game has become more spectator-oriented as revenues from television rights and sponsorship have increased. The increase in women's rugby has produced a new emphasis on masculinity. There are however, a number of paradoxes, since national teams also combine to form 'Lions' touring teams, which include an apparently united Ireland. [These paradoxes of shifting alliances have also been charted among football fans -- see the file by Dunning, who draws on the work on 'segmented societies' to explain it] .
The English rugby team was seen as having a distinctive type of play, based on forward dominance, muscularity rather than skill. In the 1995 World Cup, both national cricket and football teams were also playing in major tournaments, but rugby attracted a lot of media coverage for the first time, partly to offset the expected failures of the other teams. It was also a major new venture for ITV Sport, and this brought a new populist style to the coverage. In particular, panels of commentators were invited to speak for 'their' team rather than being neutral [problems arose when their team was knocked out early on]. The press also covered the tournament and had high expectations of English success: again, as a populist move, English players and former players were taken on as columnists. In this way, a wider audience was being built [or reflected?].
As part of the new coverage, particular English characteristics were focused on, and the importance to the nation talked up, especially by the commentary team [and some selected examples follow]. This had the effect of signifying the English rugby team 'as the embodiment of the nation' (187) [for the media, arguably, interested in increasing the appeal beyond the fan base, but for the public?]. Individual players were selected as heroes [Rob Andrew in 1995, Jonny Wilkinson in 2003, both selected for their highly visible skill in drop-kicking goals?]. The success contrasted with the failure in other sports, and made rugby the major source of the 'fantasy shield' discussed above. In one peculiar incident, a dual nationality player was highlighted as being a recent convert to Englishness [Morris, one of the early examples of dual nationality players who now abound -- Kiwis play for both Wales and Scotland, and a South African has just been selected to play prop for England]. Nationalism was also expressed by the dual class identity of some of the players, especially Brian Moore, who was a solicitor off field, and a 'pit bull' on it. This contradictory nature of national identity helps to break away from the traditional middle class gentlemanly image, and in both cases, was associated with a new form of aggression. [We can also clearly see the media at work here, dealing with problems and articulating them into a coherent story, to use gramscian phrases for a moment].
The 'we-I' balance was in evidence as commentators also became media patriots [ and 'populist ventriloquism', as commentators also claimed to speak for the man in the street?]. Some examples follow [all of these need interpretation, and can be seen as much more harmless -- try them page 187 - 9].
Contrasts were made between northern and southern hemispheres and their allegedly typical styles of play, and in the match against Argentina, references were made to the 1982 Falklands conflict. England was also criticised quite a lot for being unadventurous and cautious [still around in 2003, and sharpened by references to the over-use of kicking to score points]. Defeat in the semi-finals by New Zealand was dealt with by an ironic reference comparing the haka to a Morris dance, and the media tone then turned to pessimism. [Can this alternation of optimism and pessimism really be the stuff of a stable national identity or a dominant ideology? What about the pleasures of ferociously criticising one's national team? I suppose this might fit if the criticisms imply that the team is somehow not English enough?].
Military references were also employed, such as 'sporting battlefield', references to Rupert Brooke's famous war poem [in a Nike advertisement apparently -- see page 191], mentions of 'troops' and 'shoot-outs', references to Nelson's famous message at Trafalgar, and to D-Day. The best single example was provided by an article in the Sun [a dreadful down-market tabloid, but one which occasionally sends itself up. Again, there is some assumed effect on the reading public, but these examples could equally show the impoverished cliche-ridden nature of sporting journalism, desperately trying to employ the same populist techniques as have been found in football coverage for decades].
Other items of news were connected with England's progress, especially the impending resignation of John Major [irony on the part of the commentators, or further attempts at articulation? Perhaps it was even a result of the practice of asking whoever is on screen at the time to comment on breaking news?]. A series of cartoons paralleled the two stories, for example in referring to Major's Cabinet as 'old farts', an abusive term directed at the Rugby Football Union not long before. Tuck sees these as 'perhaps the most graphic displays of national identity politics' (193) [but for whom?]. England's eventual poor showing was paralleled with the decline of the Conservative government, showing the 'complex connection between sport, the media and national identity' (193) [too complex for much of the earlier --or later -- 'dominant ideology' interpretation?].
Overall, it seems 'that the media do appear to have a significant role to play in the [sic ] invoking and invoking national sentiment' (193). Media rhetoric attempted 'to form a unifying fantasy shield to protect St George from the dragons of globalisation' (194). However, these identifications were probably only transitory and only relevant to some sections of the nation -- yet 'their power as "anchors of meaning" ... cannot be overlooked' (194) [a pretty weak argument buttressed by a reference to some other work]. We- images were coupled with national habitus codes to revive Englishness.
Rugby Union became a sport that appealed not only to new audiences but to the media corporations [the latter were surely far more significant in all this]. The media now increasingly popularise English rugby union, at the price of continual 'partisan commentary' [to do ideological work, or merely to extend the appeal and thus the audience, especially among those who do not actually understand the game? Rugby offered initially cheap sporting coverage as opposed to soccer, or were the dastardly media looking for new ways to sterengthen habitus codes? Do the media innocently reproduce national codes as in Hall's analysis?]. The media have invested in acquiring broadcasting rights, commercial TV rather than the BBC, and at one stage this threatened the Six Nations Championship [only the England team was guaranteed large amounts of money]. This has apparently deepened the divide between the Anglo-Saxon and Celtic teams [in recent years the Six Nations has been considerably talked up by the media, though, to the extent of having to disguise English dominance in 2002 in order to maintain the suspense].
As the old middle-class identities declined, so a 'reinvented Englishness' emerged instead (195). There is now more of a tension between the clubs and the national organising body, one which reflects the tension between professional and amateur organisations [also solved, at least for the duration of the 2003 World Cup?]. Work remains to be done, including examining media coverage of English rugby from other countries, and amending the emphasis on 'preferred readings of media texts -- there is a need to look beyond this and explore audience reception/consumption' (195). However, overall this new framework has helped to demonstrate that sport and the media can stimulate the flow of national habitus codes and 'tighten the bind between individual and nation... the media can help awaken a sleeping web of identifications and make the nation appear more real' (195).