Burgess, I, Edwards, A, and Skinner, J  (2003)  'Football Culture in an Australian School Setting: The Construction of Masculine Identity', in Sport, Education and Society, Vol 8, No.2: 199 - 212

[This paper pursues the argument that sport offers a powerful hegemonic structure that largely determines the sort of identities that young males can develop. As is conventional with discussions of hegemony, there is some room for resistance, but the overwhelming view is one of domination].

Sport is a definite social practice, not at all a natural one. The development of modern sport took place in a definite political and social context and was designed deliberately to  'control the character development of school-age males' (199), and especially to respond to a perceived crisis of masculinity. Social changes, in work and in family life, were threatening traditional forms of masculinity, which required a specific form of training and discipline. This led to the development of sports which stress strength, endurance and physical violence.  [Burgess et al also make a connection with the Boy Scout movement, and possibly with the wider tradition of rational recreation]. Sport was seen as offering a way to discipline males, and to channel aggression. Nationalist and class values were incorporated, but above all masculinity was celebrated. In Australia, these values were imported from the 'colonial English', who were the dominant group (200). Sport is now  'indelibly connected to  "hegemonic masculinity"' (200), as in Connell's work.

Hegemonic masculinity is a particularly idealised form, stressing toughness and competitiveness, and claiming superiority over women and gay men. It is hegemonic if it is  'widely accepted in a culture and when that acceptance reinforces the dominant gender ideology of the culture' (200). [This notion of hegemony relies on evidence of wide acceptance. There are more marxist versions to come]. Sport is one of the central sites to produce such hegemonic masculinity. Even though women are now more widely accepted, they still have to find a place within  'the existing patriarchal framework. Wholesale changes involving the restructuring and redefining of sport... have not been so forthcoming' (201).  [This is a more marxist version, involving the tendency of hegemonic practices to shape and exclude alternatives].

Hegemonic masculinity does have a profound influence on boys and teenage males. Competitive sports provide a major way of classifying boys, and those who are not good at sports are commonly derided as less than men. (Messner is cited as the authority here). Aggressive masculinity and rejection of the non-masculine also serves to cover up a contradiction: sport also requires a lot of homosocial male bonding behaviour [and homoerotic emotional displays as well]. The need to do this produces a marked extent of homophobia. By contrast sporting successes are lionised and made into heroes, especially in such sports as rugby. The media play a significant role here. Masculine values have always been important in Australian sport especially, and any sign of weakness on the pitch would be ridiculed by spectators in the past.

Sporting success at school is especially important for young males who lack other ways to demonstrate their masculinity --  'such as through wage earning, heterosexual relationships or fatherhood' (202). Images of physical strength and toughness are particularly important  [not necessarily actual behaviour?]. Sport is an ideal context for such displays. It also provides a way of stratifying young men according to how closely they conform to hegemonic masculinity. In this way sport actually  'performs a constitutive function, serving to construct and prioritise a range of masculine selves' (203). Again, seeing sport as natural conceals this constructive function. Boys are  'increasingly coerced into understanding displays of toughness and aggression as normative' (203): sport is the major venue in which physical violence is actually encountered.

Research at a private boys' school in Australia confirms this view. Despite the outward importance of academic achievement, it was sporting prowess, especially in rugby, which led to the greatest status. The school magazine, for example stressed the achievements of the rugby team and the physical aggression of the players. Light and Kirk's work is also cited. Sporting prowess was generalised as a characteristic of full individuals, [unlike academic achievement?]. However, sporting success had its drawbacks. The pressure towards hegemonic masculinity was risky, and identities based on it were  'both sharply defined and precarious' (204). This was seen by noting the effects on students who were dropped from the first XV: one student  'went on a small rampage... [and described himself as turning]... into almost an animal' (204).

This episode shows the effects of investing in hegemonic masculinity, and the emotional turmoil of being dropped is reflected in other work  [There is also a classic  misrecognition here, failing to realise the effects of sporting discourse in developing masculinity]: the affected student had  'appropriated the fantasy of football players as men and men as wild primeval beings and lived it out... he was unable to acknowledge that [rampaging like an animal] was indicative of the every day displays of masculinity in which he was constantly engaged... [it was not]... the transformation of the student into an animal... but a more extravagant version of the masculinising performances which he already enacted daily' (205). This shows the power of hegemonic masculinity [in the full sense now] -- the student regretted the rampage, but could not break with the idea that violence in sport is a natural expression of masculinity. He could not see the power of sporting narratives in constructing this idea, and thus could not effectively deconstruct them  [and resist]. [This reads rather like Willis on the partial penetrations and limitations of the culture of the lads].

Aggressive masculinity is a sign of credibility after sportsmen, and this is 'seductive'  (206), drawing young men into sporting careers. Coaches often encourage aggressive behaviour.  '[E]normous emotional investment' is required on the part of sportsmen  (206), and a sense of self is deeply involved. In this way, aggression gets naturalised, not seen as a performance as such.  [However, Burgess et al also cite the recollections of a player who describes faking aggression. This might be a sign of 'resistance', they admit later, although it can also be seen as a sign of the importance of conforming to hegemonic masculinity, and also an acceptance that for other players, aggression is unproblematically natural].

Dominant groups have always legitimised aggression on the grounds that it is acceptable if governed by rules [other work is cited here, page 206]. This often goes together with a view that violence is simply natural or innate, which sidesteps the issue of how sporting discourses themselves construct aggression and then naturalise it. Seeing violence as natural helps avoid responsibilities for injuries caused to opponents. There are also wider  'oppressive implications' (207).  [Some highly controversial examples are cited here of domestic violence offered by sporting heroes such as Mike Tyson and OJ Simpson]. It is difficult for men to take up alternative positions because of the social significance and the repetition of sporting involvement. The sports field is the most important place where violence is socially sanctioned  [which assumes that sportsmen are unable to act differently when off the sports field, an argument rather like the one that says children cannot distinguish between real life and programmes they see on TV. I am sure that Bourdieu would detect an underlying hostility towards and fear of the body in these remarks].

Sport offers  'the corporeal realities of particular constructions of the masculine self' (207). Whole rituals and narratives are enacted about proper men and what makes them different from others. These discourses penetrate every day life through the promotion of sport. Thus sport  'constitutes a signifying context where individual subjectivities are constructed and made knowable' (208). [sounds a bit like Althusser on interpellation here]. Sport has become the major context for the formation of masculinity. Even those who refrain are still affected  [more classic notions of hegemony as agenda-setting here]. Another piece of research picked this up, where one youth had been teased for not being sporting, had been further harassed and isolated, and openly recognised that this was because of his lack of interest in sport.  [The actual pieces of transcripts cited are nowhere near as clear and explicit as this, but Burgess et al see this is clear evidence that sporting discourses are a force to be reckoned with, even by the non-sporting. Alternative identities cannot be held with any confidence. It is interesting that some obvious alternative routes to status do not appear to be available as was the case in classic studies of American adolescents -- who could be  'college boys', academic achievers, or  'corner boys', participants in youth subcultures, instead. Burgess et al suggested it might simply be a quantitative matter here, with nonsporting identities being snowed under by 'intense' and 'ubiquitous' pathologising -- 209].

Another youth was able to condemn those who spent their lives immersed in sport, but again was less able to negotiate an alternative identity, since sporting prowess was seen as just 'normal'. This is still a precarious normality, subject to continued performance, and it is just possible to negotiate a middle way 'not participating in sport but watching it' (209)  [this is probably a far more widespread option, surely, given the intense competitiveness needed to participate in elite sports and the rejection of the majority]. Again, for Burgess et al this is not a sufficient break with hegemonic masculinity -- spectators simply borrow credibility as proper males 'co-opting with [sic] rather than challenging the narratives that linked masculinity, toughness and sport' (210).

Hegemonic masculinity receives its power by sporting discourses that render it as natural and authentic. It is not that sport channels existing forms of masculinity, but that it constructs it. Effects on the self are particularly powerful. Sporting heroes are established as  'real men' (210). Toughness and aggression are displayed in many kinds of sport  'through ways of walking, talking, moving and behaving: swearing, name-calling and spitting... combined with off-field activities' (210). These characteristics are validated by spectators and by the media, and by other collaborators keen to  'bolster their own masculine credentials' (210). However, identity formation is still precarious,  'tied to public performances and personal struggles with competing forms of knowledge' (210) sporting participation does not guarantee the development of a violent or aggressive self, but it makes it  'a realisable and accessible option' (210). There is also a possibility of resistance, [there must be according to all good gramscians, of course], suggested by those who have described aggression on the field as an act. Nevertheless, this recognition itself will not deconstruct  'dominant constructions of sport and gender... and the emotional investment which some males make' (211) [so some scholarly caution here, but an overall pessimistic view of hegemony].

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