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Sociology Compass 9/5 (2015): 379–385, 10.1111/soc4.12245 Connecting Social Psychology and the Sociology of Sport: Using Goffman as a Framework for Sociological Sports Research Gretchen Peterson* Department of Sociology, California State University Abstract Research on the sociology of sports has much to contribute to public discourse on sports and is well positioned to do so through the connection between sociology of sports and social psychology. This article uses the work of Erving Goffman (1967) as a framework for situating research in the sociology of sports into the themes of courage and gameness, integrity, and composure. This framework provides a way of organizing research in the field and also highlights areas where further research is needed. Over the past two decades, several authors have called for greater focus on the sociology of sports and a need to connect sports and society (Bourdieu 1988, Washington and Karen 2001, Zirin 2008). While Bourdieu may have argued that the sociology of sports is “scorned by sociologists…despised by sportspersons” (1988:153), the more recent emphasis within the discipline of sociology on public sociology bodes well for greater attention on the sociology of sports. Because of the universality of sports as a feature of social life, the sociology of sports has the potential to participate in public debates on sports. In his 2004 American Sociological Association Presidential Address, Michael Burawoy encouraged sociologists to “make public sociology a viable and legitimate enterprise, and, thereby, invigorate the discipline as a whole” (Burawoy 2005: 259). Burawoy lays out a division of labor for sociology such that professional, critical, policy, and public sociology are recognized and valued for their contributions. While Burawoy envisioned this for sociology as a whole, one arena particularly ripe for public sociology is the arena of sports. As sports columnist, Dave Zirin, said “It’s time for sports sociologists to get their bats off their shoulders and begin to shape debates in the sports world” (Zirin 2008). This highlights the need for sociologists to engage in the very public domain of sports and to use our sociological insights in the public debates surrounding sports. The purpose of this article is to lay further groundwork for the public sociology of sport by connecting ideas and theories from social psychology with the sociology of sports. To begin, I analyze how Goffman’s understanding of ritual and character provides a framework for much of the sociological work on sports. Ritual in sports As Birrell (1981) explains, sport is significant in society largely because of its ritualistic nature. Birrell draws from Durkheim and Goffman to demonstrate the theoretical underpinnings of sports as ritual and then uses media examples of heroic action in sports to support her argument. While Durkheim focuses on religious ritual, his emphasis on the process of ritual allows his arguments to be extended to other arenas. Goffman is able to extend Durkheim’s work by delineating the processes of ritual involved in everyday interaction (Birrell 1981). The sporting © 2015 John Wiley & Sons Ltd. 380 Sports and Social Psychology context allows for examination of both the Durkheimian notion of ritual as an exciting, extraordinary event and Goffman’s notion of the ritual as everyday interaction. This interweaving of the everyday and the extraordinary in sport can be seen in Cottingham’s (2012) work on interaction ritual and sports fandom. While Collins (2004) argued that sports fans fell outside the scope of interaction ritual theory because the emotional peaks that occur are contrived and situationally specific, Cottingham found that successful interaction rituals occurred not only in the moments of high intensity as would be found in the stadium but also outside the stadium in other everyday interactions. This highlights the strength of the fan identity and the importance of rituals to the maintenance of that identity. Beyond understanding sport fandom, Goffman’s (1967) work on interaction ritual provides an additional framework for situating research on the sociology of sport. Goffman argues for four main themes of character as those of courage, gameness, integrity, and composure. The value for courage, as Goffman sees it, is a value for an individual’s ability to proceed with a course of action despite the danger that exists. Individuals who continue to expend considerable effort even in the face of setbacks or pain are seen to show gameness. Integrity is demonstrated when athletes resist the temptation to depart from moral standards. Finally, composure is demonstrated through an athlete’s poise. Displays of character not only show something about the individual performing the action but also show something about the values that society holds. Research on the sociology of sports can be situated within these main themes. For this analysis, I combine courage and gameness as one theme given that in sports the danger that exists is often manifested through the setbacks and pain from injuries. Athletes overcoming such injuries or continuing despite injuries can be seen as demonstrating courage or gameness. Character: courage and gameness Athletes who are able to overcome setbacks or injuries to achieve success are glorified in media accounts following a game or performance. This glorification represents a larger societal attitude that normalizes pain as part of the sporting experience (Young and White 1995; Theberge 1997; Collinson 2005). Both male and female athletes portray this toughness or gameness by continuing to play despite injuries sustained during the athletic contest. Theberge (1997) found that women hockey players viewed success while playing injured as an important sign of ability. Even when athletes are not playing injured, spectators perceive top athletes as having sacrificed for their sports. However, these top athletes do not see their behavior as a sacrifice. Instead, they enjoy what they do (Hemery 1986; Chambliss 1989). While the athletes may enjoy the mundane work required to achieve excellence, society still values sacrifice and tends to imbue their hard work as a great sacrifice. Thus, even when extraordinary play is not being demonstrated, gameness is still evident in the attitudes society holds toward athletes since the behaviors seen as necessary to become a top athlete are still seen as sacrifices being made for sports performance. Studies focusing on gendered assumptions of competence in sport also fit within the framework of gameness and courage. Women in sports have often been subjected to assumptions of being less competent than their male counterparts. Wachs (2002) demonstrates how the rules of coed softball, while intended to “level” the playing field, actually reinforce notions of female athletes as less competent. Rules mandating a minimum number of female players, only allowing a female player to serve as a roving outfielder, and giving men two bases for a walk all support the notions of female players as less competent since the rules dictate female involvement and limit male involvement in certain plays. In this case, rules are designed to allow women to succeed and to demonstrate their gameness, although the setback they are seen to overcome is the disadvantage of being a woman. In addition, women playing traditionally © 2015 John Wiley & Sons Ltd. Sociology Compass 9/5 (2015): 379–385, 10.1111/soc4.12245 Sports and Social Psychology 381 “male” sports face perceptions that the male version of the sport is the standard and that the female version is simply not the same (Knapp 2014; Theberge 2000). Beyond the gendered rules, evaluations of performance vary by gender as well. Both Wachs (2005) and Biernat and Vescio (2002) found that athletic plays by female athletes were viewed as extraordinary and that women playing well was surprising. Biernat and Vescio (2002) found that even when men and women are viewed to have similar levels of athletic ability, the men were presumed to be more competent as hitters. This tendency to view women as less competent was also evident in Snyder and Ammons (1993) study of coed softball. They found that interactional norms on the field supported male dominance particularly at the more competitive levels although the male players would freely admit how important the female players were to the success of the team. These studies all highlight how gender affects perceptions of an athlete as demonstrating gameness. Women are presumed to need help to be successful as athletes particularly when competing with men. Beyond assumptions of competence, female athletes also face challenges to their identities as women. The gameness that is celebrated in athletics does not connect with a feminine identity. In her study of girls’ softball, Malcom (2003) found that girls playing softball may overemphasize feminine behavior displays. This peaks when the girls are 12–13 years old but then declines somewhat as the girls age. This behavior occurs among adult female athletes and appears to be consonant with the “apologetic defense”. The apologetic defense is a coping strategy that counters the perceived masculine identity of athlete by overemphasizing feminine behavior displays. While women are allowed to embrace the masculine athlete identity, the apologetic defense is used to counter that masculinization. The girls would use jewelry and hairstyles to promote their femininity and would talk about boyfriends to promote their heterosexuality. The use of apologetic behaviors to counter the masculinization of the athlete identity for women was further supported by the work of Davis-Delano and colleagues (2009). Ezzell’s (2009) work on “defensive othering” by female rugby players complements these studies of the apologetic defense. By identifying with dominants, engaging in normative identification, and propping up dominants, these female athletes engage in identity work to cope with challenges to their identities as females. Character: integrity Integrity in sport is an important social issue as evidenced by recurring reports of drug use by athletes and cheating. In a commentary in Contexts, Peterson (2013) explored the issue of defensive doping (where athletes claim to need to use banned substance because everyone else does) and discussed how some athletes viewed doping as necessary to remain competitive. As media reports of the use of banned substances in sports seem to increase, sociologists need to consider the role that integrity plays in sport in society. Eitzen (1988) addresses this from a conf lict theory perspective, arguing that a conf lict theorist would view cheating in sports as deviant anytime it provides an unfair advantage even if cheating is widespread and might not be considered deviant because so many are doing it. The issue of cheating in sports also lends itself to a discussion of which behaviors are seen as deviant. Mewett (2002) presents a typology of cheating in professional running that includes “clean” cheating and “dirty” cheating. Clean cheating is covered up and not penalized unless it becomes obvious, whereas dirty cheating involves a personal financial gain arising from a betrayal of trust. This typology of cheating illustrates how cheating, at times, may not be seen as a violation of integrity. While issues of integrity may arise in adult sports, the lessons passed on to children in youth sports are also notable. Pilz (1995) demonstrates that in success-oriented sports, the longer children play in a soccer club, the more likely they are to see intentional fouls as fair. In effect, the © 2015 John Wiley & Sons Ltd. Sociology Compass 9/5 (2015): 379–385, 10.1111/soc4.12245 382 Sports and Social Psychology soccer clubs act as agents of socialization legitimizing rule violations by the juvenile athletes. Further evidence of this can be found in junior tennis where cheating on calls has become expected in the sport (Casper 2006). Casper’s work found that cheating can be caused by personal pressure, pressure from coaches, and pressure from parents. These socializing agents in children’s lives may serve to normalize cheating in athletics so that young people grow up to see cheating as expected in sports. Character: composure A number of studies have examined how athletes maintain composure during a sporting event. Snyder and Ammons (1993) interviewed college baseball players and found that they used emotion management strategies in an effort to maintain an appropriate level of tension and anxiety to achieve optimal performance. These athletes viewed composure as involving some level of tension but in a controlled way. Athlete composure is also a main theme in Greer’s (1983) study of spectator booing and the home advantage in basketball. Greer’s study demonstrated that following a period of sustained protest by the crowd, the performance of the visiting team declined. Thus, the visiting team did not maintain their composure in the face of sustained crowd protest. Greer’s study illustrates a process by which the home advantage could be realized and supports the work of Schwartz and Barsky (1977) on the home advantage. Schwartz and Barsky found that the home advantage was strongest in hockey and basketball and less so in the outdoor sports of football and baseball. In indoor sports, the effect of crowd protest could be the strongest and may ultimately contribute more to home advantage in those sports. These studies on the home advantage highlight how the social setting inf luences athletes’ composure. The variation in normative expectations for crowd behavior in sports ref lects expectations that athletes should be allowed to perform without distraction (as in golf or tennis) or should be expected to perform despite distraction (as in basketball and football). This may be rooted in the differences between individual and team sports, but it is a question for further study. Not surprisingly, a number of studies have found that gender affects perceptions of composure. Messner and colleagues (1993) found gender marking on the part of sports commentators in terms of the treatment of success and failure in basketball and tennis. Their research demonstrated that “men were framed as active agents in control of their destinies, women as reactive objects” (130). While both men’s and women’s success was attributed in part to talent, hard work, and intelligence, women’s successes were also attributed to luck, emotion, and family. Women who were not performing well were often seen as lacking the emotional composure needed to perform. When athletes are not able to perform successfully, they face the emotional and social consequences of failure. As Ball (1976) explains, “to fail is to involuntarily demonstrate role-distance, a discrepancy between performance and position, self, and role” (728). For the player who fails, he must deal with the embarrassment that results. For fellow athletes, group reactions to the failure of other players (as evidenced by players being traded, being sent to a lower division, or leaving the game entirely) include degradation or cooling out. The concepts of degradation and cooling out come from Garfinkel (1956) and Goffman (1952), respectively. However, Ball (1976) pulls these concepts together and illustrates how they play out in the professional sports worlds of baseball and football. The same can be found in professional hockey where players can be traded, waived, or “gassed” (Gallmeier 1989). When players are about to leave a team, their teammates often struggle with how to respond to them, resulting in a type of shunning where the player is ignored by others. The players who will remain on the team seem to want distance between themselves and the player who is leaving because of failure. © 2015 John Wiley & Sons Ltd. Sociology Compass 9/5 (2015): 379–385, 10.1111/soc4.12245 Sports and Social Psychology 383 Conclusion The purpose of this article was to utilize a framework provided by the work of Goffman (1967) to connect research in the sociology of sports with social psychology. Even though much of the research has not addressed Goffman’s work specifically, the themes he identified of gameness, courage, integrity, and composure can serve to situate the sociological research on sports. In terms of courage and gameness, sports research has found that both athletes and spectators have internalized an expectation that athletes should overcome setbacks or injuries in their achievements. This is likely ref lected in the appeal of the underdog or the “Cinderella story” that fans embrace and the media emphasizes in its coverage of sports. The consequences of this emphasis on persevering despite setbacks can be an increased danger for athletes as they risk even more serious injuries when trying to perform despite injuries. Future research could examine how these internalized values for perseverance and gameness affect athletes at all levels in terms of how far they will go to achieve in sports. The issue of cheating in sports receives considerable attention in the media. There are new reports regularly of athletes using banned substances or finding other ways to circumvent the rules of the game. The research on cheating in sports has demonstrated that there is some level of expectation that athletes will try to cheat. The adage, “If you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying”, ref lects this attitude that athletes should be doing everything they can to win. This attitude has even carried down to younger athletes. Further research on integrity in sports could further examine the variety of ways that athletes attempt to circumvent the rules. Understanding doping is an important part of understanding contemporary sports, but so are other violations of rules. What we learn about rule violations can be carried over into understanding behaviors at the recreational level of sports or behavior outside of sports. In terms of composure, research shows that athletes have to work to manage their emotions to maintain composure and that they are affected in some sports by crowd behavior. Because of the connection between composure and emotions, it is not surprising that perceptions of composure are subject to gendered assumptions. Maintaining composure is not unique to performance in sports, so further research in this area could serve to increase our understanding of emotion management in sports and in other aspects of our lives. This article has highlighted the connection between social psychology and the sociology of sport. However, for sociologists researching in this area to contribute to public debates around sports, more work also needs to be done on macrolevel analyses of sports. As Eckstein, Moss, and Delaney (2010) explain, almost three-fourths of sports sociology research between 1977 and 2008 (as represented in three main journals) took a more microlevel approach. If the sociology of sports hopes to answer the call of Michael Burawoy and Dave Zirin by moving studies of sports into the public arena, research also needs to address more of the macrolevel issues facing sports today. The sociology of sports has much to contribute to public discourse on sports. Short Biography Gretchen Peterson is Professor and Department Chair at California State University, Los Angeles. She earned her PhD in 2000 from the University of Arizona and has been a professor at CSULA for 14 years. Professor Peterson studies social exchange, fairness, emotions, and, most recently, adult recreational softball. She consistently takes a social psychological approach to these various topics. Her research utilizes multiple methodologies including experiments, surveys, and observational methods. © 2015 John Wiley & ...
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Social psychology and
sociology of sport
Institutional Affiliation:


Social psychology and
sociology of sport
The field of sports
is known for its ability to
bring people together. In
sports, it is possible for
people from diverse
backgrounds to be brought
together and interact with
each other without having
to use or learn about the
social ability in terms of
psychology. With this basic
information on the social
aspect that sports carry, it
is then easy to draw the
line between the sociology
of sports and the social
psychology. In addressing
the entire issues with
respect to the sociology of
sport and social


psychology, a third-party
framework is needed to
draw the overall link
between the mentioned
aspects. The most
appropriate piece of work
that has been found to be
effective to be applied in
the research that involves
the field of sociology of
sports through the various
themes such as gameness,
composure as well as
integrity. It is worth noting
that the significance of the
framework is to reorganize
the previously undertaken
research while point...

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