Blogging: A public sociology for hockey?

I am fortunate as a graduate student to study something that I love: sports. Since I was a baby, I have followed sports—especially hockey—passionately and exhaustively. Many of my best friends are also huge fans, and lengthy discussions about sport, often over pints of beer, are a common feature of my social life—as they are for tens of millions of other sports fans around the globe. It has been very enjoyable to be able to infuse, in what I sincerely hope is a non-academic manner, some of what I study into my conversations and to explain some of my hockey-related research to friends and family.

One of the greatest aspects of my graduate studies in the sociology and cultural study of sport is gaining new knowledge of and perspectives on the topic of sports—perspectives that are rarely, if ever, found in the sports pages of mainstream newspapers. Fortunately, new media such as blogs have significantly opened up new avenues of discussion and provided virtual sites at which people can publish their views and debate a wide range of hockey-related issues. Blogging has thus wrestled a significant amount of control over the production and interpretation of hockey away from the mainstream media, although it is important not to underestimate the sway that traditional sport journalism still holds over its audiences. My three-plus years of involvement in the hockey blogosphere has been fascinating and enjoyable, and has led me to start Hockey in Society as a form of “public sociology”—or, in other words, as a forum to communicate and apply my academic research on social, political, and cultural issues in hockey through a popular and non-academic medium.

The idea of public sociology, which is tied to the concept of “public intellectualism,”[1] is that sociologists, as social scientific experts, have an obligation to produce and publicize research that has application to important real-world issues in contemporary societies—in other words, research that does not sit unread in dusty university libraries, to be read by only a handful of scholars and grad students, but that is popularly accessible and oriented toward the lives of the people it studies. Public sociology gained prominence in mainstream sociology when Michael Burawoy, at the time the President of the American Sociology Association, highlighted its importance in a 2004 keynote speech:

I believe that the world needs public sociology –a sociology that transcends the academy–more than ever. Our potential publics are multiple, ranging from media audiences to policy makers, from silenced minorities to social movements. They are local, global, and national.[2]

Sociologists of sport, such as Dr. Alan Bairner of Loughborough University in the UK, have addresses the applicability of public sociology to sport and sporting cultures. Bairner suggests that a combination of a genuine passion for sports, a critical recognition of its problematic issues (think of racism, sexism, homophobia, etc.) and an engagement with individuals situated within the sporting world can allow a public sport sociologist to contribute his or her expertise to ongoing efforts to transform unjust aspects of sport in a more positive direction:

For those of us who truly enjoy the aesthetic pleasure and the emotional engagement that sport can offer, however, an inevitable tension exists. We love sport . . . although not its more offensive features. We consume sport even though we understand that we are being exploited. More often than not, this seems like a price worth paying for the existential satisfaction which playing and watching can bring. Furthermore, I would argue that our positive experiences mean that we are constantly in touch with sport and its communities, thereby placing us in a more advantageous position than those who are anti-sport to critique and potentially to combat those aspects of the sporting world that are morally and ideologically unacceptable to us.[3]

Bairner emphasizes that public sport intellectuals cannot accomplish this task on their own, but that they must forge connections with individuals who are embedded in sporting cultures or organizations and who are far better placed than academics to enact social change. I hope that my embeddedness in hockey blogging culture, my love of the sport, and my passion for sharing and discussing the academic research with which I engage will allow this blog to act as a platform for a public hockey sociology that seeks to publicize and analyze critical issues within the sport—and in the process, spark discussion and dialogue that may contribute to the eventual erosion of inequalities and injustices within hockey. It is an ambitious goal, but one about which I am passionate and for which I believe it is worthwhile to struggle.


[1] Michael Atkinson (2011), “Physical Cultural Studies: Redux,” Sociology of Sport Journal, no. 28, p. 139.

[2] Michael Burawoy, quoted in Atkinson (see reference no. 1), p. 139.

[3] Alan Bairner (2009), “Sport, Intellectuals and Public Sociology,” International Review for the Sociology of Sport, no. 44 (2-3), pp. 118-119.

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