Teaching a sociocultural course on hockey at the undergraduate level: Thoughts on course content and critically engaging students

Starting next week, I will be teaching a third year course to undergraduates in University of Toronto’s Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education. The course is called “Hockey in Canadian Society” – and yes, I realize that the title is incredibly similar to the name of this blog! I am extremely excited, if a little nervous, about starting the course. I do not have nerves about public speaking or about the course preparation – I have been excited to teach this course for months and so have already spent quite a lot of time on its design – but rather whether I can successfully impart the complexities of hockey’s social construction in Canadian society to undergraduate students.

This post simply offers an overview of the course, my thoughts about engaging students critically with a sport many of them love, and presents a list of sources that students will read. I hope that it may provide a useful resource for other scholars teaching about hockey and more generally provide a useful list of some good academic and online sources about the sport. If you have any comments, feedback, or suggestions please let me know!

Course Units and Topics


Week 1: Introduction to Hockey in Canadian Society

Week 2: Creating and Contesting the Social Meaning of Hockey in Canada


Week 3: Hockey and Masculinity

Week 4: Girls and Women in Canadian Hockey

Weeks 5 & 6: Race and Ethnicity in Canadian Hockey


Weeks 7 & 8: Producing Hockey – Mass Media and New Media

Weeks 9 & 10: Hockey, Labour, and Commercialism

Week 11: Violence in Hockey Cultures


Week 12: Hockey and Contemporary Canadian Politics

Course Evaluation

This blog has helped immensely in my ability to think and communicate critically about hockey, and I hope this will translate well in the classroom. It has also provided the inspiration for what I hope will be an educational and enjoyable form of participation: a class blog. As part of their participation grades, students will be required to publish three short blog posts linking current events to course material and will also be required to provide constructive feedback on five of their peers’ posts. This may turn out to be more chaotic than I anticipate, but I hope that it is a productive exercise. In particular, I am hoping that it accomplishes three objectives: 1) providing an alternative form of participation, though not a replacement for in-class discussion, of students; 2) allowing students to relate course material, much of which was published many years ago, to ongoing events in hockey; and 3) to teach students about the political and advocacy possibilities offered by new media such as blogs.

In addition to participation in class and on the blog, I am requiring students to write a book review on a popular or academic hockey book, design and implement a group project, and write a take-home final exam. The book review offers students an opportunity to read one of the many amazing hockey books out there; however, given that there is also a tremendous amount of hockey books lacking in critical approaches to the sport, I am vetting the books that students choose. For the group project, I am allowing students significant leeway in developing a project relating to hockey. This could take the form of a media analysis, some sort of new media production, qualitative or quantitative data collection and analysis, or any other number of options. I am optimistic, if cautiously so, that students will develop some creative and insightful projects. As the students will have to submit a proposal to me before beginning their work, and as I will give them time in class to work together on the project, I hope that I will be able to guide them throughout the research process.


I am expecting students to read a wide range of sources, including online readings from newspapers or a blogs (including this one). Unfortunately there is not enough time to include all of the excellent hockey writing that is out there, so I have had to exclude some excellent sources. In addition to readings, I am planning to use a variety of A/V materials, including excerpts from CBC’s Hockey: A People’s History. Below is the full list of readings.


Selected chapter(s) from:

Michael Atkinson & Kevin Young, (2008), Deviance and Social Control in Sport.

David Cruise & Alison Griffiths, (1991), Net Worth: Exploding the Myths of Pro Hockey.

Richard Gruneau & David Whitson, (1993), Hockey Night in Canada: Sport, Identities, and Cultural Politics.

Cecil Harris, (2005), Breaking the Ice: The Black Experience in Professional Hockey,

Chapters from edited volumes:

Mary Louise Adams, (2006), “The Game of Whose Lives? Gender, Race, and Entitlement in Canada’s “National” Game,” in D. Whitson & R. Gruneau (Eds.), Artificial Ice: Hockey, Culture, and Commerce (pp. 71-84).

James Gillett, Philip White, & Kevin Young, (1995), “The Prime Minister of Saturday Night: Don Cherry, the CBC, and the Cultural Production of Intolerance.” In H. Holmes & D. Taras (Eds.), Seeing Ourselves: Media, Power and Policy in Canada (pp. 59-72).

John Hannigan, (2006), “From Maple Leaf Gardens to the Air Canada Centre: The Downtown Entertainment Economy in “World Class” Toronto,” in D. Whitson & R. Gruneau (Eds.), Artificial Ice: Hockey, Culture, and Commerce (pp. 201-214).

Jean Harvey, (2006), “Whose Sweater is this? The Changing Meanings of Hockey in Quebec,” in D. Whitson & R. Gruneau (Eds.), Artificial Ice: Hockey, Culture, and Commerce (pp. 29-52).

Robert Pitter, (2006), “Racialization and Hockey in Canada: From Personal Troubles to a Canadian Challenge,” in D. Whitson & R. Gruneau (Eds.), Artificial Ice: Hockey, Culture, and Commerce (pp. 123-139).

Brian Wilson, (2006) “Selective Memory in a Global Culture: Reconsidering Links between Youth, Hockey, and Canadian Identity,” in D. Whitson & R. Gruneau (Eds.), Artificial Ice: Hockey, Culture, and Commerce (pp. 53-70).


Kristi Allain, (2008), ““Real fast and tough”: The construction of Canadian hockey masculinity,” Sociology of Sport Journal, 25, 462-481.

Bruce Kidd, (1996), “The Making of a Hockey Artifact: A Review of the Hockey Hall of Fame,” Journal of Sport History, 23(3), 328-334.

Margaret MacNeill, (1995), “Networks: Producing Olympic Ice Hockey for a National Television Audience,” Sociology of Sport Journal, 13(2), pp. 103-124.

Michael Messner, (1992), “When Bodies Are Weapons,” Peace Review, 4(3), 28-31.

Mark Norman, (2012), “Saturday Night’s Alright for Tweeting: Cultural Citizenship, Collective Discussion, and the New Media Consumption/Production of Hockey Day in Canada,” Sociology of Sport Journal, 29, 306-324.

Michael Robidoux, (2002), “Imagining a Canadian Identity through Sport: A Historical Interpretation of Lacrosse and Hockey,” Journal of American Folklore, 115(456), 209-225.

Jay Scherer and Jordan Koch, (2010), “Living with war: Sport, citizenship, and the cultural politics of post-9/11 Canadian identity,” Sociology of Sport Journal, 27, 1-29.

Jay Scherer & Lisa McDermott, (2011), “Playing Promotional Politics: Mythologizing Hockey and Manufacturing “Ordinary” Canadians,” International Journal of Canadian Studies, 43, 107-134.

Jay Scherer & David Whitson, (2009), Public Broadcasting, Sport, and Cultural Citizenship: The Future of Sport on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation?, International Review for the Sociology of Sport, 44, pp. 213-229.

Nancy Theberge, (1995), “Playing with the Boys: Manon Rhéaume, Women’s Hockey, and the Struggle for Legitimacy,” Canadian Women’s Studies, 15(4), 37-41.

Megan Williams, (1995), “Women’s Hockey: Heating up the Equity Debate,” Canadian Women’s Studies, 15(4), 78-81.


John Branch, (2011), “Derek Boogaard: A Boy Learns to Brawl,” “Derek Boogaard: Blood on the Ice,” and “Derek Boogaard: A Brain Going Bad,” New York Times.

Ellen Etchingham, (2012, January 12), “A Women’s Place is in the Corners,” A Theory of Ice.

Mark Norman, (2011, November 9), “Bursting the Dam? The Slow Erosion of Hockey Homophobia,” Hockey in Society.

Jim Parcels, (1999), “Straight Facts About Making it in Pro Hockey,” CBC.

Kevin Plummer, (2012, January 14), “Historicist: The Cree Ojibway Hockey Tour,” Torontoist.

Laura Robinson, “Gods and Monsters – More Disturbing Stories about Hockey Violence against Women,” Play the Game.

Matt Ventresca and Marty Clark, (2012, March 11), “Understanding Goon: Nice Guys Finish First,” Hockey in Society.


14 thoughts on “Teaching a sociocultural course on hockey at the undergraduate level: Thoughts on course content and critically engaging students

  1. I’m assuming you’re leaving Dryden’s “The Game” for the book reports. A couple of things that aren’t explicit from your “Course Units & Topics” list: a.) will you be looking at the relationship of hockey (particularly juniors) and the educational system? And b.) I’m always intrigued in the rising cost of the game, and what that does to frame and alter hockey communities and who can play. I know of some youth league that have developed rental equipment programs to help with those particular costs, but you still have incredibly (IMO, ridiculously) high tournament fees.

    That aside, this sounds like a pretty awesome class. I’ve always maintained to my students that sports and their interaction/influence with society are poorly covered in traditional disciplines, despite being a near-daily presence in most people’s lives.

    • Thanks for the comment and the feedback Benjamin! You are correct that I am leaving “The Game” for book reviews, though I recognize that it is very conspicuous by its absence in the readings. I hope that at least a few students choose it for their review, as it’s obviously the classic book to read about hockey.

      Those are some great issues to discuss. I actually had a week dedicated to youth and junior hockey, but unfortunately it got squeezed out when I found out I only had 12 weeks of class (thought initially that I had 13). I am going to try to roll some of it into the labour/commercialism lectures, particularly around junior hockey as (almost) free labour and the benefits/drawbacks to athletes from this system. I will at least touch on youth hockey and the very high costs associated with it, particularly as this affects access to and rates of enrollment in the sport, but probably won’t give it the attention it deserves. If I get to teach this course again in the future, I’ll definitely consider reinserting a section on youth and/or junior hockey.

      Anyway, thanks again for the thoughtful comments. And I agree with you about sports and their relationship with society, which is why – although I’m in a niche discipline – I do what I do! What age/level do you teach? That’s great that you’re engaging students with critical discussions about sport!

      • I’m currently a lecturer (though for my pay grade I’m considered a “teaching assistant” I have my own class) at UW-Milwaukee for a course on African American history. I have a section on sport in the portion of the course when I talk about contemporary issues, and I like covering a bit about the sometimes-conflicting relationships of education and sport in addition to its social influence. I also talk a bit about race and sports as well.

        • Ugh, that is classic underpaying of educational professionals – that is frustrating! Thankfully my teaching duties are paid at an Instructor rate above my regular TA work. Though that means I have to do everything for the course, including all marking and lecturing, myself.

          The class sounds great though! There has been a lot of good scholarship on various aspects of African Americans in sport and it definitely would make a good addition to discussions on African American history.

  2. I especially think the blogging portion of your course will be beneficial to students. A public blog really opens students up to new ideas and gives them a chance to be participants in knowledge development. Highly recommend you give students a crash course on tagging. And if this course is available again next year, build on the same blog.

    Work by Henry Jenkins (http://henryjenkins.org) and Axel Bruns (http://snurb.info) could supplement your fans and new media portion. Lots of other stuff out there, but those two were very influential on my research.

    Good luck Mark!

    • Thanks Sunil! I am hoping the blogging experiment goes well. I did not put any new media theory on the syllabus, but will talk about Jenkins and Bruns in lecture for sure (maybe even get them to read some excerpts in class). Hoping that at least some of them grasp the sociopolitical significance of new media and maybe consider engaging with it more themselves. Should be interesting to see what happens!

  3. Are you leaving out French Canada hockey? If you can read French, you should get my doctoral dissertation on early Montréal hockey, 1875-1917 (Université Laval 2001), that will give you some insights on French hockey before the formation of the Montréal Canadiens. it is available on the Library and Archives Canada website under Canadian thesis. I could give you some references about hockey history since you are more familiar with sociology.

    But you are lucky prof, to teach such a topic for a full semester, I can only teach 3 hours of hockey in my physical activity history course at UQAM and McGill. At least, some students do their term-paper on this subject.

    Best of luck with your course.

    • Hi Michel, thanks for the comment! First of all, I’m really sorry not to have replied earlier. For some reason Word Press marked your comment as spam and so did not alert me about it. I only discovered this today and was able to approve your comment. Sorry about that.

      I am definitely planning to discuss hockey in Quebec and French Canada. It will be part of the “Creating and Contesting the Meaning of Hockey” and the “Race and Ethnicity” subunits. There is obviously a whole lot of interesting material there! Thank you for pointing me to your dissertation – that sounds like a fascinating topic as well as a manuscript that will be very informative for me as I prepare my lectures. I will download it right away. Did you publish any of your research from your dissertation?

      And yes, I feel very fortunate to be able to teach this class! I had my first lecture yesterday and it seemed to go over well with students. I hope that it is a useful course for them!

  4. Pingback: Review: Hockey: A People’s History (CBC TV series) « Hockey in Society

  5. I teach a 400 level Sociology course on sport in Canadian culture. The first half centres on the social history of sport in Canada, and the second half is on professional ice hockey in Canada. The major research assignment is the students and I attend an NHL game here in Edmonton, where they conduct ethnographic research on the entire hockey game experience.

    • Thanks for the comment Fiona! That sounds like a very interesting class. An NHL game would definitely offer a lot of rich ethnographic data for a course on Canadian culture, in a variety of ways – and the students must love the assignment. Do you teach at UofA?

  6. Pingback: Debating the Origins of Hockey: Does it Matter Where, When and by Whom Hockey was First Played? | Hockey in Society

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