This essay will be an attempt to bring together the ideas from our class readings about the Marxist sociological perspective as well as insight from other readings to further my understanding of Marxism and its applications to sport. I will lay the groundwork for the theory then proceed with how his theory is applied to accessibility issues in sport, distribution of power in sport and commercialization of sport. Basics of Marxist Theory The most widely used political and ideological system of thought is that of Karl Marx.
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Marxism is a set of ideas trying to provide an explanation for human society. Although a little over a hundred years old his theories and thoughts have led to coups, revolutions and new waves theories and academics. As well, it is this systemic theory that has led many academics to look at the way they teach, discuss, write and even look at the way the world acts and thinks, even within their own small worlds. Within the world of sport the ideological views have no real place however it is possible to equate the views of Marx to the idea of sport.
Marxism is known as the interpretation of the thoughts of Karl Marx (1813 – 1883), a German social theorist and political revolutionary. Karl Marx wanted to understand the politics, culture and economics of the newly emerging nations within Europe. He emphasized the leading role of the economy in society as a whole as well as in societal parts, known as superstructures. These superstructures are non-economic aspects of society, i. e. culture, religion, social life, education, religion, politics and social institutions.
Marx identified society as consisting of two classes: The so-called Bourgeoisie and the so-called Proletariat. The Bourgeoisie is a capitalistic, wealthy and powerful minority consisting of aristocracy and upper class members meanwhile the Proletariat, also known as working-class, holds the majority of societal members who are poor, semi- or unskilled workers. The Bourgeoisie owns the entire means of production and wealth, therefore they are powerful and hegemonic. Their hegemony is maintained because only they have access to the financial and productive means.
Their ideologies, i. e. their thoughts and beliefs, are hegemonic and influencing as they have the power to establish them in society (Rigauer, 2000). In contrast, the Proletariat is alienated from and by the Bourgeoisie. The working- class has virtually no power and influence, financially and politically. The original sense of work has transformed from earning money to feed, socializing and pleasing one’s own interests into an exploiting tool of the Bourgeoisie to maintain the capitalist’s wealth and therefore power too.
Improving one’s own position within their social hierarchy in society is impossible for the Proletariat: there is no social mobility, meritocracy (a system of social stratification based on personal merit) and/or ladder-system, as the class being born into will already determine the position in the social hierarchy (Lecture Notes, 2005). The polarization between these two classes is obvious and conflict will occur as a result of inequalities.
The Marxist’s perspective is dominantly based on economic factors and over emphasizes them; money is assumed to be everything within society and social life. In my view, something is clearly missing here such as values and other social factors. Assuming that money is everything within society leads to assumptions that those owning the productive and therefore economic resources are given the power and use it to control those without to maintain their hegemony. Further factors that can form and shape society like gender, ethnicity, age, culture etc. are not taken into consideration and neglected.
Hence the Marxist perspective focuses on having versus not having, earning versus not earning and powerful versus powerless. Marxism and Sport Marxism tries to identify which sports are accessible to whom. A recent example: in contemporary British society class differences regarding participation rates in different sports can be found. The higher the social class, the more likely the individual is to be more active and to attend a sports event. The explanation therefore: a lack of resources in finances and availability of those in the working class.
Affected sports are walking, jogging, swimming, weight-lifting, snooker, and soccer. (Abercrombie et al, 2000). Even though not listed in that research, those sports traditionally considered to be upper class like polo, golf and equitation should be regarded too, as the equipment and availability for the working class is again limited due to lack of resources, especially financial resources. Furthermore a Marxist focuses on the distribution of power in sport: Who has got the power and why? Inequality can again be identified.
Sport is determined and shaped by the economic system in the hands of the powerful Bourgeoisie and does yet again promote the interest of those: increasing capital, maintaining power and privileges. Besides labor, sport is another tool of exploiting the working class as sport is just another form of controlling the society through a form of popular entertainment respectively giving access to certain sports only to certain, economically favored members. Concentration on ongoing commercialization in and of sport is another key issue within Marxism and sport.
Turning leisure into a marketing product is just another form of financial exploitation. Merchandising, ticket sales, turning clubs into a public limited companies and sponsorship are a further source of making profit. A Marxist would argue that the sport or event itself will not dominate. In fact, media coverage, print and TV media, will have influence, for example the organization of an event and the broadcasting times will have to coincide to make the most profit. The prices for broadcasting rights and player transfers have explosively increased and show again the influence of money in the sports world.
A very recent example of money and its impact on sport is The England and Wales Cricket Board’s decision to send its players to a World Cup match in Zimbabwe in 2003, regardless of political concerns due to the dictatorship of President Mugabe and the possible propaganda impact the match might have. (Guardian Online, 2003). Fearing a severe financial penalty in the forms of lost sponsorship and broadcasting money, the monetary aspect proved too powerful for them to decline a match of such importance; thus, politics do influence sport nowadays too.
A further example of commercialization of sport and changing the nature of a sport could be the critical look at horse-racing. Instead of enjoying the ride itself in the nature, horse-racing has become a competitive and very profitable industry for bookmakers as well as for established horse-racing television channels which have increasingly arisen. Making money out of horse-racing, the wealthy have established an upper class sport within the working class, as they are the majority to spend their money on, just to increase their capital yet again, a Marxist would argue.
Although the Marxists perspective is aware of inequalities resulting from money in sport, it fails to recognize that sport can have for individuals other possibilities such as creativeness and provision of challenging experiences. It can be said: Marxism “stresses the lack of fit between the different societal parts”, e. g. sport, and therefore focuses on conflict caused primarily by money (Haralambos and Holborn, 2000). There is contrasting theory, that of Functionalism, which focuses on a consensus view rather than a conflict view.
Sociologists who use functionalist theory assume that society is an organized system of corresponding parts held together by shared values and processes that create understanding among people. Functionalism in contrast to Marxism, “stresses the extent to which the different parts of society fit together harmoniously” (Haralambos and Holborn, 2000). I chose not to further my research into the Functionalist theory, however, an understanding and application of both theories may provide some solutions for the negative aspects of each perspective, this could then form the basis for a theory to best describe today’s society.
That is of course an ideal thought, but I am Canadian and I often think that the balance of sitting on the fence is the best alternative. In conclusion, after reading in depth articles and individual opinions on the topic, I realized that the Marxist approach is one dimensional and incomplete. Therefore, leaving me to be critical of an unfulfilling and one sided view of Marxist theory and sport. However, the commonalities that arise between capitalism and the development of sport in our society still cannot be ignored.
Thus, giving his theory partial credibility in my opinion. While I struggled to understand how this information could be used directly in the field of sport administration, in the end, I have learned that simply being aware of different sociological theories can help to understand why society behaves the way it does in the sport context. This application is very indirect; however, it will allow me to approach future situations with a deeper understanding of sports in society.