|The International Journal of Urban Labour and Leisure Book Reviews|
We are now instigating a book review section. In light of this we will post the books available for review on the web site.
If you would like to be considered for a review please email your name and interests to the journal.
Books available for review now are:
Schmidt, R. J. (2005) This is the City : Making Model Citizens in Los Angeles. Minneapolis : University of Minnesota Press. (148 + xxviii) $18.95
Water, Leisure and Culture is a very interesting book. It examines the myriad
ways of delighting in water and the cultural meanings therein. The sixteen
contributions take us through spa towns, ice skating, to saunas and through
economic, political and environmental issues involved in the enjoyment of water.
Sporting Dystopias is an edited volume focusing on America and Canada that encompasses 14 contributions from varied disciplines in the the examination of how sport has become a metaphor for urban life. In some ways this book follows the rise of the city as main living area, but it also illustrates the disillusionment that can be caused by the misappropriation of sport. The intention of the book is also to address how the images of sport have been used to create division and integration by turns. Sport in this sense can be seen as all things to all people. As such the chapters in this book seek to examine the ever-changing relationship between sport and the city, 'place and process and physical structure and human experience'. It also seeks to examine the critically engage with the idea of sport and the city being intimately and dependently linked to benefits for the city, which far from being utopian end up being dystopian through manipulation of powerful participants.
There are no sections in the book and so the individual chapters run into each other without necessarily taking the argument further. However, this is not too much of a problem as the chapters are self-explanatory and provide insight into a number of different areas.
Chapter 2 examines the relationship between representational sports and their distant consumer 'communities', by first examining ideas of community and its relationship to sport, issues of gender are also highlighted here as crucial for our understanding of how sport has been used within the city. The power of large organisations to influence sport and the consumption by fans is laid bare as we examine the role of finance in sponsoring sport 'products'. The chapter provides a good overview of the influences affecting sport in the contemporary city society. The issues of financial power are resonated across the world; large organisations seek to influence sport as a means of presenting themselves. Sport merely seeks to exploit this with executive boxes forcing real fans out of the stadia. Chapter 3 adds to this argument by examining the role of the local civic society as it moves to exploit the power of sport to represent itself int he wider national and international scene. The adage sport is power could have been written for this purpose. Sport is seen to regenerate areas and provide an identity for all within the area. It is this pride that gives people the identity with which to reach out with confidence to other communities and feel confident in themselves. The rituals of support for local teams and sports is accentuate here through an analysis of how writers have associated sports personalities to certain cities and used them as icons of the local area. This allows both to merge and provides again that essential identity for locals. Ingham and McDonald also argue that this is a fickle identity as American sports clubs are usually owned by people outside the area who are seeking the best deal for the team they own. This means they are willing to reduce the association with a city to dust at a moments notice as they seek better tax breaks in another city. This breaks the link with teams and cities as both fans and cities know that what was once their local team could become a rival at any time. And although not posed by the authors, the question remains why do so many people in America still support their 'local' teams? What is the attraction to sport that still keeps gates high?
Chapter 4 takes a different aspect of this 'sport as identity' theme and examines the role of sport personalities statues. These are seen as representations of the achievements of the city and are placed accordingly in public places to be seen by the local populace on a regular basis as their own identity. I would like to have seen this chapter deal with fieldwork and ask the locals how these statues influenced them in their daily lives and how it affected their civic pride. It is at this point that I feel the book veers off course slightly as chapter 5 by Matby deals with the issue of homelessness during two major sporting events in one city. While an excellent ethnography of the protagonists, he does not make it clear how this is affected by the role of sport and why this is the case, nor how sport could be seen as a way to regenerate the city, even for the homeless.
Chapter 6 continues this ethnographic theme in an excellent piece in the style of Ditton. Atkinson examines ticket 'scalpers' or 'touts'. The detail is good and the writing style lucid, the reader has the feeling of falling into the scene that is so necessary for ethnography. The whole culture revolves around scams, byung and selling and generally forms a community of touts that seeks to subvert the role of genuine fandom by selling tickets for the highest price before they ever go on sale to the public. This will ultimately change the nature of sporting events as they are populated by people who are there not for the sport but for the chance to say they were there, or indeed to experience corporate hospitality alone. The way of life of the tout is explained in detail including the characters and their relationship to each other. Depth like this gives the reader an excellent idea of how crowds are made up at major sporting events. It also provides an example of the complicity of society in this process as promoters, ticket employees, etc are all involved in corrupting true fan experience.
Chapter 7 provides a history of horse racing/gambling in turn of the century Chicago which illustrates how the urban setting was changed and constructed around the activity of gambling and how complicit the city was in this for a price - corruption. The following chapter can be seen in relation to this as it deals with the role of sport in providing cohesion to a Jewish community in Toronto. It illustrates how sport was used as a means to integrate young Jewish Canadians into their adopted society, including going on to be represented in major sports arenas. Rosenberg's work illustrates how sport is an inclusive activity in its setting and can be and still is used for this purpose by government's throughout history. The following chapter moves us away from Canada but remains focused on issues of race in a local youth club. It examines the empowerment of youth through physical exercise and sport. Wilson and White argue that this process of sport through youth centres gives youths their identity and allows them to be bound together with a common identity when their world outside is not so bound.
Chapter 10 breaks up again the flow of ideas with an examination of sport provision via a survey of three cities attempts to put on sporting activities for the local populace. The attempt by Clark to construct a outline proposal for best practice provision, does not go much further than a quantitative exposition of sport provision for youth. It would have done better to have focused on why such provision is not forthcoming, particularly as it makes a small case for the lack of provision for girls and women.
The remaining chapters focus on the perception of sport both in the community and further afield. Andrews et al, focus on soccer (football for europeans) and its role as a grass roots sport for young people. They suggest that soccer has become a great community binder due to its inherently less violent (or physically rough) requirements. It is also cheap to fund as a ball and four coats are all that is needed in order to have a game - though 'little league' clubs will have more than this. In this resepct it is a sport of rthe masses, an inclusive rather than exclusive sport. It also provides more of a team spirit, allowing girls to take part, which impresses moms. The chapter details how and why middle America has taken soccer to its hearts.
The following two chapters by Cole and King and Abdel-Shehid examine the role of film in promoting and supporting stereotypical image of society. Here we can see that sport is used by film-makers as a means to represent issues of race and power within society. It is also used as a means of escaping situations compounded by race. However, in doing so, they argue, we merely extend the grasp of stereotypes and press the idea that black and Asian people are better at sport by default, when academically speaking, this is the role left open to them and still resembles a 'slave-like' pandering to white perspectives.
The final chapter by Thornton is another excellent ethnography of a major basketball event that extends this issue of race and sport, illustrating its role in the identity and culture of black men in public places. It also examines how race, the media and local politics excoriate society and how sport is used as a message to those outside the community. It it also a regaining of self pride in a racialised society where power belongs to those outside the inner city urban communities.
Overall I enjoyed reading this book and feel it will be of use to researchers and students of sport. Despite the sole use of North American examples, the ideas that construct sport and its role in local and national society, are important ones for the whole world.
If you wish to be considered for the reviewing of books, please email your name, affiliation and interests to E Jones.
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