‘Countercultural’ Sport

Authored by: Paul Gilchrist

Routledge Handbook of Sport and Politics

Print publication date:  October  2016
Online publication date:  October  2016

Print ISBN: 9781138792548
eBook ISBN: 9781315761930
Adobe ISBN: 9781317646679


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The term ‘counterculture’ is frequently applied to describe a distinctive feature of the history, politics, style and organisation of sport. As an analytical category it is elusive. The term is commonly wheeled out to pad discussions of subculture (Beal 1995; Midol 1993; Rinehart 2000; Stranger 2011; Wheaton 2013), without ever being sufficiently developed in its own right to lead or frame an analysis. To coin an idiom, counterculture is somehow always the bridesmaid, never the bride. Den Tandt, commenting on cultural studies more widely, has speculated that this state of affairs is a product of academic caution and unease over endorsing a broader project of progressive social transformation. He argues that the study of subculture involves immersion into the way of life of a social group and the researcher does not necessarily have to agree with its ideals and values when they expose its cultures and practices (2014: 82). On the other hand, the study of counterculture is envisaged as breaking academic conventions of cool detachment and studied disinterest, as it is seen to require the researcher to adopt a cause, to work to undermine dominant ideologies, even to exercise a revolutionary praxis. To write sympathetically about counterculture is therefore to cross a threshold of scientific neutrality, where the researcher can become a covert champion of a revolutionary agenda without subjecting it to rational scrutiny (Den Tandt 2014: 82).

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