Social Science blog

4 posts from January 2011

31 January 2011


The New Year brings a new recruit to the social science team at the BL: namely Simone Bacchini, a socio-linguist whose PhD research centres on ‘the linguistic encoding and discursive representation of the experiences of physical pain and illness’. Simone will be working in the fields of sociology, culture, media and sport and is already researching an article for the Sport and Society website. He will be looking at the discourse of and around the Paralympic Games and identifying materials held in the Library’s collections which facilitate research into this, and similar subjects.

 The sports controversy du jour has stimulated much discussion about sport discourse, and how influential individuals like sports commentators can colour the way their audiences view people and events. Commentators have to be vigilant about how they express themselves (both on and off air!), and this is particularly the case with potentially sensitive issues around sport and gender, sport and race, and sport and disability. My feeling is that we are at a very crucial (i.e., formative) stage in the evolution of popular perceptions about the Paralympics and about elite disability sport in general so it is essential that we get it right at London 2012.

 There is no denying that the language we use and the ways we express it have an effect in creating positive (or negative) climates of opinion. The psychology of this is well known by athletes of all kinds – elites and amateurs alike, because competing is all about motivation and self belief, about positive affirmation and constructive criticism; hence the use of empowering language and visualisation by athletes and coaches, in order to create a state of mind which encourages excellence.

 What comes first though, the state of mind or the language? I’m all in favour of using language as a spur to change things, asserting the premise that if you use the right terms, the right behaviour will follow. A fascinating book in the collections goes into this issue from a gender perspective, exploring image, rhetoric and commentary in women’s sport. I recommend it:

 Sport, rhetoric and gender: historical perspectives and media representations edited by Linda K Fuller. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006

London reference collections shelfmark: YC.2012.a.6981

Lending collections shelfmark: m06/40365

21 January 2011

What happens after?

Andrea Bertorelli writes:

 With the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games over a year away, questions about the legacy of the Olympic Stadium have suddenly taken centre stage. Will the venue become the new home of West Ham United or Tottenham Hotspur football clubs?

 The controversy hinges on the athletics track. West Ham pledge to keep it; Tottenham want to demolish the whole stadium and replace it with a sixty thousand-seater purposely built for football (and with no athletics facility). In return, the Spurs promise the investment of a considerable amount of money to rebuild the athletics stadium at Crystal Palace and set up an “athletics legacy” fund.

Not unnaturally, all the stake holders have been campaigning hard, arousing considerable media interest. To dismantle a stadium costing £547 million sounds madness. However, an article published in the Guardian suggests that doing this would benefit the athletics community in the long run: (

The spectre that inevitably haunts the Olympic authorities is that the London Olympic stadium will join a long list of “white elephant stadiums” (c.f. Montreal, Atlanta and South Africa) which have been used for a single event and then abandoned. It's not a good look for the Olympic and Paralympic Games movement.

An upsurge in interest in athletics after the Games may well require a huge facility, but is this a feasible proposition? Research is going on already into this aspect of the Olympics legacy and the debate is set to run and run. I invite you to read and click on the links below and engage with the controversy:


 Roult, R and Lefebvre S. Planning and Reconversion of Olympic Heritages: The Montreal Olympic Stadium’ in International Journal of the History of Sport Nov/Dec2010, Vol. 27 Issue 16-18, p2731 17p.

Lending collections shelfmark : 4542.282000

 Adler, D. Parisian Delight’ in Panstadia International Quarterly Report Apr 2004: Vol. 10 Issue 4. p. 44-46;48-49 5p.

Lending collections shelfmark: 6357.476500


 Tottenham hit back at critics over plans to move to Olympic Park:

 Mike Lee: Only Spurs can stop Olympic Stadium becoming a white elephant:

Tottenham bid for Olympic Stadium 'makes sense long term', say AEG:

West Ham and Tottenham's 2012 stadium plans criticised:

South Africa's World Cup venues are 'white elephants':

'White elephant' stadium will drain public cash years after Olympics:



14 January 2011

Changing controversies

Tuesday 11th January saw a really fascinating event held in the British Library. Hosted by the British Sociological Association’s Sociology of Sport and Leisure and Recreation study groups it attracted an audience of eager participants from across the HE sector and some starry names from the world of sport research. The conference was about the Olympic Games and the social science issues it raises and there were four sessions  which looked at mega events, the history of ‘Olympic’ designated festivals, modern European identity vis a vis the Games, the popularity of the Olympics, and the status of the athlete within the event itself. The latter, which took the form of a round table discussion featuring Professor Barrie Houlihan, and Drs Elizabeth Pike and Dominic Malcolm was particularly intriguing because it posed a number of questions about the role the elite athletes actually play as part of this most monumental of mega events. It was suggested that although the Olympics and Paralympics could not happen without the athletes, beside the bureaucratic juggernaut of the Games and the economic, political and logistical issues it brings with it, they seem almost marginalised, caught up in a net of rules and regulations which define their eligibility, their validity (as drug-free competitors) and their actions.

 Another interesting issue that was raised was that of drug testing and the minute arrangements which athletes have to submit to in order to ensure that they are drug-free. As biological techniques – the drugs themselves, genetic engineering and so on- become more and more sophisticated, we have to ask ourselves how far we are prepared to go to regulate elite athletes’ lives to ensure that they are ‘clean’. Complicated issues like these can become too problematic to be resolved, and it occurred to me, while listening to the debate, that thirty years ago we would have been discussing ‘amateurism’ and how to police it. In 1988 the IOC dropped the regulation that Olympians must be ‘amateurs’ because the situation had grown much too complicated, with the advent of government sponsorship of athletes. So will the drugs issue have to be dropped some day as being too difficult to police. Interesting!

07 January 2011

New year; new section


New  year; new section on the Sport & Society website. As blogged on the seventh of December, we now have a history section ( with an inaugural article on William Penny Brookes and the Much Wenlock games by Steph Doehler who completed her MA in Sport History & Culture at De Montfort University last year. Steph tells me that she did an enormous amount of research for this article (which is part of a much longer piece of work which she did for her MA dissertation). Her bibliography, which appears at the end of her article, shows how many primary sources she had to use, many of which were in the Much Wenlock archive held in the Mayor of Wenlock’s office. As she says, not surprisingly: “it took a lot of organisation to access the archives!”

 Popular and ubiquitous as sport is, accessing the research resources you need is not always straightforward. Sport and its institutions are fragmented, and there are numerous possible locations for sports resources like minutes of meetings, programmes, records, statistics and so on. Some organisations and individuals will have been assiduous in keeping things, or passing them on to other repositories; others not. So a sports historian often has major difficulties in identifying and then getting hold of the materials that he or she needs. Even in institutions like the BL there is many a slip betwixt cup and lip! In May 1941 a number of incendiary bombs fell on the South West Quadrant of the British Museum Library. The subsequent fire, and the water used to extinguish it, destroyed over 100,000 books in the library stack area affected. Among these were books with shelfmarks in the 7000 series, which included some of the Library’s earliest books on sport, most of which had been obtained through the legal deposit provisions. Many of the destroyed volumes have since been replaced by microfilms of copies from other libraries, but it just goes to show the frustrations that can await the unwary researcher.