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Global Sport: Identities, Societies, Civilizations

Joseph Maguire
Polity Press: Cambridge
1999
0745615325 (pb); 0745615317 (hb)
13.99 (pb); 45.00 (hb)
224

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Over the past decade or so, globalisation has emerged as one of the key conceptual and theoretical points of discussion in the social sciences. Sport appears to offer fertile ground to study the complexities and contradictions of global processes. Mega-events like the Olympic Games and the men's football World Cup graphically illustrate both the globalizing proclivities of sport and its importance in providing succour to a range of ethnic particularisms. It is rather curious therefore, that social theorists have yet to apply globalisation theories to sport in a serious and sustained manner. Equally, this lacunae is mirrored in the sub-discipline of the sociology of sport where a serious and sustained engagement with globalisation is still in the developing stages.

In this context, Maguire's analysis of global sport is to be welcomed. Global Sport is the first serious scholarly monograph that attempts to understand the changing nature of sport in relation to globalisation. Its treatment of sport in relation to the debates about global processes (unidimensional versus multidimensional accounts), global dynamics (monocausal versus multicausal), and global cultures (homogenization versus heterogenization), make it required reading across the range of social sciences. The analysis, though based explicitly and faithfully on the figurational or process sociology of Norbert Elias and Eric Dunning, is buttressed by the use of Roland Robertson's and Mike Featherstone's work on globalisation. So, for example, Maguire grafts an analysis of the growth and diffusion of modern sport onto Robertson's five-phase model of globalisation. Maguire sets himself the task of answering the following questions. How has the present global sport formation emerged out of the past? What are the main structuring processes involved? What functions, meanings and significance have the global sports system in peoples' lives across the world? And what possible tendencies can be detected in shaping the future of sport?

Maguire argues that the present global sport formation is bound up historically and contemporaneously in inter-civilizational exchanges between the West (where dominant forms of modern sport originated) and non-Western societies. In particular, he draws on and develops the figurational concepts of 'diminishing contrasts and increasing varieties', 'commingling' and 'established-outsider relations', to emphasise the relatively unplanned, multifaceted, multidirectional nature of globalisation and the complex power balances that characterise the global sport process. These theoretical issues are discussed in the first part of the book. The second part of the book offers a series of 'critical' case studies on: labour migration in basketball and ice-hockey; the global sports industry; the media-sport production complex; and national identity, to illustrate how the multilayered global flow of sports, capital, personnel, technologies/landscapes and ideologies works to connect people to the global sport formation.

Undoubtedly, the main strength of the book lies in this series of empirically grounded, theoretically informed 'critical' case-studies. They bear the hallmarks of good sociological method, and do much to advance our understanding of the sport-globalisation nexus. Less convincing is Maguire's attempt to argue that this validates both the distinctiveness and superiority of a figurational approach.

Maguire's claim to theoretical distinctiveness depends heavily on received figurational wisdom about the susceptibility of non-figurational theoretical competitors to dichotomous thinking. So advocates of a cultural studies perspective such as Pieterse, who identify global melange resulting from a process of creolization and hybridization as characteristic of global cultural condition, are deemed guilty of over-playing free agency and of over-emphasising heterogeneity. While scholars operating within a political economy perspective, who examine the dynamics of power imbalances by drawing on concepts such as Americanization and the role of global capitalism, though treated sympathetically by Maguire, are apparently prone by virtue of their Marxist heritage to a latent determinism which is expressed in an over-emphasis on homogenization. However, for claims of this nature to be sustainable, Maguire needs to engage with neo-Marxist critical theory (he doesn't), and to be specific about what is problematic in the studies produced by the various proponents of political economy (he isn't). In fact, many readers can be forgiven for thinking that his case-studies validate a political economy perspective more than a figurational account. In effect we are left with a tautological criticism that non-figurational theories are deficient to the extent that they are not figurational. The promotional blurb on the back-cover of the book makes the ambitious claim that Maguire has produced a 'path-breaking account'. In recognition of Global Sport as the first scholarly monograph in this field, I prefer Eric Dunning's subtly different but more sober assessment - a 'path-breaking text', which will form a valuable element of any further accounts.

Ian McDonald
University of Brighton

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