Av: Stian Røsten, Anne Tjønndal, Sigbjørn Børreson Skirbekk, Frida Austmo Wågan og Egil Trasti Rogstad
Mostly successful collection how social media and digital communication technologies impact sports in various ways
Despite a recognition of the increasing role of new technology in sports (Lippi et al, 2008), and other research fields such as sports management and marketing embracing the topic to a large extent, there have been few studies on the intersection of sport and social and digital media from a sociological perspective. Dr. Jimmy Sanderson (Texas Tech University) aims to fill some of this gap in the literature with his edited collection Sport, Social Media and Digital Technology. In the twelve chapters of the book, topics such as gender, sexuality, racism, identity, politics, mental health, and surveillance are addressed in relation to the increasing use of media and digital technology in sporting practices globally.
In the first chapter, Dunja Antunovic scopes the literature concerning social media, digital technology, and sports media. Antunovic illustrates how sports media reproduces male domination and masculine hegemony, even if women athletes and gender minorities are making their way into the media sphere. The chapter concludes by stating the need for more research on the field and encourages “more robust theoretical engagement and methodological approaches” in future research (p. 2). Chapter two, by Kim Toffoletti, Nida Ahmad, and Holly Thorpe discusses how sociological perspectives may bring new and valuable insights to the understanding of women’s sport and physical culture. More specifically, they elaborate on how sportswomen have used digital media in feminist activism, and the possible pitfalls with media engagement, such as issues related to body image and abuse. In addition, they bring up an important discussion about research ethics when researching digital media. Following this, Jamie Cleland and Connor MacDonald discuss the representation of masculinity and male athletes in sports and sports media in chapter three. Like Toffoletti, Ahmad and Thorpe, Cleland and MacDonald acknowledge the masculine hegemony’s role in athletes’ construction of identities, the values undermining traditional sporting practice, and in the sport-media landscape. Despite this, they show how social media can be a site to resist the dominant forms of masculinity and open up various debates on masculinity in sport.
Chapter four, by Daniel Kilvington, Jonathan Cable, Sophie Cowell, Glyn Mottershead, and Chris Webster examines online fan responses to the introduction of the Rooney rule in English professional football, while Kerry McGannon, Sydney Graper, and Jenny McMahon (chapter five) investigate how motherhood is expressed by elite athlete mothers on Instagram. The two next chapters focus on how social media and digital technology are used to express representations of two constructs related to sports and sports media, namely nationalism (chapter six by Andrew Billings and Johnathan Anderson), and sexuality (chapter seven by Keith Parry and Rory Magrath). In chapter eight, Katie and Sarah Brown further discuss the influence of social media and other digital technologies on political issues both inside and outside sports, emphasizing how elite athletes are in a unique position to engage fans and other stakeholders concerning political and social issues through their social media channels.
“The chapter is based on an original idea, in regard to both what is researched and the method being used. Interesting statistics on race and employment in different sports positions are also presented”.
Drawing on the work of Foucault, in chapter nine Luke Jones, Tim Konoval, and John Toner provide a critical analysis of the emerging trend with the increased use of wearable surveillance technologies for performance optimization in sport. Next, Emma Kavanagh, Chelsea Litchfield, and Jaquelyn Osborne address issues related to athlete abuse and online hate towards athletes on social media platforms in chapter ten. Chapter eleven on quantification in sport by Andrew Baerg stands out from the majority of the chapters in the book focusing on qualitative aspects of the interaction between sports, media, and digital technology, by exploring how new digital technologies can inform quantitative analyses of sports. The last chapter, by Michelle Hayes, debates the impact of social media on athletes’ mental health and well-being, where a special focus is on the role of intersectionality when trying to reduce stigma and online abuse against certain minority groups in sports.
The strong points of the book
In this collection of contributions, some stood out as particularly interesting and well-written. It covers a lot of literature on digital communication technologies and social media in sports as many of the chapters are based on various literature review methods. Chapter four by Kilvington, Cable, Cowell, Mottershead, and Webster, titled “Investigating online fan responses to the Rooney Rule in English Football”, is one of these. The chapter investigates how football fans expressed their reactions on Twitter to the Rooney Rule, which is aimed at increasing diversity in coaching by making clubs ‘commit to interviewing minority candidates for every head coach opening’ (p. 71). Though there are methodological weaknesses (e.g., lack of examples of tweets removed in the process) it is refreshing to read an empirical chapter at this stage of the book. Additionally, it is a very timely chapter since it connects well with current mass media debates and an under-examined research field. The chapter is based on an original idea, in regard to both what is researched and the method being used. Interesting statistics on race and employment in different sports positions are also presented. All in all this chapter is a fruitful one to read, also for people not interested in the topic, due to the interesting methodological approach.
Another strong contribution in the book which we wish to highlight is chapter nine, “Sport and surveillance technologies” by Jones, Konoval, and Toner. This chapter discusses existing literature on surveillance technologies in sports, and the way normalized appropriation happens. Jones and colleagues argue very well for why there is a need to use a sociological lens on this topic. The use of Foucault is a good theoretical fit (p. 168–169), still, the discussion could have used Foucault more actively to analyse surveillance in sports. Further, the authors argue for the need to challenge “technology optimism” using a sociological lens, which is presented in a good way. The chapter sometimes seems a bit overstructured in regard to subheadings. Additionally, dividing individual and team sports seems a bit unnecessary. However, this chapter provides interesting insights into the way digital technologies are increasingly used, thus increasing the surveillance of athletes and the process of how this appears normal. The examples used by Jones and colleagues are especially fruitful to highlight these points. For those interested in this evolving field of sports and technology, this chapter is a good read.
The last chapter we want to highlight is chapter eleven: “Quantification, Big Data, and Biometrics in Sport” written by Andrew Baerg. Thematically this chapter stands out as it is concerned with the increasing quantification of sports, and how quantification in sports is understood (p. 205). However, the emphasis on the role of sociological approaches that are needed to advance the field, along with the clear critical sociological perspective presented in the chapter, is the chapter’s most important contribution. Baerg successfully shows the role of sociology in uncovering power structures and investigating who benefits (and who does not) when sports are increasingly quantified. Among other things, perspectives regarding the digital divide, data, quantification, surveillance, and algorithms are presented. Additionally, future research areas encouraged by Baerg (e.g., algorithms’ impact on our understanding of what is “normal”) seems fruitful. This is both a strong, and important, contribution to the sociology of sport and technology in sports.
The weak points of the book
While there are several noteworthy contributions in this book, we have some critical points to raise from our collective reading of the anthology. This volume certainly introduces readers to a number of interesting and relevant topics on how social media are influencing sports, including masculinity, sexuality, nationalism, politics, athlete abuse, and mental health. However, less attention is given to the role and impact of digital technology in sports as specified in the title. The exceptions are the chapter on surveillance technologies and the chapter on quantification, big data, and biometrics. Thus, the title may “promise” more than the readers “gets” in terms of topics, and the volume is probably more of a valuable resource for scholars interested in social media and digital communication technologies in sports.
“The connections between the chapters could have been elaborated on, discussed, and connected by the editor, in a final concluding chapter. Instead, the volume has an abrupt ending without any attempt to collect the “puzzle pieces” and summarize the contributions in a meta-analysis”.
Over the past decades, social media and digital technology have arguably become significant in sports and this volume aims to provide a resource for examining this through a sociological lens. Although a range of analytical frameworks that are central to the sociology (of sports) are introduced (e.g., Michael Foucault, Erving Goffman, Deborah Lupton, feminist theories, critical (race/queer) theory, political economy approaches), it is unfortunate that the commitment to more theoretically engaged analysis represents something of a lost opportunity. With some exceptions, the presentation of these sociological approaches scratches the surface more than it delves in-depth into why “a sociological lens is crucial to furthering our understanding in this area” (p. 2).
Some similarities between the contributions are perhaps inevitable in a volume of this size. However, many of the chapters are connected very closely with several repetitions in arguments, such as the chapters on masculinity (Cleland and MacDonald) and sexuality (Parry and Magrath). Overall, this results in a product of a homogeneous collection of twelve essays. The connections between the chapters could have been elaborated on, discussed, and connected by the editor, in a final concluding chapter. Instead, the volume has an abrupt ending without any attempt to collect the “puzzle pieces” and summarize the contributions in a meta-analysis.
Finally, while it is stated that “a global consortium of scholars” (p. 2) have contributed, this is to a lesser extent expressed in the volume. In terms of geographical reach, the focus is almost exclusively on the English-speaking world (i.e., U.S., UK, AU). More diversity in the contexts analyzed and discussed could have strengthened the transferability and usability. In addition, ten of the chapters pursue a similar design and methodology. Explanations such as “This chapter examines and discusses a myriad of literature” (p. 49) or “The chapter synthesizes existing literature focusing on…” (p. 223) are repeated without further discussing how this literature was collected or constructed in more detail. While the presentation of those approaches is perhaps due to space constraints, the authors could have elaborated on which literature they have chosen to adopt and/or omissions that serve to draw further attention. Nevertheless, for those who want to move on in this field, it provides many relevant and useful references.
We are happy we have read this book together. By reading it, we learned a lot about how social media and digital communication technologies impact sports in various ways. Editor Sanderson deserves recognition and applause for his efforts to expand a novel and highly relevant research field. The choice of focusing on the role of sociology in relation to these issues is also something we enjoyed.
Our assessment is that this book is most relevant for scholars and students interested in digital communication technologies, social media, and sport. The exceptions are the two chapters we have highlighted in this review. There is still a need for a deeper analytical connection with sociological theory on the topic of Sport, Social Media and Digital Technology, and we hope that editor Sanderson will continue his work in furthering this area of research.