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date: 17 September 2021

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter provides an overview of how major social theories, both classical and contemporary, can help organize and enrich the historical study of sport. Classical frameworks discussed include the functionalism associated with Émile Durkheim, Max Weber’s rationalization, and the economic and capitalist critiques that originated with Karl Marx. More contemporary bodies of work include symbolic interactionism, dramaturgical and semiotic approaches, feminist and critical race theories, and the grand syntheses of Pierre Bourdieu. Throughout, it is argued that these theoretical resources reveal the socially constructed and historically contingent nature of modern sporting forms, establish the importance of situating sport in its broader social contexts, and highlight the role and significance of sport in contemporary life. The chapter concludes by suggesting that closer theoretical engagement not only improves the quality of sport history but can help bring the study of sport more to the center of all social research and cultural critique.

Keywords: social theory, sport theory, critical theories, functionalism, symbolic interactionism, social construction, dramaturgy

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