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  • Beyond Diffusion:Sport and Its Remaking in Cross-Cultural Contexts
  • Maarten van Bottenburg†

In 1983, sports historian Allen Guttmann wrote that the ideal history of European sport had not yet been written and probably never would be. What he could use instead at that time was "a handful of broadly conceived books, mostly collective efforts which tend to be long on data and short on interpretation, and a medley of monographs, some of which are quite admirable."1 Twenty-six years later, this situation has changed significantly. Today, there is a substantial and ever-growing literature on the history of sport in Europe, which is by and large empirically robust and theoretically informed, with a large number of national historiographies and many articles, books and volumes on various themes such as national identity, gender, social class and so on.2

Nevertheless, a comprehensive, synthetic volume on the history of European sport is still lacking. Books like European Cultures in Sport (2003) are collections of case studies in which the history of sport in different European nations is described separately, without comparative analyses.3 Other studies do compare European historical case studies around such themes as international politics, nationalism, and militarism, or try to integrate an analysis of European sports histories into a study of the wider cultural history and diffusion of sports.4 Yet, there has been no attempt to draw these studies together, critically examine the strands of this work, and counterbalance its "large nation-bias."5 Furthermore, European sports history has flourished most in the larger and more influential [End Page 41] countries, above all Germany and Britain. As a consequence, the sports history of many peoples in smaller and less influential regions of Europe is un- or understudied, partly for linguistic reasons.6

There are additional challenges. Apart from getting access to linguistically diffuse research material and balancing this material evenly across all European countries, regions or zones, there is the challenge of making a cross-cultural and cross-national analysis of the emergence and diffusion of modern sports, together with the development of national, regional, or zonal sports cultures throughout Europe, in the context of wider societal changes in a globalizing world. A short overview of the paradigm shifts that have occurred in globalization theory helps to comprehend the complexities of this challenge.

Until the 1970s, the modernization approach was the dominant paradigm in development studies. Modernization theorists tried to analyze and explain the transition of traditional societies into modern ones—mainly from the internal dynamics of a country—that resulted from separate constituent political, economic, and cultural processes, like industrialization, occupational specialization, bureaucratization, and secularization.7 In the 1970s, this approach was heavily criticized because of the limited attention paid to interdependencies and power relations between nations (exploitation, underdevelopment) and the often implicit assumption that modernization is a linear process following the Western model. New paradigms of societal development came to the fore, in particular the dependency theory and world system theory, both of which tried to analyze and explain social change by focusing on the power hierarchy in the world-system of dominating and dependent countries, or—in terms of sociologist Immanuel Wallerstein—core, semi-periphery, and periphery nations.8 In line with these theories, the "cultural imperialism thesis" became popular in the 1980s, and with it notions like Westernization and Americanization.9 Its central proposition was that certain dominant cultures threaten to overwhelm other more vulnerable ones, leading to cultural homogenization.10 In the early 1990s, these notions instigated an extensive debate among sport sociologists and sport historians about the dominant trend of sports diffusion and the usefulness of concepts like Americanization, Westernization, cultural imperialism, and globalization in their fields.11 This debate, however, was left behind in parallel with another paradigm shift in globalization theory.

Already by the end of the 1980s world system theory and the accompanying cultural imperialist thesis had been criticized for the same fallacy as they had blamed modernization theory for: the unidirectional character of economic, social, political, and cultural development—"from the West to the 'rest.'"12 In contrast to this interpretation, later generations of globalization theorists have strongly emphasized the active role of people at the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2155-8455
Print ISSN
0094-1700
Pages
pp. 41-53
Launched on MUSE
2010-07-09
Open Access
No
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