Skip to main content

The Cultural Political Economy of Sport (PO392)


Topics covered

The following is an indicative list of topics for this module; precise seminar content may change from year to year.

  • The ‘cultural turn’ in the political economy of sport
  • The cultural meaning and value of sport
  • A political history of sport
  • Sport and political sociology
  • The changing economics of sport
  • Sport as ‘commodified culture’
  • Race and racism in sport
  • Sport and ‘hegemonic masculinity’
  • Femininity and performativity
  • Queering sport
  • Sport, nationalism and identity
  • The cultural politics of fan movements
  • Sport and globalisation
  • Sports governance
  • ‘Mega-events’
  • Sport and the changing global economy
  • The role of sport in development, conflict-resolution and security
Timing and CATS

This module is a Full Year module and is worth 30 CATS.

po392a.jpg Given that sport plays such an important part in society, it is surprising that as scholars of politics, we don’t talk more about it. Indeed for many, sport is something we ‘do’ rather than theorise. Yet sport is a prism through which many of the key concerns that animate our politics – wealth, inequality, capital, class, gender, relations between the global North and South, and so forth – can be critically explored in new ways and across a variety of settings.

With this in mind, this module aims to offer a critical analysis of the political, economic and cultural processes that underpin sport. This brand new module is unique in that it does not treat the politics or the economics of sport as separate entities but offers a critical analysis of their interplay, and crucially, what this political economy of sport means in cultural terms. Sport cannot be divorced from its cultural meaning. Sport is more than a business, and extends far beyond the political realm in which it is governed.

Although located firmly within the discipline of political economy, we will be drawing upon a range of cross-disciplinary approaches, including but also going beyond the study of politics and international studies. You will be encouraged to go outside your own ‘disciplinary comfort-zone’, and critically examine the different ways in which the political, economic and cultural processes of sport are mediated and experienced by different social groups. You will be encouraged to reflect upon the sport(s) of your choice, and explore the issues and processes of these using these different approaches.

Programme content

The module unfolds in three substantive parts. The first, Theoretical and Methodological Perspectives of Sport, is designed to provide you with the tools necessary to inform our analysis of sport. Here we examine the cultural meaning and value of sport; asking why sport plays such an important role in our society and how this is experienced across different contexts. We then consider how historical processes have shaped the cultural politics and economics of sport in the modern era, and the political value of sport, particularly within the realm of international relations.

In order to restate the social and cultural significance of sport against this political backdrop, insights from from several key thinkers are brought into play to knit together a political sociology of sport. With this framework in place, the new economics of sport is examined, and what this means for sport as a cultural experience. The imperatives of commercialisation, commodification and consumption that now underpin sport in an era of late capitalism will be critically assessed, and we shall consider the effects that these have had upon different social groups across a range of spatial contexts.

The second part of the module, Sporting Identities, examines the cultural and identity politics of different social groups, and the ways in which sport has mediated the experiences of athletes and spectators alike. We shall consider issues relating to race and racism, masculinity and femininity, and sexuality. Taking as our point of departure the feminist claim that ‘the personal is political’, our discussions here will address the relationship between the corporeal and social construction of racialised and gendered identities in a broader sporting setting. We shall then explore a further set of socially constructed identities when we discuss the enduring yet complex appeal of nationalism in world sport, and the cultural politics of fan movements.

The final part of the module, Global Games, explores the different ways in which sport is played out in an era of globalisation. Here we shall take as our point of departure broader readings of globalisation that we, as scholars of politics and international studies, will already be familiar with. Relocating these accounts of globalisation within our critical analysis of sport, we shall consider the different dimensions of sport as it is administered, played, and experienced across different and changing global contexts.

Module Director:
Dr David Webber