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Keynote-Lecture and Seminar, Prof. Dr. Andrei Markovits

Sports Cultures in Historical and Comparative Perspective on Both Sides of the Atlantic: A Special Emphasis on Gender"

Course Description:

Few things have characterized mass culture in the 20th century more consistently and thoroughly than sports. Particularly in their team variety, there is not one industrial country in the world that does not possess at least one major team sport which has attained hegemonic dimensions in that country’s culture in the course of the previous century. Why has this been the case? And how did this happen? Moreover, why did the United States deviate from much of the rest of the industrial world not in terms of the presence of such sports, but in their number and kind? In this course, we will look at the phenomenon ubiquitous to all advanced industrial societies where disorganized contests, competitions and games mutated into what we have come to know as modern team sports. More precisely, we will look at how these disorganized games become bureaucratized, ordered, codified, rule-bound by the elites and upper middle class segments of industrial societies between 1860 and 1900. Once, however, they became embraced by the male, industrial working class, they entered the realm of professionalism, of vocation, of commodification. The industrial working class became the subject that led these amateur games towards professional sports and thus to an integral part of modern mass culture.

We will then investigate how parallel and congruous the development in the United States was with this trajectory, yet how the content emerged so differently. We will dwell briefly on what makes the United States similar and what renders it different vis-a-vis other advanced industrial democracies. The last section will look at the changing nature of sport as culture in the United States and the world at the threshold of a new millenium. It will analyze whether these new developments might be emerging as challenges to the established order or whether they will coexist alongside the traditional structures thereby creating a much more heterogeneous and plural sport culture than had hitherto been the case in most industrial democracies. In particular, we will look at potential shifts in the conventionally gendered world of hegemonic sports culture in which hitherto men dominated almost exclusively. Women have made absolutely phenomenal strides on the participation side of sports, particularly in the United States and here in the world of college athletics. But are women men’s equals both on the playing field as well as in the area of fandom? If there are differences, what are they? Will they remain with us?


Required reading:

  • Andrei S. Markovits and Lars Rensmann, Gaming the World: How Sports are Reshaping Global Politics and Culture (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010).
  • Andrei S. Markovits and Steven L. Hellerman Offside: Soccer and American Exceptionalism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001).