The relationship between English national habitus and football fandom

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

Abstract

Since the 1996 European Football Championships (Euro 96) academics, journalists
and politicians have regarded the increasing use of the St George
’s Cross by football
fans as evidence of a rise in a specifically ‘English’ identity. Yet, there is little empirical evidence to substantiate this assertion, meaning it has been constructed as a myth. Drawing most significantly upon the ‘figurational’ or ‘process-sociological’ approach advocated by the twentieth-century theorist Norbert Elias, who argued for the sociologist to be a “destroyer of myths” (Elias, 1978: 50), the aim of this thesis was to explore the precise nature of the relationship between English national habitus and football fandom and to challenge the emergence of this alleged ‘English identity’.
Considering the present-centred nature of much previous research on the ways
in which the English national press have represented Englishness via football and the lack of empirical research assessing the actions and opinions of English fans themselves, the thesis involved the following three interrelated research studies: an examination of historical representations of Englishness within English national press coverage of the English national team between 1950 and 2006; analysis of observations of fans’ displays of national identity in public houses during World Cup 2006; and, a fourteen-month participant observation study of an online fan community.
Findings are explained using Elias’s (1991; 2000) notions of ‘Changes in the
We-I Balance’ and ‘Diminishing Contrasts, Increasing Varieties’ and the research demonstrates the effectiveness of Eliasian sociology more broadly. It is concluded that the relationship between English national habitus and football fandom is more multi-faceted than previous research has contended. The assertion that the rise in the appearance of the St George’s Cross amongst English football fans somehow signals the emergence of a specifically ‘English’ national identity is not supported by the research findings. ‘English’; ‘British’; ‘local’; and ‘club-based’ identifications were all observable from the studies conducted. Future research is required in order to provide comparative empirical evidence on the relationship between English national habitus and fandom in alternative figurations of football fans and those formed by
fans in relation to other sports. Combining the Eliasian theoretical framework used here with that of other theorists would benefit future studies on this topic.
Date of Award31 Dec 2012
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Teesside University
SupervisorJim Golby (Supervisor), Mike McGuinness (Supervisor), Dave Morland (Supervisor) & Martin Johnes (Supervisor)

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