Leeds School of Social Sciences

Sports fans and fan culture

Professor Karl Spracklen discusses his new research project 'Sports fans and fan culture: A critical reflection on fandom as communicative leisure in a commodified world', International Journal of the Sociology of Leisure.

Fans cheering in stadium

This research project reflects on my longstanding interest in the construction of identity and community in fandom. My PhD in the nineties was an exploration of rugby league and rugby union in a city in the north of England. I wanted to see how rugby players and fans used the games to make sense of their gender, their class, their northernness and their ethnicity. 

The PhD came from my own passion for rugby league as a fan and my lifelong relationship with rugby league. When I travelled down south to undertake an undergraduate degree I noticed that rugby league and northern culture generally was misunderstood at best, or mocked at worst. I became interested in how rugby union fans and players constructed their social identity in the north, and how union and league fans defined their own histories and communities in opposition to one another.

In my PhD I argued that each sport constructed its own imagined community, its sense of being representative of a particular space, legitimised through what Hobsbawm calls, ‘invented traditions’. I also claimed that sport was also capable of constructing something I called imaginary community, a community defined by symbolic boundaries of belonging that are not bound to real places and real histories.

In this research reflection, I return to my PhD and other research I have done on music fandom and science-fiction fandom. I then use the work of Habermas to refresh my theoretical framework from my PhD to take into account how society has changed since then. We now live in a networked, global society of liquid modernity and liquid work and leisure. In this commodified world, fandom is one of the few places where we can have freedom to choose our identity, our community, who belongs, and who does not belong.

Read the full article here: Sports Fans and Fan Culture: A Critical Reflection on Fandom as Communicative Leisure in a Commodified World

Professor Karl Spracklen

Director of Research / Leeds School Of Social Sciences

Karl Spracklen is a Professor of Sociology of Leisure and Culture based in the Leeds School of Social Sciences, and the Director of Research for Social Policy. He was previously a Professor of Leisure Studies here at Leeds Beckett University.

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