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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The geography of sport as a cultural process : a case study of lacrosse Badenhorst, Cécile Marie


Over the past two decades, the geography of sport has become a rapidly expanding body of literature. Although a potentially dynamic field of research, there are at present several theoretical weaknesses. First, enquiry has focused on diffusion patterns to the exclusion of the processes that create these patterns. Second, sports scholars in the discipline tend to participate in an isolated discourse with few connections to the broader scope of geography or with the expansive non-geographical sports literature. One key focus of debate outside the discipline centres on the role of the city in the modernisation of sporting activities. 'Modernisation' theory is valuable for establishing the intricate links between sport, as a process, and the social fabric. Despite this advantage, critics have argued that these links are analytically weak and the relationship between cities and sport should be more broadly theorised. In an attempt to provide a broader theoretical basis for analyzing sport as a cultural process, as well as a means of overcoming the failings of modernisation theory, Raymond Williams' 'cultural materialism' is examined. Williams Identifies three cultural elements in society, which constantly interact through the process of hegemonic control: the dominant, residual and emergent cultures. The case-study of lacrosse, examined through the lens of 'cultural materialism', illustrates the interaction between these three elements of culture. Among the residual North American Native cultures, lacrosse was one of the most widespread of outdoor games. Shrouded in religious symbolism and ritual, lacrosse was closely tied to economic provision and group protection. Escalating contact with European culture and the Imposition of foreign values and ideas resulted in the modification and eventual transformation of lacrosse. Increasingly, the ritual assumed a purely recreational function. During the early nineteenth century, Europeans began organising lacrosse as a 'modern' sport. The early clubs remained socially- exclusive and membership was strictly reserved for the social elite. Submerged in a legacy of British values, this dominant cultural element also left an Impression on the sport. As the dominant British cultural Influence waned, an emerging Canadian culture became a decisive factor in the history of lacrosse. Further modifications to the game were made as spectators and gate-receipts became increasingly important. Changing values and attitudes led lacrosse on a path towards professionalism. Despite the widespread acceptance of 'play for gain', the dominant amateur ideal prevailed. Lacrosse remained nationally amateur and suffered a serious decline after the first few decades of the twentieth century. The Interplay between the dominant British, the residual Native and emerging Canadian cultures, presents a view of the struggle for hegemony over control of a cultural process. This study's primary conclusion is that Williams' theory of 'cultural materialism' is a powerful interpretive framework for the geography of sport. It overcomes the theoretical weaknesses of geographical sports research as well as addressing the problems of the modernisation theory. In addition, 'cultural materialism' provides an invaluable interpretation of the concept of hegemony. Williams' theory places sport firmly in the context of particular social, economic and cultural heritages. It leads geographers away from a narrow concern with pattern to a fuller exploration of process.

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