Application Of Bourdieu’s Sociological Theory To Tennis: [Essay Example], 1565 words GradesFixer
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Application of Bourdieu’s Sociological Theory to Tennis

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Pierre Bourdieu was a French social theorist who was one of the first sociologists to take sport seriously as a sociological issue. His framework offers three concepts – the habitus, capital, and field concepts – that interrelate and explain how human agency interconnect with forms of structure and influence the choices that humans make. His framework allows sociologists to understand the relationship between sport and one’s personal dispositions, social settings, and resources in modern day sport. His theory has the ability to be applied to all sports and can distinctly be seen in tennis. It can be seen that the habitus and capital factors can influence one’s ability to access or continue accessing the field in both professional and junior tennis leagues. These factors can include but are not limited to gender, social standing, and socioeconomic status.

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In Bourdieu’s theory, the first concept that explains the relationship between sport and a person’s agency is the habitus concept, or also known as ‘personal dispositions’. This concept refers to “a subjective but not individual system of internalised structures, schemes of perception, conception, and action common to all members of the same group or class”. This can include one’s gender, social standing, and class, and these factors influence one’s ability to participate in sports. In relation to tennis, it can be seen that an individual’s gender may influence a person’s involvement (or lack of involvement) in the sport. Gender “refers to the socially and culturally specific meanings associated with biological sex and categories of “masculine” and “feminine” that define norms, roles, and behaviour”. On the tennis court, it can be seen that men ‘roar’ when a set is won and ‘punch the air’ in joy, which complies with the stereotypes of being a ‘masculine’ man. In stark contrast, females are to comply with their ‘soft’ and ‘gentle’ nature when winning on court. During their game, men are almost “encouraged” to show anger and drastic emotion “as it is related to the dominance and power dimensions, more relevant in the male stereotype”. A study done by Maria Grazia Monaci and Francesca Veronesi investigated the gender and gender role on anger while playing a match. It was found that women more often “suppressed expression of anger or …expressed it in a more socially acceptable way” and that if they were to show any sort of emotion at all it was often mistaken for “sadness”. A female’s personal dispositions impacts on their ability to properly display emotion based on their gender, and if they produce an inadequate emotional response on court, they are pressed by the media for ‘acting out’. This affects a female’s performance on court, as the study also found that “trying to control anger externally may worsen performance”. This acts as a barrier for women to fully perform on the court without acting outside their gender norms, and therefore hinders their participation in tennis in fear of being discredited based on their expression of anger and emotion on court. Men therefore have the upper hand in dominating the sport as their ability to express their emotions outwards does not break the norms in society, thus facilitating their performance. By encouraging men’s display of anger and emotion on court but suppressing a female’s ability to do so hinders the potential for a woman to take up tennis due to the stereotypes placed on them while playing the sport.

Continuing on with the habitus notion, the idea of the wage gap in tennis between men and women can hinder one’s desire to play or continue playing. Having the predisposition of being a female in society can lead to being paid less than a male for playing the same sport. In 2017/2018, the world’s top 5 highest paid players consisted of 4 men and 1 woman – that woman being Serena Williams. From these statistics, it was seen that the highest paid man (Roger Fedderer) was paid around 72.2 million US dollars in prize money and endorsements whereas Serena Willaims was paid around 18.06 million US dollars in prize money and endorsements. This is another example of gender influencing an individual’s ability to be interconnected with sport, especially tennis. Having this example up for younger girls may deter them from wanting to play a sport where the wage gap is drastic and as a result limit the number of females in the elite tennis league.

Carrying this idea even further, the fact that women play less sets than men in a tennis match can act as a barrier for playing to one’s full potential. The ongoing idea that women do not have the stamina and strength to play 5 full sets carries on the stereotype that males are superior by claiming that women are incapable. The thought of a woman being sweaty and built solidly enough to play 5 sets deters from their typical feminine, clean, and slender attributes that should be carried onto the court. Tying into the economic capital theory as discussed further on, playing only 3 sets allows for female players to be paid less than their male peers, further inhibiting the ability to fully participate at the same level as everyone else playing.

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The second concept in Bourdieu’s framework is the field notion. Again, this concept underlines an individual’s participation in sport, in this case tennis, through looking at distinct social settings. Bourdieu’s conception of distinct social settings is referred to as “the physical space where social activity takes place”. In this case, the field being where tennis competitions take place, and that there is a social group who is inferior and superior. An example of the habitus concept impacting the field concept is an individual’s schooling. In the typical pattern of playing any professional sport, a big factor that enhances a person’s ability to access a professional field of tennis is their education and more specifically, what school they may have come from. In a study conducted by Kristine Alger and Debra Schleef University of Mary Washington called “Competitive Junior Tennis and the Reproduction of Social Class”, it was found that “elite tennis players are more than three times as likely to attend private school” and that “eighty-two percent of the players went to schools in areas that had median household incomes above the median household income for the state”. Although these findings relate back to the habitus and capital notions, these factors allow for individuals who may go to private schools to have a higher standing in society due to their ability to pay for private education. Thus implying that those who come from a public school education are inferior to those who attend private schools when accessing the tennis court, or the field. As a result, an individual’s class influences one’s ability to be granted permission by society a place on the tennis court.

Perhaps the biggest influence on a person’s participation in any sport according to Bourdieu’s theory is the capital notion. This factor relates to a person’s resources and their ability to access these resources and it takes on a variety of forms such as economic, social, and cultural. Narrowing in on the capital notion, it can be seen that the economic capital is possibly the biggest influence on one’s participation in tennis. Relating back to an individual’s personal disposition, a person may struggle to actually step foot onto a tennis court as they may not be able to cope with the financial burden of renting out courts to practice on. According to Tennis World (AUS), the average cost of hiring out a tennis court can be around $20 for approximately 30 minutes. A person who comes from a lower class may not have the ability to pay for courts to play on, therefore limiting their ability to access the courts whereas a person from a higher class may have no problems paying this fee. This causes lower class individuals to be the inferior group in terms of accessing the field and allowing higher class people to be the superior group. President of the Black Tennis Club, Bob Davis, claims that to produce a “competitive junior tennis player” can cost anywhere from “$40,000, $50,000, $60,000, or even a $100,000 a year”. Before even getting on the courts, a potential tennis player needs the essentials – tennis racket, tennis shoes, and activewear before even starting to play. According to Tennis Gems, the average “starter pack” for tennis players can start from $200 US dollars upwards. Those who come from a low socioeconomic background may not be able to afford these resources in the first place or to keep up with replacing these resources. Before an individual can even begin to think about their future in tennis, they must consider the costs of being a tennis player. The increasing fees for lessons, facilities, and tools to play tennis may limit one’s ability to participate not only in tennis, but various sports.

In summary, it can be seen that Perrie Bourdieu’s theory of habitus, capital, and field can be seen to apply to many sports such as tennis and explain the association between tennis and social process. This as a result can increase or limit one’s desire or ability to participate in tennis. The idea that social disposition (gender) , social standing (education), and class (socioeconomic status) can influence one’s participation is highlighted by Bourieu’s framework for sociologists to gain a further understanding of human agency in relation to sport.

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