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TeesRep – Teesside’s
Research Repository
A ‘third way’ for football fandom research: Anthony Giddens
and Structuration Theory
Item type
Dixon, K. (Kevin)
Dixon, K. (2011) A ‘Third Way’ for football fandom
research: Anthony Giddens and Structuration Theory,
Soccer & Society, 12 (2), pp.279-298.
Taylor & Francis
Soccer & Society
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Subject to restrictions, author can archive post-print (ie
final draft post-refereeing). For full details see [Accessed
19-Mar-2019 13:40:08
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TeesRep – Teesside University’s Research Repository –
A ‘Third Way’ for football fandom research: Anthony Giddens and
Structuration Theory.
While football fans actively discuss all of the ‘big players’ within their practice, the same
can not be said for sociologists of sport. Anthony Giddens is a world renowned
intellectual and author of some of the most predominant sociological texts of the last
millennium1. He is the most frequently cited contemporary sociologist spanning all
aspects of the social sciences and yet his work is seldom referred to or used within the
sociology of sport2. In response to this and in reaction to calls from authors such as
Williams3 to re-think football fandom, this paper aims to explore the potential of Giddens
‘Structuration Theory’ (ST) for moving the sociology of sport closer towards meeting
this end. The paper draws on in-depth qualitative interviews with thirty football fans. The
findings of these and their implications are discussed in relation to the ‘everyday’
processes of fandom.
Much of the recent work dedicated to the sociology of football4 fandom operates at
extreme ends of a theoretical dichotomy where fans are situated as either the product
of macro level structures (e.g. homo sociologicus), or conversely, micro level, self
determining agents of post-modernity (e.g. homo oeconomicus). This paper aims to
move beyond such dichotomies to consider the potential of Giddens ‘Structuration
Theory’ (ST)5 for unpacking and exploring the relationship between individual
‘agency’ and wider ‘social structures’ as determinants of fan practice. Whilst Giddens
has been largely ignored in the sociology of sport6, I argue that his work (ST) is
particularly enlightening given recent calls for researchers to study the everyday lived
experience of football fandom7. As a theory that emphasises the routine and habitual
processes related to ‘practice’, ST is particularly relevant in this respect.
Concomitantly the aims of this paper are twofold: (1) To map out the current
conditions of the related literature, outlining the need for an ‘alternative theoretical
approach’; and (2) To provide support for the use of ST when interpreting the
everyday lived experience of football fandom.
Making the case for ‘Structuration Theory’ and football fandom
Over the last thirty years academics have grappled with the complex nature of football
fandom as it has developed and transformed in line with wider social changes8. This
period has witnessed an epochal shift from manufacturing to service based economies
and the unconstrained growth of consumer society, with the latter contributing
significantly to what has been termed ‘the endless quest for authenticity’ in relation to
academic interpretations of football fandom practice9. Moreover, academics have
begun to question previous research in an attempt to ‘rethink’ football fandom. John
Williams, for instance, is critical of much of the existing work in this field10. He
criticises the use of macro theories and simplistic dichotomies of fandom for
romanticising ‘the traditional’ and failing to position fans in the new social contexts
of late modernity11. Conversely when authors have attempted to do this by adopting
post-modern arguments12 they have been criticised for over-exaggerating the decline
of traditional ties, or in other words, over-exaggerating ‘meanings’ within
concomitant arguments. Williams13 suggests that there is a tendency for authors to
oversimplify fandom at either end of this continuum, based on new media-driven
consumption patterns, and whilst post-modern claims to practice may hold some
validity, they require rigorous empiricism to substantiate this position14. Further, he
argues that the continual search for explanations of rapid change often negate and
underestimate the importance of continuity, place, and community in English sport,
especially football15.
Gibbons and Dixon concur16. They suggest that the social and communal
elements of football fandom have not disappeared in the manner that some have
projected. In fact, rather than dissolving community, they argue that new lines of
fandom practice (e.g. new media communications) actually help to maintain this,
albeit by non traditional means17. Additionally, the authors note that academic studies
of football and ‘everyday life’ have per-se, remained secondary to studies featuring
exceptional cases including ‘hooligans’, ‘racists’ and ‘obsessive fans18. Unless such
palpable factors are addressed this is likely to have implications for the accurate study
of football fandom as a whole. In a broader sense the study of ‘everyday’ life is often
discussed in the context of popular culture, yet few scholars have applied this to sport,
and even fewer have applied it empirically to football. For instance, whilst authors
such as Bennett explore this topic from important cultural genres including music,
fashion and tourism, sport is omitted19. Theoretically speaking, Bennett is useful
within the current context as he traces the development of academic thought from
mass cultural theorists, to radical postmodernism and argues that a ‘third way’ is
needed in order to more fully explore the everyday lived experience.
Given that criticisms are cast on either side of the macro (structure) or micro
(agency) spectrum, it is proposed that the meso (middle ground) approach would
likely offer solutions to current theoretical problems identified by Williams. For
example, while macro considerations suggest that social structures compel agents to
engage in social manoeuvres; and micro paradigms tend to assume that individuality
is the root of all action; the meso level can provide a link between the two20. Giddens
work becomes valuable here, placing as it does emphasis on the duality of structure,
and more specifically the routine and habitual processes of everyday life. He suggests
that actions should not be explained simplistically at either end of the ‘structure’ ‘agency’ continuum, and therefore ‘practice’ should be understood as a recursive and
continuous process of interaction and knowledge generation that can be revealed
under empirical scrutiny. Such an approach is ideally suited to further understand
football fandom in the context everyday practice. After all, it is in everyday life that
football is primarily perpetuated, expressed and experienced21. Hence, the following
aims to explore the more mundane experiences of football fans, drawing on Giddens’
ST to explain how social structures determine everyday practice in the context of
football fandom. This is achieved through analysis of original data from a range of
interviews with football fans. Before this data is presented, key components of the
theory are outlined below.
Structuration Theory
Structuration theory contends that neither structure nor action/agency can exist
independently. They are intimately related and hence, neither one should be
championed at the expense of the other. Generally speaking, ST departs from the
objectivism of classic theories, and the subjectivism of the post modern:
Neither the subject (human agent) nor the object (‘society’ or social institutions) should
be regarded as having primacy. Each is constituted in and through recurrent practices.
The notion of human ‘action’ presupposes that of ‘institution’, and vice versa.
Explication of this relation thus comprises the core of an account of how it is the
structuration (production and reproduction across time and space) of social practices
takes place.22
Giddens uses the term ‘institution’ to refer to social practices that have a broad spatial
and temporal extension. In other words ‘practices’ exist across time and space
because they are followed and acknowledged by the majority of the members within a
society23. Consequently, for those reasons they retain a central place in Giddens
account of structuration and more specifically the everyday performance of practice
will determine the extent to which ‘structures’ are reproduced or altered.
‘Structure’ is best conceptualised or composed by the virtual existence of two
main elements; ‘rules’ and ‘resources’24. These exist virtually in the sense that they
can be reinforced or altered in the continuity of daily social life. With reference to
rules, Giddens suggests that the codified form (or written expressions) are not rules in
of themselves but can only take such credence once they are implicitly practiced. He
asserts that codified laws are often taken for granted as the most influential in the
structuring of social activity but this is not necessarily so. Moreover, it is anticipated
that trivial procedures followed in daily life have a more profound influence upon the
generality of social conduct25 and thus an exploration of everyday activities (e.g. such
as football fandom) could be crucial to our understanding of social life more
Furthermore, rules can take many forms. They can be intensive or shallow, tacit or
discursive, informal or formalised, weakly or strongly sanctioned and yet all the while
they contribute to the maintenance of social practices. In other words, they become
circumstances26. Thus, rules often share characteristics which see them reproduced
over time and space. In turn they become ‘the norm’ in public discourse and in the
daily routine of social actors. Concomitantly they are informal but understood as ‘core
knowledge’, commonly used and reaffirmed through interpersonal interaction27, yet
over time and with use, actors can potentially transform rules into new
combinations28. This is a particularly pertinent point for the sociology of football
fandom given that researchers continuously attempt to explain new trends and
authenticities as they emerge across time and space.
Whilst rules provide the formula to action they do not always provide the means to
act. In order to bring them to life ‘resources’ are used and concomitantly make up the
second component of structure. Giddens refers specifically to two types of resources:
‘allocative’ and ‘authorative’. The first refers to the use of raw materials and goods
which control patterns of interaction. Only once material goods are ‘put to work’
through human actions do they truly become known as resources29. Moreover, within
the realm of football fandom research it is interesting to note that Cornel Sandvoss
partially defines football fandom as a form of ‘consumption’, and yet little is known
about how material resources are put to use within the practice in a manner that
Giddens would describe
. Second, ‘authoritative resources’ refer to a capacity to
control and generate command over persons or actors31. In other words they are non
material resources (e.g. such as ‘position’ within a practice) which are used by actors
to apply their authority on others.
Giddens also introduces an unconscious element to the theory of structuration. He
explains that a fundamental feature of the human condition is the ontological need for
security and as such it is one of the driving forces behind action32. Furthermore he
argues that ontological security is maintained through the routinisation of social
interactions, the continuity of practices and the stability of ‘practical knowledge’.
Thus routines are critical for social actors at the most basic levels of existence and
therefore practices which allow for routinisation (e.g. such as football fandom) are
potentially important sites for instilling feelings of social belonging, stability and
Overall it is theorised that both rules and resources (structure) work
simultaneously to create the ‘social system’. Rules ultimately guide actors through an
interpretation of ‘core knowledge’ which provide the means for everyday
communication and action. Second, resources (allocative and authorative) feed into
this, but also generate power that enables some actors to control others. All of this,
when combined with normative rules (e.g. highlighting specific rights and duties)
make up what Giddens terms ‘practical consciousness’, that is, tacit modes of
knowing how to behave in the context of social life34. The ‘social system’ more
generally is a pattern of social relations which is evidently in flux and yet continuous
over time and space. The process is as Giddens notes, fundamentally recursive, where
‘structure is both the medium and the outcome of the practices it recursively
organises’35. Structuration therefore illuminates the dual processes in which rules and
resources are used to organise interaction across time and space and by virtue of this,
to reproduce or transform these rules and resources36.
The key contention of this discussion is that whilst sociologists of sport have
previously used an eclectic array of theoretical perspectives to explain the complex
modern condition of the contemporary sports fan, Giddens’ ST has been overlooked.
ST is valuable for the present discussion as it challenges dominant discourses of sport
fandom at either end of the macro/ micro scale. Like Bale, Hills too is surprised that
work on fan cultures has paid little attention to ST in the attempt to analyse fandom as
a late modern project37. Hence, by using structuration as a ‘theory of football fandom
practice’ it is possible to account for the complexities of post-modern living without
succumbing to its absolute relativism or relinquishing analytical ambition38. In the
following discussion I adopt this position and combine theory with rigorous
empiricism in order to explore the lived experience of football fans.
Recruitment Strategy
A purposive sample of participants was selected for this study from a pool of football
fans (geographically situated in the North East of England) that responded to a media
call for volunteers in 2008. Participants were selected to increase the likelihood that
the findings converged on an ‘accurate’ representation of the phenomena under
study39. This was addressed by using data triangulation, e.g. taking into account
narratives from fans of a range of teams (i.e. from the English Premier League and
lower Divisions) and furthermore, selected participants were both season ticket and
non season ticket holders.
The decision to select an eclectic sample was based on the following
considerations: (a) Malcolm, Jones and Waddington draw attention to the fact that
easily identifiable sample groups i.e. ‘season ticket holders’ are almost by definition
distinctly unrepresentative of fans as a whole40. Thus, it seemed appropriate that a
greater range of fans should be selected for inclusion in the current sample and this
was particularly salient given the aim of this paper, to disclose ‘typical’ or ‘everyday’
fandom behaviour from a wide range of experiences; (b) Drawing further on the
arguments of Gibbons and Dixon and Crawford (cited earlier in this paper), one ought
not to privilege any set of fandom experiences (e.g. those of ‘season ticket holders’)
over others (e.g. those that follow football via the media), and additionally those
experiences ought not to be analysed separately, grounded with naive assumptions of
difference. After all, as the aforementioned authors have asserted, such activities are
not mutually exclusive and thus, idealistic categorisations of football fandom
typologies do not exist for the late modern fan in the manner that some have
prophesised41; (c) Selecting fans of multiple teams (e.g. at different levels within the
English game) was deemed an important strategy to ensure that the experiences of
fans of top flight (e.g. successful teams) were not privileged over others. This has
been a common characteristic within recent academic research where authors such as
King and (additionally), Sandvoss have studied fans of a handful of ‘super clubs’ and
consequently they have ignored the more common examples that I argue, most typify
everyday fandom42; (d) The inclusion of transcripts from an eclectic sample is
warranted in order to ascertain the potential usefulness, flexibility and power afforded
by ST. Thus, a purposive if not homogenous sample was chosen.
The data for this study consists of verbatim transcriptions of in-depth qualitative
interviews with 30 football fans (15 male and 15 female [mean age = 36, SD = 11.80,
range = 20-55]). Of those interviewed, 16 were current season ticket holders. The
remaining 14 participants were not current holders of season tickets although they did
watch, or listen to live football multiple times per week via the media. Therefore, for
the purposes of transparency within the transcript extracts, they were identified as (1)
Season Ticket Holders (STH); (2) Media Fans (MF) to reflect their primary mode of
‘live’ football consumption at the time of the interview.
Additionally, 20 participants were fans of one of the following English
Premier League Clubs: Newcastle United FC; Middleborough FC; Sunderland AFC;
Liverpool FC and West Ham United FC. It is worth pointing out that (without
reference to Liverpool FC) those clubs represented here are not ‘highly successful’
Premier League Clubs. In fact in the season 2008-09 (e.g. the same season as data
collection), both Newcastle United and Middlesbrough were relegated to ‘The
Championship’. Of the remaining participants, 10 were supporters of one of the
following teams: Hartlepool United FC; Darlington FC
Table 1: Key characteristics of the sample
Key Characteristics Frequency
of the Sample
League 20
Season Ticket
Holders (STH)
Media Fans (MF)
Lower Division Fans
Data Collection Technique:
Qualitative interviews were chosen for three main reasons. First, this approach is well
suited to elicit a deeper understanding of the phenomena under discussion43. Second,
interviewees are awarded space to present issues that they regard as important within
their fandom experiences, and concomitantly qualitative methods allow for an in
depth exploration of interviewee responses. Finally, and in accordance with the aims
of this study, in depth interview transcripts were used to support or refute the
relevance of ST to the study of football fandom practice.
Congruent with the recommendations of Hoffmann, open-ended interviews
were loosely structured in order to investigate the everyday ‘lived’ experience of the
participants in their own terms and understandings44. A number of broad issues were
used (e.g. in the form of an interview schedule) to offer a sense of continuity within
and between interviews, but rather than serving as an oral survey, these initial probes
were augmented throughout the interviews with follow up questions based on each
interviewees particular responses. By permitting the informant to expand on any
question …
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