Positive Futures for Serbian Sport

Kovac, Maja (2015) Positive Futures for Serbian Sport. Doctoral thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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This thesis is oriented towards the investigation of the opportunities for ‘positive futures’ in and through sport in Serbia. It critically explores the social significance of established and emerging sports—football (grassroots programme) and rugby league—in the challenging social context of Serbian society via the theoretical prism of social capital.
Contemporary debate on sport’s social role, underlining its multidimensional capacity in the creation and maintenance of social capital and associated socially cohesive processes—social inclusion, social integration and active civic participation—in and through sport, is often instigated within the developed world academe, and has not been oriented to questioning the link between sport, social capital and community benefits in the contexts of ‘transitional’ societies residing at the European semi-periphery. This thesis seeks, hence, to address this void by examining the social implications of sport for a multitude of communities in the context of semi-peripheral Serbia. In particular, it investigates the extent to which, and the ways in which, selected sports foster or impede the creation of different forms of social capital instrumental in sport and community development, including the role of wider social and sport policy contexts in these endeavours.
Methodologically, the study deploys a qualitative multiple-case study approach using semi-structured individual and group interviews in conjuction with content analysis of official documents and direct observation of selected cases.
The exploration of evolving contexts of selected sports against the backdrop of Serbia suggests that the representation of different forms of social capital varies among researched cases relevant to their position within the meso sporting context and to specific traits of the wider social context. In this vein, as a dynamic and transferable social construct, social capital generated and maintained in and through explored sports floats between bonding and bridging points on an axis with linking social capital residing closer to the bonding point on this axis. In these constellations norms of reciprocity are positioned as the key cultural element of the emerging social capital models that assist in opening up the opportunities for expanding social cohesion via social inclusion, social integration and active civic participation. Likewise, the evidence from the study challenges a dominant social capital conceptual approach by portraying the ways cultural elements of the concept—trust and norms of reciprocity—are mutually interwoven, context-dependent and how they interact in their structural webs within extracted sport social capital models.
As evidence from the research further shows, the nature of social capital in regard to the explored sports corresponds to the ways socially cohesive processes are established for different scale community benefits. Yet, the reflextion of the correlation between the nature of social capital and the nature of socially cohesive processes in and around selected sports indicates that bonding social capital generated in and through sport may have the capacity to maintain socially cohesive processes while an inherently positive association between bridging social capital and community benefits in and through sport in this particular social context needs to be revisited. Finally, in examining the environment for sport and community development in Serbia, it is indicative that a pro-social sport policy context should comprehensively account for the wider social relevance of sport and its ability to imbue bottom-up cultural change at both sport and society levels. This awarness is central to policy recommendations formulated in the conclusion of this thesis.
This study thus provides an original contribution to knowledge by probing the nexus between investigated sports and the nature of social capital created, the role, position and interrelatedness of distincitive structral and cultural social capital elements within the created sport social capital models, associated social benefits and pro-social sport policies in the semi-peripheral context of Serbia.

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