The Artification of Football: A Sociological Reconsideration of the ‘Beautiful Game'

Hughson, John Ewing orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-7030-4806 (2019) The Artification of Football: A Sociological Reconsideration of the ‘Beautiful Game'. Cultural Sociology, 13 (3). pp. 305-320. ISSN 1749-9755

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Football is widely referred to as the ‘beautiful game’. This gives the impression that the sport can be aesthetically appreciated by its human observers. However, while many people might acknowledge that some of the physical movements made by top level football players exhibit grace, even beauty, this does not equate to football being accepted as a form of culture comparable to other areas of human activity described collectively as ‘the arts’. While this article takes an interest in philosophical inquiry into the aesthetic possibilities of football, it is primarily concerned with a sociological explanation as to how football has become ‘artified’. In doing so, the article draws upon the concept ‘artification’ as developed by Roberta Shapiro and Nathalie Heinich. The approach is not concerned with definitions of art according to aesthetic criteria or notions of appreciation, but with ‘how and under what circumstances art comes about’. This requires examining football in relation to discernible ‘constituent processes’ of artification. For reasons explained in the article, the contextual focus is on the artification of football in England. Artification is not a closed and finished matter. In that it can be said to have occurred, artification must be balanced against ‘de-artification’ in the form of potentially countervailing tendencies. Such consideration is taken up in the conclusion, via reflection upon the damaging impact of the excesses of commercial organisational control. Overall, artification is advocated as a sociological model that offers insight into the cultural significance of football in contemporary life.

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