The Olympics and Gender, Race, Global Stratification, and Nationalism

Rachel has a great and thought-provoking post over at her place on the Olympics through the prism of sociological theories, based on a student’s report using multicultural functionalism to analyze the events (why do we even bother with that perspective, every time, we find it so wanting it’s amazing that we still use it so centrally in basic sociology courses). Anyhoo, from Rachel’s post:

"In my student’s view, the Olympics were great because they brought all the people of the world together. Furthermore, everybody was competing on an equal playing field. He also felt that the spirit of the Olympic movement wiped out race, class, gender, and sexuality issues. In other words, the Olympics made all of these things moot, and nobody cared about any of these things when watching the Olympics."

The student did not make a mistake, this is truly how a functionalist would look at the Olympics… and miss most of the story there. It seems to me that functionalism operates more as blinders rather than as a sociological theory that opens one’s eyes to social dynamics at work.

Rachel then takes that view to task and to examine the Olympics from a more conflict perspective:

"Let’s start with gender. If you watched careful, there were a few occasions when I saw events for men labeled in a neutral way–i.e. the basketball finals– but events for women were labeled as women’s events–i.e. the women’s basketball finals. Isn’t it interesting that even though women participate in most sports at the Olympics, the men’s events are still central in most of those sports. I’ve also noticed that some countries have significantly fewer successful women athletes, and that is often related to the limited number of opportunities for women to compete in those countries. Think about those Kenyan and Ethiopian runners–it has only been recent that women in those countries have been recruited and trained to run like their male counterparts. (…)

What about Patriotism and ethnocentrism? As a very public sociologist noted in the thread last week, the US media listed the medal count as opposed to the gold medal count. China ran away with the gold medal count, but I guess it makes us look better to note that we won more over all medals. You could also see the bias in coverage. For the most part if the US wasn’t doing good in an even, then the coverage of that even was either non-existent or relegated to a sound bite."

And then, Rachel moves on to global stratification and immigration. As they say, go read the whole thing.

2 thoughts on “The Olympics and Gender, Race, Global Stratification, and Nationalism

  1. Pingback: Global Sociology - Update | The Global Sociology Blog

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