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People assign arbitrary value to social differences

This is an excerpt from Fundamentals of Sociology of Sport and Physical Activity by Katherine M. Jamieson & Maureen M. Smith.

Directly related to social stratification is social hierarchy, or, as many scholars have called it, the difference that difference makes. This concept is both simple and complex for social scientists, and it takes on unique complications in sport and physical activity. In its most simple form, the concept recognizes that members of society have arbitrarily assigned value to social difference. This has created a social hierarchy that would otherwise not naturally be present. A sport-specific example is the belief that biologically male bodies are more suited to elite athleticism than are biologically female bodies. Rules, guidelines, and the organizational structure of most physical activity programs are organized around this concept of naturalized gender difference. Beliefs about natural racial superiority in certain sports are another example, such as the widespread belief that Kenyan runners are naturally gifted, which fails to recognize training techniques that may account for their long-distance running success.


In another example, Dr. Mary Louise Adams (2011) highlighted the role of sport in reflecting and informing current beliefs about difference as she described the historical shift of men’s involvement in the sport of figure skating. At one time, figure skating was seen as a gentleman’s sport. Over time the image of the sport was of primarily effeminate male involvement, which was highlighted in the 1990s when a group of skaters put new effort into performing a more preferred masculinized version of figure skating. Studying men’s figure skating throughout the 20th century raises many questions about the naturalness of categories of difference and the ways that major social spheres, including sport and physical activity, play crucial roles in reflecting and even creating such ideas about difference.

Learn more about Fundamentals of Sociology of Sport and Physical Activity.