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The Cultural Production of a Successful Sport Tradition: A Case Study of Icelandic Team Handball

The Interaction Order

ISBN: 978-1-78769-546-7, eISBN: 978-1-78769-545-0

Publication date: 5 February 2019


In this study, we analyze sport as a cultural product of a particular place. We use the concept of “tradition” to highlight the collective (as opposed to individual) aspects of sport, emphasizing the importance of temporality, emergence, and novelty in social processes. We conducted a case study of internationally successful Icelandic men’s team handball that provides an interesting topic in this respect. Our findings challenge decades of research on sport that has stressed innate talent, individual qualities or physiological processes rather than the sociocultural processes. They support the interactionist approach to culture showing how local culture, rooted in specific interaction settings, influences the formation and development of a successful sport tradition. It is the way that cultural elements interact and combine in various networks that is crucial for national variations in playing sport. The social processes involved are best captured by Mead’s concepts of emergence, novelty, and the principle of sociality. These concepts help us to explain how unique national styles of playing sports derive from general cultural and social mechanism that interact to produce emergent and novel national variations. Our findings also support and extend earlier work on craftsmanship indicating that crafts-work, which is a part of an organized community resembling the old “workshop,” explains in part how innovations originate in sport-specific and other local networks. These theories offer a sociological extension of pragmatic theories of learning, emphasizing the group in the tradition of Mead.



Thorlindsson, T. and Halldorsson, V. (2019), "The Cultural Production of a Successful Sport Tradition: A Case Study of Icelandic Team Handball", The Interaction Order (Studies in Symbolic Interaction, Vol. 50), Emerald Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 237-266.



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