People and Society

Tomonori Ishioka

Modern Society Seen Through Sports

Tomonori Ishioka , Associate Professor

raduate School of Education; Faculty of Education (Department of Education, School of Education)

High school : Okayama Prefectural Tamano Konan High School

Academic background : Graduate School of Comprehensive Human Science, University of Tsukuba

Research areas
Sociology of Sport, Cultural Studies
Research keywords
sports, body culture, poverty

What kind of discipline is Sport Sociology?

My research area, Sociology of Sport, is a very exciting research area where we analyze modern sports using methods of sociology and cultural studies. This is a relatively new discipline but already various thought-provoking studies have been published.
I love sports, having participated in inter high school athletic meetings and giving almost all my time to club activities during my university days. I wanted to study Sport Science, but the discipline was mostly about natural science, including sport medicine and dietetics. Then, I became aware of a discipline called Sociology of Sport in the field of social science and was fascinated by the discipline.
Modern sports are increasing their presence as cultural phenomena. The Olympic Games and World Cup are competitions and at the same time a place of commercial intervention by Coca Cola, Adidas, and other multinational corporations. Athletes obtain income by wearing uniforms advertising the companies or signing sponsor contracts.
To put it the other way around, athletes are forced to depend on their sponsors. Today, central players of modern sports are not athletes but multinational corporations that “consume” the bodies of athletes. What has been brought about by such a reversal? Questioning the relationship between mega sport events and society is a traditional research theme of Sociology of Sport.
Apart from these large-scale events, survey of sport activities in small communities is also frequently taken up in Sociology of Sport. Organizations in Japan try to promote grassroots of community sports using collective community sports clubs, but their conditions vary widely depending on the community. In Doutou, Hokkaido, for example, futsal is popular among children rather than soccer because enjoying futsal requires fewer players compared with soccer, and competition is possible even in a community with a dwindling number of children. The point here is that futsal is actively pursued not because children love it more than other sports, but because it was determined by the social context where there is a need for playing a group game with fewer children.
In this way, Sociology of Sport aims to understand the reason for the existence of modern sports through examination of their social context. From here, the discipline is expanding to envisaging possibilities of richer sport practice and grasping the characteristics of modern society through sports.


Poverty issue seen from the viewpoint of boxing

Practicing in a boxing gym

The area of my research study is slightly removed from the central themes of Sociology of Sport described above. I am studying sports in developing countries, and have been conducting ethnographic study of boxing gyms in a slum of Manila in the Philippines for over 10 years.
Popular sports in the Philippines are boxing and basketball. While basketball is a sport played by middle-class children, boxing is taken up by poor young people who have left school at an early stage of elementary education and have nothing to their name.
The theme of research study is to illustrate what life strategy the practice of boxing means for young people in a world of poverty in Manila. I wish to understand, from the viewpoint of boxers, what young people without an academic background and work history want to realize by throwing themselves into boxing. For this purpose, I carried out an ethnographic study while living in a boxing gym in Manila for one year from April 2005. I lived together with boxers and practiced with them in order to vividly feel that boxing was a “means of survival” for them.

Front cover of the reference book

This method to carry out research in close contact with the study targets is called “Participant Observation” in sociology. I hope that you will read the reference book mentioned below to understand the essence of my “Participant Observation.” (Unexpectedly, the book was awarded the twelfth Japan Sociological Society Award.) One thing to note here is that boxing is a life strategy not only for the boxers themselves but also for their family members. In Manila’s poverty-stricken communities where the lack of job opportunities is overwhelming, boxers earn money by boxing while at the same time providing jobs (as gym cleaners, drivers, etc.) to their siblings and relatives by introducing them to the gym. Discussing boxing involves not only its aspect as a competitive sport, but also the consideration of its social context.
In this way, Sociology of Sport is a discipline with a grand ambition to expand discussion on the state of modern society by thinking about sports. I hope to open up this new field together with you. 



(1) Tomonori Ishioka, Lives of Underdog Filipino Boxers: Body Cultures Crafted in Destitution (Ro?karu bokusa? to hinkon sekai, manira no bokushingu jimu ni miru shintai bunka) Sekaishiso?sha (2012)