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New book by Birkbeck academic explores social capital in the context of sport

'Social Capital and Sport Organisations' by Dr Richard Tacon explores the concept of social capital in sport, focusing on how people develop and maintain relationships through involvement in voluntary clubs.

A picture of Dr Richard Tacon standing against a brick wall.

A new book by Dr Richard Tacon, Senior Lecturer in Management in Birkbeck’s Department of Management, looks in detail at the concept of social capital and how it plays out in sport. Social Capital and Sport Organisations (published by Routledge) draws on more than 20 years’ worth of international academic research on social capital in sport, as well as in-depth, primary research conducted by Dr Tacon in voluntary sports clubs in the UK.

Social capital is a popular, but contested, concept. It refers broadly to the connections between people and how these connections can constitute a resource for people. As a concept, it has a long history - back at least as far as Aristotle - but in recent times it was popularised by sociologists, including Pierre Bourdieu and James Coleman, and, most prominently, by political scientist Robert Putnam, in his book, Bowling Alone.

In his book, Dr Tacon examines this concept in sport, focusing particularly on voluntary sports clubs. He explains: “Many people, including politicians and policymakers, have claimed that sport is a natural producer of social capital, because it brings people together and fosters teamwork and cohesion. However, as anyone who observes sport dispassionately can see, it also has the capacity to exclude and foster division.”

Dr Tacon takes a close-up approach, exploring through interviews and observations:

  • how and why people form social ties
  • what kind of social ties they form
  • what people ‘get’ out of their social ties
  • what role voluntary sports clubs play in this, both purposely and non-purposely.

He then compares and contrasts his UK-based findings to international studies of sport and social capital and offers a series of recommendations to practitioners and policymakers.

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