Emerging professions: the case of english professional football

Sarah Gilmore, Chris Wagstaff

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


The globalization and commercialization of sports in the West have been intertwined with its scientization and medicalization (Stewart and Smith, 2008) with athletes becoming increasingly dependent upon sophisticated systems of innovative scientific support as they seek a competitive edge (Waddington and Smith, 2000). In the UK, modernization agendas have been adopted by Conservative and Labour governments which involve the use of professional approaches towards talent identification, production and performance (Maguire, 2004: 305) and have been accompanied by consistent support from the state. This is evidenced in the financing of university sports science programmes which underpin this drive towards sporting excellence as well as an insistence by sports governing bodies for practitioners to be suitably qualified. Sports science generally involves the application of scientific principles and techniques with the aim of improving the performance of an athlete/team. Its scope of activity is wide and includes legally established professions under its aegis, however what unites these diverse occupational and professional groups is a shared experience of credentialised systems of knowledge and skill acquisition – the outcomes of which should lead to firmer jurisdictional claims, describing the space in which sports scientists as an established professional or emerging professional group may practice (Abbott, 1988) and thus exert social closure: denying ineligibles the right to practice in a given area (Friedson, 2001). Whilst there is the potential for sports scientists to exert their accredited status (an important aspect of the professional process) in order to secure their status at the intra-organizational level, and ensure that the licence to practice is restricted to the 'eligible', these professional projects face substantial challenges. Our paper focuses on the case of English professional football clubs: an institutional field which is still perceived to promote an anti-intellectual culture (McGillivary et al 2005; Williams, 1995); one where the cultural capital ascribed to academic qualifications is often deemed unwelcome and threatening and where there is a preference for the practical or 'embodied competences' (Wacquant, 1995) gained through a career as a professional football player. It is a setting where the First Team Manager exercises traditional authority (Weber, 1964; Kelly, 2008) which extends to the appointment and management of sports scientists whose work and knowledge-base he rarely understands. We explore and analyze the key tensions implications of these trends for emergent, credentialized professions such as sports science and reflecting on the theoretical and implications for this and other emergent professions facing similar challenges.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 11 May 2012
EventThe First International ProPEL Conference 2012 - University of Stirling, Stirling, Scotland
Duration: 9 May 201211 May 2012


ConferenceThe First International ProPEL Conference 2012
CityUniversity of Stirling, Stirling, Scotland


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