Sports and Society

This course explores the role of sports around the world, and how the games we watch and play shape identity, culture, and society.

About The Course

Sports play a giant role in contemporary society worldwide. But few of us pause to think about the larger questions of money, politics, race, sex, culture, and commercialization that surround sports everywhere. This course draws on the tools of anthropology, sociology, history, and other disciplines to give you new perspectives on the games we watch and play. We will focus on both popular sports like soccer (or “football,” as anyone outside America calls it), basketball, and baseball, and also lesser-known ones like mountain-climbing and fishing. The course features special guest lectures about the Olympics, skateboarding, and the Afro-Brazilian martial art of capoeira.  We will also have Google Hangouts with several prominent figures from the sports and sports studies world (guests last time the course was offered included former major league baseball player and ESPN commentator Doug Glanville; the German soccer star and gay rights spokesperson Thomas Hitzlsperger; and leading sports journalist Selena Roberts). You will never watch or think about sports in the same way again.

***If you'd like to watch a sample lecture to get a better idea of the class, you can do so by clicking here.  This one is about sports videos games and their explosively growing popularity, and a little unusual in that it was filmed at Professor Starn's house near the Duke University campus.  All the lectures, as this one does, features a list of keywords that are introduced near the lecture's beginning and defined over its course.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Will I get a Statement of Accomplishment after completing this class?

A: Yes. Students who successfully complete the class will receive a Statement of Accomplishment signed by the instructor.

Q: I already know a lot about sports.  Will I really learn anything new?

A: Many students who take my classes at Duke are rabid sports fans.  But they find that this course gives them a much deeper understanding of the intriguing questions of politics, society, culture, globalization and much more that surround sports.   

Q: Who should take this class?

A: You’ll find the course useful whether you are thinking about sports as a profession (for example, as an agent, athlete, or coach) or just want to understand more about them and their very large role in our world today.

Q: Sports seems like a frivolous topic.  Why should I waste my valuable time on this course?

A: Sports have become such a major part of global society that scholars have been turning more attention to trying to understand them.   There are many exciting new concepts and insights in the growing field of sports studies that we will explore in the class.

Q: What’s an odd stray bit of information I’ll learn in this class?

A: You’ll find out how superstar golfer Tiger Woods became a national celebrity at the age of two.

Recommended Background

All welcome. No previous knowledge required.