Saturday, June 14, 2014

The World Cup of Social Identity Theory

Nothing like a major sporting event to remind one of a powerful hunk of social science.  Social identity theory--from social psychology*--helps to explain much these days.  The basic idea of SIT is that one's self-esteem rides on how well one's group is doing especially in comparison to other groups.  Horowitz called this the logic of invidious comparison.  I used to use the example of someone walking into a Montreal bar wearing a Mapleleafs sweater.  And, of course, my favorite example is green vs. purple.  Sports and nationalism are inextricably linked because of the logic of social identity.  I wrote about Olympic nationalism last summer, but here it is not just about different countries but different sports preferences.
* I received most of this indirectly through Donald Horowitz's deployment of it to explain ethnic conflict. 
So, we get a series of identity rivalries/dynamics this month:
  • Most obvious/expected: that people's happiness ride on whether the teams with which they identify do well and teams that they see as the natural "other" do poorly. 
  • Immigration countries have more complexity: many people may not have a team they like in either a particular match or in the entire tourney (Canada), so they then have a rooting interest in the team associated with their ethnic identities (Italian-Canadians root for Italy, for instance) or against those with which they have ethnic enmities.  (Yes, I am biased to see ethnic ties/enmities everywhere).  And, when soccer is played in the US, the US National Team is often facing a hostile crowd since more folks with ties to Mexico or country x show up than those who root for the USA team.
  • Pedants in competition: That some people really care about whether the game is called soccer or football.  Their passion on this is perhaps beyond comprehension unless we factor in that people's identification and their self-esteem ride on whether their preferred group is popular/accepted or not.
  • Sports rivalry: Last night's rivalry on twitter between the hockey fans scoffing at the World Cup and the soccer/football fans scoffing at hockey.  Why can't these people just enjoy their sport without taking shots at the other?  Because they feel better about themselves if their group (soccer/football lovers or hockey lovers) are seen as better.  
So, thanks to the World Cup, plenty of illustrations about potential ways to identify with and against.  Good times!

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