Sport and integration : an exploration of group identity and intergroup relations in Fiji

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This thesis investigates the topic of sport and integration (SAI) and discusses the role that sport plays in both uniting and dividing groups in lower and middle income settings. In particular, this thesis addresses the effect of sport on ethno-racial division by exploring the effect of sport on intergroup distance. This in-depth study applies rigorous social science to local voices and ways of knowing, to improve understanding of the role of sport in divided societies. In doing so, this thesis proposes a new framework to map the way in which the practice of popular sports can influence intergroup relations. The research draws from three distinct but interrelated areas of literature: identity formation, intergroup relations and the effect of sport on these fields. The first two areas are discussed in relation to the role of ethno-racial and social identity in group relations, along with strategies to reconcile intergroup difference. Sport then emerges as an emblematic site for solidifying identity, hegemonic power relations and group categorisation, while also facilitating positive social change in the form of the sport for development and peace (SDP) field. It is shown that our current understanding of SDP is restricted in its focus on development and/or peacebuilding goals, and that an extension to this field is required: sport and integration (SAI). In short, SAI also encompasses sport for social change but it is not orientated towards meeting specific development goals or curating peace in the wake of violence. The Pacific Island nation of Fiji presents an ideal place for SAI research due to the cultural prominence of sport as well as underlying divisions between Indigenous Fijians and Fijians of Indian descent. Utilising a qualitative mode of enquiry that employs social constructivist logic in its design, the empirical research followed an approach described as ‘Short Term Ethnography’. This approach foregrounds local agency and ways of knowing an immersive research journey designed specifically to gain in-depth knowledge. The research took place in a number of locations across Fiji at the community (micro), institutional (meso) and decision making (macro) levels to develop a holistic impression of Fijian sport and society. The approach I have taken acknowledges that sport is a powerful cultural commodity in Fiji and finds that in some practices, such as rugby sevens fandom and soccer participation, sport serves as a focal point of unity. However, there are other elements of Fijian sport which seem to maintain unequal power relations, perpetuating separatism between Fiji’s two main groups. The framework which was built to research SAI in Fiji therefore, functions to expose the exclusive social, cultural and structural mechanisms within Fijian sport and highlights a locally envisaged agenda for change. Based on the initial insights provided by this thesis, this study points to further application of the SAI framework in other societies troubled with division, in both low and high income settings.
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