In response to Michael Messner's "Boyhood, Organized Sports, and the Construction of Masculinities" how does the research presented by Messner's study help illustrate the symbolic interactionist...

In response to Michael Messner's "Boyhood, Organized Sports, and the Construction of Masculinities" how does the research presented by Messner's study help illustrate the symbolic interactionist perspective generally?

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huntress | College Teacher | (Level 2) Associate Educator

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Symbolic interactionist theory seeks to understand human interaction by emphasizing people's subjective understanding of an event, remark, or situation over its literal meaning or truth. Messner's essay sets out to understand the construction of masculinity within organized sports through interviewing boys and men who play and have played sports to this end.

Many of the men, discussing their childhoods, commented that "I was a natural" in their respective sports. Messner points out, however, that there is no genetic predisposition to throwing a ball through a net, and while the young man may have been blessed with exceptional hand-eye coordination, his attraction to the sport and his belief in and adherence to it--and the meanings he takes from it--are social constructs, forms of "collective practice" that our culture uses to "construct masculinities." How far engagement in team sports are proven to contribute to the development of masculine traits is not discussed; Messner is only interested in the "definition of the situation" created by each interviewee. 

Interestingly, he explains that athletes from middle-class backgrounds tend to see their athleticism (and athletic future) from the perspective of their environments, which consist of their close family and friends, but athletes from lower-class backgrounds feel the encouragement and pressure to succeed from the entire community, both of which shape different ideas of "success" and masculinity. The objective reality of the cases probably includes various factors (beyond the athletes' knowledge) that may have opened other routes to success, but in the athletes' minds, they were limited and defined by their environments, which--in Messner's view--is the only "truth" that matters when we attempt to understand human relations. 

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