HomeThe investigation story. Uses and functions in the social sciences of sport

HomeThe investigation story. Uses and functions in the social sciences of sport

The investigation story. Uses and functions in the social sciences of sport

Le récit d’enquête. Usages et fonctions en sciences sociales du sport

Journal Society and Leisure

Revue Loisir et Société

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Published on Tuesday, May 04, 2021 by João Fernandes


Ce numéro thématique de la revue Loisir et Société / Leisure and Society est consacré aux usages et fonctions du récit d'enquête en sciences sociales du sport. À partir de la narration problématisée, référencée et détaillée d’expériences de terrain hétérogènes et situées, cet appel à contribution invite les chercheurs en sciences sociales du sport (anthropologie, sociologie, ethnologie, histoire, géographie, science politique, sciences de gestion, etc.) à partager cet exercice de réflexivité.


Issue editors

File coordinated by Oumaya Hidri Neys


Central for anthropologists, the question of the researcher's relationship with her field and her respondents has since penetrated the whole of the human and social sciences. As Pierre Bourdieu[1] admitted, these interpersonal dynamics have the dimension of "a social relationship that exerts effects (...) on the results obtained", thus inviting researchers to submit to the exercise of reflexivity. Indeed, whether they are conducting an immersive and prolonged study of the "distant" or whether they encounter otherness more occasionally and "at home[2]", researchers can hardly spare themselves the methodological, epistemological, ethical and political questions relating to their research approach. This amounts first of all to questioning the intentions that govern the "choice" of her object. The latter may be an "opportunistic[3] " choice, when others are persuaded, at the beginning of their investigations, that a great familiarity with the field under investigation constitutes a "capital of autochthony[4]" favourable to the continuation of their research[5]. Without yielding to the sirens of "biographical illusion[6]", some have managed, in order to protect themselves from the "uncontrolled relationship [of the researcher] to the object that leads to projecting this unanalyzed relationship into the object of analysis[7]", to analyze in a heuristic way their more or less intimate relationship to the object. It also amounts to objectivizing the technical and social conditions in which her investigation took place and the consequences that these could have had on the knowledge produced. Negotiating one's field, one's role(s), one's place and status. To justify oneself, to stage one's presentation and history, to repeat it on demand. Impact the investigative relationship by what you are, what you show, what you represent, or what others think you are. Changing the more or less porous, more or less visible boundary between respondents and the interviewer.rice, between engagement and distancing[8]. Justify one's interest in the object and/or the field being surveyed when other researchers jostle each other and sometimes compete for over-invested land or coveted objects. Share significant, risky or intimate experiences with the respondents. Return analyses to respondents at the risk of ignorance, misunderstanding or instrumentation. To commit clumsiness, to feel emotions or the discomfort of the ethnographic posture. These are all investigative experiences that can affect[9] the interviewer in various forms of intersubjective relationships that can have consequences and which therefore participate in the reflexive work essential to the conduct of research.

Researchers who have taken "sport" as the subject of study are no exception to this necessity. Because for the last thirty years or so, we have observed their more frequent[10] and promising[11] recourse to the ethnological approach, on the one hand. Because the singularity of the object[12]  renews the question of the relationship between the interviewer and the field and the respondents. As a purveyor of values[13], with positive connotations[14], sport illustrates the competitive ideology linked to performance[15]  and has, in fact, penetrated the company as a tool for managing human relations[16]. Heavy with stakes, sport is therefore the object of many institutional and/or academic expectations that can undermine the independence of the researcher[17]. Often presented as a universal and unifying fact, sport is also crossed by business[18], it can be the theater of violence[19]  or multiple discriminations that can mishandle the investigation and its leader. Sometimes open to the "general public[20]", the sports world is also made up of "small worlds[21] " more or less hermetic to the scientific eye. Being able to count on the "happiness of expression[22]" of the actors evolving in confidential or even relegated spaces, other researchers have to deal[23] with the strong media coverage of sport, so much so that it is possible to study it from a distance[24]. Finally, sport has the specificity of confronting researchers who take it as an object with situations of "knowledge by body[25] ". The fact of being a sociologist and contemporary dancer[26] or of being initiated into bodybuilding[27], leads researchers to truly "test" their field. Some of them have shown the interest of subjecting this immersion by body to reflexivity[28].

Even though the calls for introspection from social science researchers are multiplying[29], it is clear that those who have taken "sport" as the object of study remain, with a few exceptions, rather reluctant to respond. Oral communications hardly survive the few scientific events devoted to the issue. Equally rare are the articles or chapters of books resulting from the sometimes obligatory passage of habilitation theses to direct research, and doctoral theses to a much lesser extent. Does this mean that researchers in the social sciences of sport do not encounter any difficulties, do not engage in any "do-it-yourself" activities, do not have any doubts? It is as if they "voluntarily" "hide" their "out of scope[30]" or "forget" to make these analyses public, "the simple fact of arriving at a study report is proof that the ideal of knowledge has triumphed over ordinary contingencies[31]". This is not without consequence. Already, the reading of smooth and serene "elements of methodology" sends us, whether we are "young" or "experienced" researchers, back to a feeling of scientific illegitimacy with regard to the way we look at our own difficulties. The writing of an investigative narrative is, however, "a precious antidote to discouragement. It helps to break the "plural ignorance" (...) in which researchers find themselves, each on their own, ready to believe they are alone in facing such difficulties[32]". Above all, the study of methods is one of the conditions for the scientific validation of research results. And at a time when the scientificity of the social sciences is called into question, even more so in the multidisciplinary section that is the Sciences and Techniques of Physical and Sports Activities[33], we can think with Hélène Chamboredon, Fabienne Pavis, Muriel Surdez and Laurent Willemez that "the "discourse of the method" is not a luxury or an ease, but on the contrary a necessity[34] ".

Based on the problematized, referenced and detailed narration of heterogeneous and situated field experiences, we therefore invite researchers in the social sciences of sport (anthropology, sociology, ethnology, history, geography, political science, management sciences, etc.) to adopt this "reflexive and critical way of responding to [their] research[35] ". The exercise is complex. Reporting on it is even more so, because of the demand for detail combined with the duty of synthesis. It also presupposes first-hand material, coming from advanced or completed fieldwork, because it is a fact, "if you want to watch yourself swim too much, you risk forgetting to swim[36] ". This advice given by Sophie Caratini to the younger generation of researchers does not urge a lack of reflexivity, nor does it deny the usefulness of the exercise, but rather invites us to find the "right" measure. It also encourages us to welcome proposals for articles that judge the uses and functions of investigative narratives to be overrated (according to discipline, methodologies, objects, terrains, social trajectory, or the institutional and/or academic position of the researcher).

Submission guidelines

In order to allow the publication of the thematic dossier in the spring of 2022, authors are invited to send their article, strictly respecting the recommendations of the journal Society and Leisure available at the following link:


before 15/08/2021,

to the person responsible for the file: oumaya.neys@univ-artois.fr


[1] Bourdieu, P. (1993). La Misère du monde. Paris : Seuil.[2] Bensa, A. (2006). La fin de l’exotisme. Essais d’anthropologie critique. Toulouse : Anacharsis ; Campigotto, M., Dobbels, R. et Mescoli, E. (2017). (Dir.) Ethnographies du proche. Perspectives réflexives et enjeux de terrain, Emulations, 22.[3] Following the example of Loïc Wacquant who "finds himself" ethnographing Woodlawn's boxing club, see Waquant, L (2001). Body and soul. Carnet ethnographique d'un apprentice boxer. Marseille : Agone.[4] Retière, J.-N. (2003). Autour de l’autochtonie. Réflexions sur la notion de capital social populaire, Politix, 16/63, 121-143.[5] Conversely, some researchers have shown that respondents may sometimes consider the interviewer's autochthony as predisposing him or her to better apprehend and restitute the data collected in the field.[6] Bourdieu, P. (1986). L’illusion biographique, Actes de la Recherche en Sciences Sociales, 62/63, 69-72.[7] Bourdieu, P. et Wacquant, L. (2014). Invitation à la sociologie réflexive. Paris : Seuil.[8] Elias, N. (1983). Engagement et distanciation. Paris : Fayard.[9] Favret-Saada, J. (1977). Les mots, la mort, les sorts. La sorcellerie dans le bocage. Paris : Gallimard.[10] Duret, P. (2001). Sociologie du sport.  Paris : Armand Colin[11] Bromberger, C. (1997). L'ethnologie de la France et ses nouveaux objets. Crise, tâtonnements et jouvence d'une discipline dérangeante, Ethnologie Française, 3, 294-313 ; Bromberger, C. (2004). Les pratiques et les spectacles sportifs au miroir de l’ethnologie. In Société de Sociologie du Sport de Langue Française (Dir.). Dispositions et pratiques sportives. Débats actuels en sociologie du sport. Paris : L’Harmattan, 115-128.[12] Marsac, A. (2015). Relation d’enquête et problèmes méthodologiques dans les études ethnographiques sur les pratiques sportives, Antropológicas, 13, 90-99.[13] Pociello, C. (1999). Les cultures sportives. Paris : PUF.[14] Defrance, J. (2000). Les pratiquants du sport. In Arnaud, P. (Dir.). Le sport en France, une approche politique, économique et sociale. Paris : La Documentation française, 77-96.[15] Ehrenberg, A. (1991). Le culte de la performance. Paris : Hachette Littératures.[16] Pierre, J. et Pichot, L. (2020). (Dir.) Le sport au travail. Bien être et management. Paris : Octarès.[17] Voire les articles composant le numéro thématique dirigé par Hidri Neys, O. et Nuytens, W. (à paraître). Faire circuler les savoirs sociologiques, Sciences sociales et sport, mais également Boutroy, E. et Soulé, B. (2018). La place de la sociologie au sein d’une recherche-action collaborative : retour d’expérience sur une innovation en prévention des risques, Sociologies pratiques, 37, 59-69[18] Duret, P. et Trabal, P. (2001). Le sport et ses affaires. Une sociologie de la justice de l’épreuve sportive. Paris : Métailié.[19] Nuytens, W. (2011). L'épreuve du terrain. Violences des tribunes, violences des stades. Rennes : PUR ; Nuytens, W. (2014). Facteur de troubles ? La vigilance au cours d’une enquête de longue durée, Recherches qualitatives, 33, 64-85.[20] Trémoulinas, A. (2007). Enquêter dans un lieu public, Genèses, 66, 108-122.[21] Milgram, S. (1974). La soumission à l’autorité. Paris : Calmann-Lévy.[22] Bourdieu, P. (1993). Comprendre. In Bourdieu, P. (Dir.) La misère du monde. Paris : Seuil, 903-939.[23] Beaud, S. en collaboration avec Guimard, P. (2011). Traîtres à la nation ? Un autre regard sur la grève des Bleus en Afrique du Sud. Paris : La Découverte.[24] Moraldo, D. (2014). Analyser sociologiquement des autobiographies. Le cas des autobiographies d'alpinistes français et britanniques, SociologieS, [En ligne] ; Juskowiak, H. et Nuytens, W. (2014). Les usages et les valeurs des biographies de sportifs de haut niveau comme matériaux d’enquête, Communication [En ligne].[25] Memmi, D. (1999). L'enquêteur enquêté. De la « connaissance par corps » dans l'entretien sociologique, Genèses, 35, 131-145.[26] Sorignet, P.-E. (2011). Sociologue et danseur, quand la vocation se fait double. In Naudier, D. et al. Des sociologues sans qualités ? Paris : La Découverte, 222-240.[27] Perera, E. (2017). Emprise de poids. Initiation au body-building. Paris : L’Harmattan.[28] Andrieu, B. (2011). (Dir.). Les corps du chercheur. Une méthodologie immersive. Nancy : PUN ; Raveneau, G. (2017). Prolégomènes à une anthropologie symétrique et réflexive. In Perera, E. et Beldame, Y. In Situ. Situations, interactions et récits d’enquête. Paris : L’Harmattan, 29-42.[29] The latest to date is none other than the call for papers issued for the Colloquium "Le chercheur.e face au(x) terrain(s) : Etre mis.e à l’épreuve, éprouver et faire ses preuves », Rouen, les 2 et 3 avril 2020.[30] Benveniste, A. (2013). (Dir.). Se faire violence. Analyses des coulisses de la recherche. Paris : Téraèdre.[31] Bizeul, D. (1999). Faire avec les déconvenues. Une enquête en milieu nomade, Sociétés contemporaines, 33, 111-137.[32] Bizeul, D. (1998). Le récit des conditions d’enquête : exploiter l’information en connaissance de cause, Revue française de sociologie, 39, 751-787.[33] Soulé, B. et Chatal, R. (2018). Évaluer la recherche dans une section universitaire interdisciplinaire : les effets de la conversion bibliométrique au sein des Sciences et Techniques des Activités Physiques et Sportives. STAPS, 122, 9-30.[34] Chamboredon, H., Pavis, F., Surdez, M. et Willemez, L. (1994). S’imposer aux imposants. A propos de quelques obstacles rencontrés par des sociologues débutants dans la pratique et l’usage de l’entretien, Genèses, 16, 114-132.[35] Fassin, D. et Bensa, A. (2008) (Dir.). Les politiques de l’enquête. Epreuves ethnographiques. Paris : La Découverte.[36] Caratini, S. (2017). Réflexion comparative sur quelques postures anthropologiques vécues de l’ailleurs et du proche, Emulations, 22,127-134.


  • Sunday, August 15, 2021


  • réflexivité, méthodes, sciences sociales, sport


  • Oumaya Hidri Neys
    courriel : oumaya [dot] neys [at] univ-artois [dot] fr

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  • Oumaya Hidri Neys
    courriel : oumaya [dot] neys [at] univ-artois [dot] fr

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