Quick Reference

The principle of association by which people act in collective, self-organized ways in organizing their cultural life. Associativity is a crucial element in civil society. French political scientist Alexis de Tocqueville (Democracy in America, 1840) observed that Americans formed ‘a thousand different types’ of associations for all aspects of civil life, and saw ‘the art of association’ as central to a civilized and democratic life. English cultural and political critic George Orwell commented, in his essay ‘The Lion and the Unicorn’ (1940), on an English fixation with ‘hobbies and spare-time occupations’ that reflected what he called the ‘privateness’ of English life, but not a closed individualist approach to life. Orwell called the English ‘a nation of flower-lovers, but also a nation of stamp-collectors, pigeon fanciers, amateur carpenters, coupon snippers, darts-players, crossword-puzzle fans’. He added that ‘truly native’ English culture is immersed in activities that ‘are communal but not official’—such as in the domestic garden or fireside, or the pub or the football match. This is associativity without interference, an expression of the individual right to construct ‘your own amusements’.

More generally, Stefan Szymanski has argued that modern sport developed out of new forms of associativity created during the European Enlightenment. For Szymanski, the club is the fundamental unit of modern sport; these club-based associations ‘developed autonomously in Britain during the eighteenth century following the retreat of the state from the control of associative activities. The evolution of modern sports thus formed part of the expansion of private associative activity that occurred in the Anglo-Saxon world.’ Szymanski contrasts this process with the situation in countries such as France and Germany where ‘associativity continued to require the explicit or implicit license of the state’, often fitting the ‘objectives of the state, most notably the need to maintain military preparedness’.

Subjects: Sport and Leisure.

Reference entries