Tuesday, 20 August 2013

the nomos & anomie of rugby- or why teams succeed & fail

The American sociologist Peter Berger in discussing what held society together and enabled it to function  talked of society as a dialectical phenomenon wherein it is at one and same time a human product and an external reality that acts back upon its creators.That is, we create society but also experience it as if it is more than a human creation that in turn we respond to. This process creates a meaningful order (nomos) upon experience.
Nomos = a social construction that keeps at bay the terror of social disorder and isolation.
 This meaningful order  (nomos) is what keeps the experience of disorder (anomie) at bay.
 This can be read in tandem with  the great sociologist Durkheim's work on functionalism.
 For Durkheim, society  is divided into parts and sub parts that fit together- each institution and social group has its function to perform for benefit of society.
 Society  is more than sum of  its parts- for if all parts function well and are connected then a new whole/society occurs.
 Durkheim also looked at what held society together at its functionalist core.
He looked at primitive society and identified as central the totem- an animal or plant that the group identified itself with- and identified with versus the totems/groups of others
 Durkheim saw the  totem as materialist principle of totem of god, but also  that the totem could be symbol of society without them even realising it
 So argues, Durkheim,  god and society are one: that a society is its god and its god is its society- worshipping your god is worshipping your society- and so society is the real object of religious veneration
  However we are unaware we worship society because society too abstract and complex to be materialized into a totem to be worshipped
 The symbols become the expression of the collective consciousness.
 This is the experience of what Berger terms the nomos.
 So what has all of this to do with rugby.
Over the weekend I saw two teams that displayed a  nomos, a functioning society, able to express the totemic value that holds them together. Both the Canterbury ITM  team and the All Blacks succeeded despite often going for periods without the ball, despite not really playing very well at times, despite having to integrate new players into an existing set-up.
 Both teams demonstrated that the nomos, the central totemic values, the team society are such that the collective can transcend the individuals. as such it is not so much about the players as how they play together.
In contrast Australian rugby continues to be a society experiencing anomie.
 Perhaps there is an internal competition of totems, the lack of a collective society that all are prepared or able to buy into.
 The Canterbury rugby team and the All Blacks are, in the end, their own totem and their own nomos. That is the secret of their success: they play to defend and venerate themselves. To lose is to risk losing their own self-identity and to risk anomie.

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