A Space for Place in Sport?

I have had the opportunity to visit a number of new sport training facilities on my month-long visit to England and Wales.
All of my visits have taken me back to Thomas Gieryn’s (2000) paper, A Space for Place in Sociology. In the paper he proposes that place has three “necessary and sufficient features”:

  • Location: A place is a unique spot in the universe … the distinction between here and there.
  • Material Form: Place has physicality … place is stuff. It is a compilation of things or objects at some particular spot in the universe.
  • Meaningfulness: Without naming, identification, or representation by ordinary people, a place is not a place. Places are doubly constructed: most are built or in some way physically carved out. They are also interpreted, narrated, perceived, felt understood, and imagined.

Thomas suggests:

Places are endlessly made, not just when the powerful pursue their ambition through brick and mortar, not just when design professional give form to function, but also when ordinary people extract from continuous and abstract space a bounded, identified, meaningful, named and significant place.

I think England Rugby’s Pennyhill Park has this potential for ‘ordinary people’ as does Welsh Football’s Dragon Park in Newport. These are on a different scale to the Football Association’s St George’s Park.
Cardiff Met has made enormous strides in connecting location, material form and meaningfulness in its Cyncoed places. I am very impressed by the induction of students as performance analysts in these places.
As more of these places are developed we will need to discuss their meaningfulness as learning environments.
We will need to find a space for critical discourse about place.

Photo Credits

St George’s Park Reception (Keith Lyons, CC BY 4.0)
Pennyhill Park (Keith Lyons, CC BY 4.0)
Cardiff Met (Darrell Cobner)


  1. Is this also a case of a (sort of) arms race to be bigger/better than other establishments? Many facilities are (effectively) funded to support elite athlete performance. There is a little bit of Parkinson’s Law here [available at Amazon!); in particular Rule 6 (Plans and Plants) which suggests that the opulence of the main building is in reverse proportion to the effectiveness of the organisation. :-{}
    Also with ‘students’ increasingly becoming informed purchasers of education, academic instillations are engaged in their own arms race to provide bigger and better facilities to attract the maximum number of students both as a base for the study of sport based programmes or as a recreation facility for students on other programmes. Loughborough, along with Bath are probably in a class of their own. Brunel who were perhaps in the forefront of this 10 years ago seemed to have accepted that there is no shame in being in 3rd place although that is being challenged by (to my mind) by both Cardiff Met and Leeds Beckett.
    Whilst this improvement in facilities in the academic sector is advancing at a pace, facilities in the control of local authorities are going from bad to worse. (Don Valley Stadium in Sheffield is an extreme but not isolated example).

    • Hello, Gordon
      I was concerned about the arms race too.
      I hope the examples I mentioned are scalable. I believe Dragon Park may be a good example of community engagement. I think Pennyhill is very modest compared to other elite rugby facilities.
      Whilst at the University of Canberra I was keen to promote the idea that small is beautiful … and sustainable. I think Cardiff Met (in analysis terms) has an educational rationale.
      I do like your inverse observation.
      Best wishes


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here