Sociological Forum

, Volume 11, Issue 3, pp 435–456 | Cite as

In a league of their own: Mental leveling and the creation of social comparability in sport

  • Kristen Purcell


Social measurement involves comparison across highly varying subjects, possible only when a degree of similarity is perceived among disparate events. Assuming sport as a prototype, this paper argues that such comparability derives from a three-pronged process of mental leveling.By (1) matchingopponents according to characteristics thought to influence the object or trait in question, (2) standardizingtheir performances, and (3) scalingthe resulting competitive leagues against one another, leveling yields a stratified meaning system through which individual performances can be ranked. This examination reveals that creating comparability among discrete objects is not without its price; the same mental gridwork that secures comparabilit withinleagues precludes comparison acrossthem, leading to a stratified system whose classes are separated by formidable mental and institutional boundaries. This point becomes particularly salient when one considers the invocation of this model in realms other than sport.

Key words

social measurement social comparison stratification sport cognition 


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Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kristen Purcell
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of SociologyRutgers UniversityNew Brunswick

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