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Rinkside Tweeting: A Foucauldian Understanding of Changing Power Relations in the National Hockey League Presented by Naila Jinnah Macintosh Conference Queen’s University January 22, 2011

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Presentation version of my Rinkside Tweeting paper: A Foucauldian interpretation of power relations in the NHL.

Transcript of Rinkside tweeting

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Rinkside Tweeting:A Foucauldian Understanding of

Changing Power Relations in the National Hockey League

Presented by Naila Jinnah

Macintosh ConferenceQueen’s UniversityJanuary 22, 2011

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Say what?

• How does Foucault’s understanding of powerapply to the off-ice life of NHL players?

• Foucault and sport usually about discipline or technologies of self in development of high-performance athletes

• What happens when different power groups start using social media tools like Twitter? – Potential motivations & goals

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About Twitter

• 140-character public status updates (tweets)• May include basic text and links or pics and vids using tools• Users can subscribe to others’ feeds followers• Can interact by replying, forwarding (retweeting), etc• Public feeds accessible online to non-Twitter users UNLESS

user makes feed private to authorised users only

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About Foucault & Power

• Early work mechanisms of surveillance, punishment and resistance:

– repressive power

– sovereign power

– disciplinary society

• Power as positive and productive: resistance forms identities, knowledge & truth

• Later work technologies of self:

– Aesthetics of self: Voluntary rules of conduct that one imposes on self

– Ethics: How the individual sees self as a moral subject

• Individuals subject to normalizing discourses produced by dominant power groups and disciplinary power

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More Foucault & Power

• Power is relational, omnipresent, mutable

• NOT possession: exerting power is manifestation

• Those subjected to power must possess some degree of freedom or choice resistance

• Power structures are open to negotiation

• Resistance can eventually create shifts at societal levels may cause emergence of new voices and new dominant power groups within existing relations in the long run

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Research Questions

• Why do groups exert power on each other?– Traditional media

– Official league & team representatives

– Athletes

– Fans

– Related groups: player agents, NHLPA, citizen media

• How do they exert this power?

• What kind of power is exerted?

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Power relations in the NHL pre-Twitter


One-way power

Minimal one-way power

Balanced two-way power

Imbalanced two-way power


Traditional Media FansLeague





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Traditional media = intermediary

• Symbiotic relationship between media & sport

– Economics: sport sells, media creates fans

– Dissemination of normalising discourses

– Mutual power struggle: disciplinary power

• Players interact with fans through media only

• Media represents global fan reaction

• Fans’ voice limited: via media, by chance, or $

• Teams/league talks to fans through media only

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Players and Power

• No athletes, no sport!

• Power exists in three qualities

– Origin

– Basic nature

– Manifestation

• NHL values continually perpetuated

– Sovereign, paternalistic power

– Disciplinary, normalising power

• Athletes: Docile Bodies and labourers

• Surveillance tactics:

– Hierarchical observation

– Timetables

– Systems of rank

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Counter-Power / Resistance

• Athletes are not shaped to deal non-sport aspects:– NHLPA: player’s union to deal with business/labour

– Agents: deal with financial & well-being of clients

• Rise & fall of World Hockey Association (1972-79) also helped athletes resist to NHL power

• Lifespan of average successful NHL career: 5 years

• Resisting media, league not a smart choice

• Success through technologies of self: better self and maximize post career opportunities

• No “true self” but reconstruction of identities by challenging traditional normalising discourse

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Athletes + Power = Illusion

• Power only present in perpetuation of discourses that identify athletes as heroes

• Only true power exerted on other athletes:– Veterans initiating rookies to NHL life– Competition for same positions on


• Power struggles through resistance– NHL + athletes work together towards

new “normal”

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NHL’s new strategies & tactics

• NHL monopoly on pro hockey market in NA– Talent, teams, media interest, discourse

• From sovereign power to art of government– BEFORE: Manage territory + constituents (athletes)– NOW:

“the population [or athlete] is the subject of needs, of aspirations, but it is also the object in the hands of the government [league], aware, vis-a-vis the government [league], of what it wants, but ignorant of what is being done to it.”

-Foucault in Governmentality (p. 99) In The Foucault effect: Studies in governmentality, with two lectures by and an interview with Michel Foucault. (1991)

• Still sovereign & disciplinary power + new strategies & tactics mean NHL has more ways of governing athletes

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NHL as cartel


• Regulates teams so they act in the league’s interest

• Restricts access for athletes

• Divides power across markets

• MACRO power:

– Master schedule

– League-wide PR/communications

– Discipline to control athlete actions that don’t fit in discourse

– Takes control of local league-wide events with major marketing potential: ASG, Draft, Playoffs


• Extension of league’s power

• Team regulations based on league-wide guidance

• micro power:– Day-to-day operations

– Local PR/communications

– Local promotion & events only

– Game day information

– Everyday discipline of athletes

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Power relations in the NHL post-Twitter


One-way power

Minimal one-way power

Balanced two-way power

Imbalanced two-way power


Traditional Media FansLeague





Citizen Media

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Twitter = new intermediary

• NHL no longer needs traditional media to disseminate info on its behalf with Internet

• Slighted power groups now have a voice

• More direct communication between groups

• Twitter as tool is NOT automatically liberating– Reduces space & increases speed of

communications between different groups

• Resistance doesn’t modify power relations but knowledge produced by resistance

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Knowledge leads to power

• Power relations: ways in which knowledge circulates and functions + its relation to power

• Power & knowledge linked in discourse– Daily relations between people produce society– Power & knowledge can’t exist without each other– Knowledge produced by normalising, disciplinary methods

• Athletes contribute to discourse by producing and dispersing their own knowledge

• Open, non-discriminatory platform: athletes can completely control their own communications

• Still discipline & surveillance by: – agent, team, league, mainstream media reporters, fans

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PANOPTIC surveillance

• Panopticon based on Bentham’s prison design– groups cells around watch tower

• Surveillance by:– Agents (paternalistic, disciplinary)– Team & League (pat & disc)– Mainstream media reporters– Fans

• Panoptic gaze: – Potential observation – Invisibility of examination

• Twitter is public so illusion of surveillance should encourage self-discipline + filtering

Bentham’s Panopticon

from prisoner’s POV

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The case of @PaulBizNasty

• @PaulBizNasty known for colourful trash talking on and off the ice

• Tweets: Kovalchuk is “communist”

– In private context: no discipline

– Not acceptable outside hockey microcosm

• Account deleted (at agent’s suggestion)

• New @BizNasty2point0 is “filtered”

– No explanation for surveillance procedure

• Players practice technologies of the self

– Personal branding for post-playing career

– Limited counter-discursive content

Paul Bissonnette(Phoenix Coyotes)

NHL has no official social media policy or

guide … YET!

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The rise of the sports celebrity

• Increased personal life & lifestyle info– From role models to commodities– Famous for being famous (on-ice vs. off-ice)– Lifestyle information to be consumed

• Superstars not on Twitter: docile bodies• Docile bodies increase global revenue

– Cross-promotional potential

• Professional athlete identity in flux– New demands, responsibilities &

expectations because of social media: constant pressure (instant gratification)

– Constant observation by fans (info society)– Construction of star brand by fans

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The fall of the sports celebrity

• Athletes elevated to iconic status but rarely live up to expectations: illusion of power

– Fame comes at a price

– From heroes to zeroes via media (old, new, social)

– Fans can easily take back players’ power

• Fans live vicariously through athletes (+ power)

– Players’ personal failure is betrayal for fans

– Player invites fans into his heart and mind

– Fan-athlete connection depends on fandom levels

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But what about the fans?

• As player salaries increased, personal fan connections decreased• Social media attempts to bridge the gap

– Include fans in decision-making process at NHL level– Fans benefit from Twitter’s speed and access– NHL still controls power relationship: knowledge

• How fans connect to sport:– Sports stars (not just players, but teams as a whole)– Geographic places (but hometown heroes constructed)– Demographic & lifestyle levels

• Social media creates communities outside of geography– Long-distance fans make be tempted to travel to a home game– Fan-allegiances outside traditional hometown affiliations

• Fans likely to increase consumption due to closer connection– Fan empowerment leads to NHL’s empowerment: economics

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How are fans empowered?

• More information sources increase fan empowerment– Citizen media fill gap left by traditional media constraints

– Agents fill gap left in creation of player identities• Accessories to athlete’s use of technologies of self

• Agents exert liberal power over athletes

• Illusion of empowerment through “resistance” to sovereign power of traditional media and NHL by accessing information through other sources

• Twitter as confessional tool for fans & athletes– Direct player interaction/pressure

– Governance of athlete behaviour

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• @33dellis less controversial than BizNasty• Complained about precautionary 18% escrow

paycheck deduction– “I can honestly say that I am more stressed about money

now than when I was in college”– Valid in pro hockey microcosm but not public setting– Deleted account after personal and professional fan backlash

• Fans exercised power to resist “hero” discourse:– Panoptic surveillance to detect tweet– Confessional power to alert media/league– Disciplinary tactics to punish Ellis’ resistance,

confessional power, and technologies of self

• Fan’s freedom to respond was empowering• Fan’s knowledge production increased

traditional power’s influence

Dan Ellis(Tampa Bay Lightning)

Fans always crave more behind the

scenes information

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Overall Twitter effect• NHL teams and league allow fans’ illusion of power

– Fans sound off directly to NHL through Twitter– Reinforces NHL’s voice as authentic– Additional openings to perpetuate normalising discourses

• NHL teams need to adapt or lose influence • Fans want to know athletes & athletes want to know fans• Twitter limits fans’ fear of being perceived as stalkers• NHL and athletes don’t interact on Twitter: authority

– Team wants to prove it still controls conversations involving it– Players want to distance themselves from professional life– Commodification and lack of player loyalty as factors

• Players tweet amongst themselves: personal, casual & playful• NHL players accountable for their tweets

– Surveillance and disciplinary measures by:• Players, League, Team, Themselves

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Shifts in balance of power: en bref• Fans no longer afraid to exert direct influence on

their role models: normalised celebrity interaction

• Twitter is new intermediary not new power group:– Replaces traditional media in pro sports landscape

– Reduces traditional power’s influence and increases marginalized voices’ influence in consumer societies

– Allows for different manifestations of power

• Problematisation of self through resistance of role in traditional structure shifts balance of power: – Fans and athletes embrace Twitter and empower

themselves to start countering traditional discourses created by NHL & media

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In conclusion…• Power acquired by NHL fans & players illusionary:

– Any interaction with pro hockey increases NHL’s power, even resistance

– Twitter increases NHL’s knowledge of audience & development of new strategies for perpetuating normalising discourses

– Professional athletes need league to survive and league needs labourers

– Rise of celebrity culture via Twitter empowers athletes but illusion of players as powerful can shatter quickly

• Teams are only marginally influential and only locally• Influence of normalising discourses is generational so resisting

dominant power groups is a long-term process• Foucauldian understanding of power relations in NHL details

how fans & athletes can steadily increase influence over NHL by using interactive tools like Twitter– Interesting perspective for power relationship analyses in

sports management, sports psychology and sociology of sport

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Email me: [email protected]

Tweet me: @NailaJ

Thanks for your

attention throughout

my presentation!