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Problems of involvement and detachment: a critical approach to researching live event experiences.

Turner, Daniel; Pirie, Elliot


Daniel Turner


Ian R. Lamond

Louise Platt


Despite being central to the foundation of a critical leisure studies tradition (see Elias & Dunning, Society and leisure, 2:50-85, 1969; Mennell, 2006), due to the sport-focused work of the Leicester School (see Dunning, 1971, 1999; Mennell, 1989) the sociology of Norbert Elias remains a largely ignored perspective in the critical event studies terrain which has emerged from within this field. This chapter will focus upon Elias' contribution to research philosophy, primarily his work on involvement and detachment (Elias, The British Journal of Sociology, 7(3):226-252, 1956; Elias, What is sociology? London: Hutchinson University Library, 1978). This strand of Elias' work attempts to resolve the dualism of induction and deduction and problematises the search for 'objectivity' in social research. The chapter uses Elias' work here in order to address an issue often prevalent in student research projects in the events terrain, namely, how to maintain analytical insight into issues of significant personal interest. Drawing on two case studies of significant personal interest to the authors, namely, live music events and Scotland national team football matches, the chapter considers how students can maintain distance from their subject without losing the rich understanding that comes from personal involvement. The chapter begins by outlining the basic, broad positivist versus interpretive debate which underpins many introductory discussions regarding research philosophy and strategy (see Finn et al., 2000) before outlining Elias' attempts to move beyond this in his discussions of 'involvement and detachment' (Elias, The British Journal of Sociology, 7(3):226-252, 1956; Elias, Involvement and detachment. Oxford: Blackwell, 1987). The above-mentioned case studies are then introduced to demonstrate how it is possible, by taking a 'detour via detachment' (Elias, Involvement and detachment. Oxford: Blackwell, 1987), to create a methodology for the investigation of live event experiences. The chapter concludes with the assertion that, whilst an understanding of detailed methodological processes and practices is vital when successfully conducting research into the live event experience, it is a nuanced understanding of research philosophy which guarantees that such practices and processes are selected appropriately in the first instance.


TURNER, D. and PIRIE, E. 2016. Problems of involvement and detachment: a critical approach to researching live event experiences. In Lamond, I.R. and Platt, L. Critical event studies: approaches to research. London: Palgrave Macmillan [online], pages 17-35. Available from:

Online Publication Date Jun 11, 2016
Publication Date Jun 24, 2016
Deposit Date Aug 14, 2018
Publicly Available Date Aug 14, 2018
Publisher Palgrave Macmillan (part of Springer Nature)
Pages 17-35
Series Title Leisure studies in a global era
Book Title Critical event studies: approaches to research
ISBN 9781137523846
Keywords Ethnographic research; Research philosophy; Interpretivist approach; Deductive approach; False dichotomy
Public URL


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