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Anyone for Tennis? Sport, Class and Status in New Zealand

This article explores how sport, frequently seen as the foremost meritocracy in New Zealand, is a site that can produce and reproduce social class-based distinctions. Specifically, we explore how participation in youth sport is connected with the consolidation of social class boundaries, expectations and ‘tastes’ by means of an ethnographic case study of Oakwood Tennis Club. Data was collected through participant-observation, and interviews with coaches, children and parents. Drawing upon Bourdieu (1978, 1984), we show that tennis at Oakwood fits with expressions of an aspirational middle class habitus centred upon social presentation, advancement and status. Parents and coaches at the club who valued the ‘concerted cultivation’ of youngsters into middle class lifestyles police these habitus codes. Thus, social class considerations are significant in influencing whether and how children play tennis and their experiences while participating. It’s hard to think of anything quite as un-Kiwi as our British-based titular honours arrangements. For a country that has discovered its identity on the back of an egalitarian vision, deliberately and unashamedly distancing itself from class and rank, the awards seem . . . [inappropriate] . . . Nowhere has this seemed more apparent than in sport. (Richard Boock, Sunday Star Times (Auckland), 7th September, 2009, p.1) [PUBLICATION ABSTRACT]