The “Social Science & Doping” group (Dir. Patrick Trabal, Equipe Sciences Sociales, CERSM)

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The Social Science and Doping group, created and directed by Patrick Trabal, groups together members of the Social Science team of the CERSM (EA 2931) – Center of Research on Sport and Movement – but also researchers from other universities studying doping.

Since 2002, the Social Science and Doping group has been studying doping practices, directing their analyses on the use of methods and consumption of illicit products, but also on how to understand them, or on the activity aiming at fighting them.

A long-term action

Our approach is characterized, on the one hand, by the fact that it is established on the long term, which makes it possible to follow the evolution of practices and debates. By doing this we will be able to understand the significance of a revelation, a new development in an affair or what is at stake when a change is made in the organization of the anti-doping campaign.

Questioning divisions

One of the difficulties for social science to apprehend the doping issue is due to the many divisions of the subject. According to us, the corresponding literature can be classified in three large parts:
  • There are studies about the representations of doping, the ethical issues raised by anti-doping policies, the axiological principles basing the voicing of opinions by the actors on these prohibited practices, and / or how to fight them. As shown by Mignon (2002), these researches quite often go beyond the issue of doping or aim at putting it into the wider context of studies on sport or society, or else on the social meaning of sports events.
  • A few studies directly aiming at actually assessing doping practices have been published. These researchers are essentially interested in issues regarding the prevalence of doping as they engage into a “social epidemiology”, trying to discriminate doping practices according to variables (gender, age, type of practice or sport) and mobilizing to this end surveys – mainly quantitative ones (with the exception of a few studies based on interviews or life stories) and sometimes longitudinal ones.
  • We can also list a few researches on anti-doping measures. These concern analyses of sports public policies or of health policies, or studies on prevention (at times widened to the issue of health education), but these are scarce.

For us, a clear understanding of doping and an improvement of the fight against doping requires the development of research, not only on these three levels of investigation, but also on their articulation. This means developing data and analyses on the social and political environments where doping arises, quantitative studies on accounts of doping, research on the measures which naturally aim at connecting axiological principles with the environments they intend to penetrate and change.


Working on texts

To analyse the articulations between the various levels and the tensions, we believe it is crucial to study texts. It is through language that practices are expressed and the actors are keen to make their constraints and actions comprehensible. More specifically, it is through texts that conceptions and standpoints are defended. But it is also through language that actors will strive to communicate their experiences to link their values and constraints. More generally, it is through narrating and debating – and thus through language – that the possibilities of change can be understood.
How can we process all these texts? Advances in socio-computing, historically related to the sociology of risks, offer interesting perspectives. If we refuse to give in to the essayist temptation, which consists in commenting without control documentary series devoid of research logic and restraining instruments, the demands of sociological studies generally end up with an accumulation of data about a few aspects of the subject matter and a production of knowledge limited to the way it was cut up. Is it possible to follow the demands of surveys and scientific analyses and attempt to compare the different facets of a subject as complex as doping? Can we envisage a confrontation between these issues and those from other fields? There exist many ways to process bodies of texts, in particular statistically. We have elected to work with computing tools allowing the connection between four dimensions which have often been the subjects of formalizations in the past but separately: a statistical dimension which makes it possible to deal with large numbers of statements; a semantic dimension capable of accounting for the various meanings attributed to terms or characters, formulas or arguments; a historical dimension referring to phenomena of progression or cut-offs, of revisiting the past or projecting into the future; and lastly a pragmatic dimension related to the frameworks of action and statements. Hence the texts composing our corpus can be described within these four dimensions without suffering from limitations which would damage proper theoretical interpretations. To link these various aspects, it is necessary to question the different coding strategies of the elements of rhetoric. To have meaning, the representation of textual structures should accept that the researcher himself is impelled to interpret texts (Chateauraynaud, 2003).
The Prospero software and its related programmes are precisely built to answer this requirement: the user should be able to assess several sets of interpretation. Our privileged links with the School of Higher Studies in Social Science and with Doxa where these tools are developed, enable us to carry out interesting collaborations. On the one hand, they let us use these tools and participate in their developments which fit our needs to perfection. On the other, while mobilizing instruments used by specialists in risk sociology, we can compare the issue of doping with the prion disease, problems related to asbestos, debates around GMOs or even road safety – many possible perspectives, because we share the same theoretical and empirical preoccupations as this community of researchers.

Publications about the research program

  • Trabal P., Zubizarreta E., 2015, "Sociología del dopaje y de la lucha antidopaje: construcción de un programa de investigación" in R. Pardo, T. Gonzalez Aja, P. Irureta-Goyena (eds), El fenómeno del dopaje desde la perspectiva de las Ciencias Sociales, Madrid, Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, pp. 327-338. (Text on line)
  • TRABAL P., 2015, "The Fight against Doping in Sport as a Sociology
    Issue – Construction of a Research Programme", European Journal of Social Sciences, Vol. 50 No 3 December, 2015, pp. 301-312 (preprint on line)

Updated on 10 avril 2016