Graduate Guidance

Theory, philosophy and fantasy football

Robert Sheargold

Inspired by a personal interest (and participation) in fantasy football leagues, and a series of lectures on virtual space, my undergraduate dissertation sought to explore the relationship between physical and virtual spaces through research that would involve me building and following a fantasy football team and speaking to a community who competed in online leagues. I would also conduct a textual analysis of the online webpages that hosted the fantasy football leagues.

There was a strong philosophical, theoretical and spatial underpinning to my research project from the start.  Before starting this dissertation I had already situated myself within anti-realist approach to research. I was interested in the individual subjectivities of each fantasy manager and their experiences of negotiating virtual and physical spaces. From this foundation I was able to pick qualitative research methods that were best suited to the collection of data that helped explore the multiple experiences of engaging with online and offline spaces.

Inspired by different geographic theories of space, I begun to explore how spaces of the internet were different to physical spaces. I started to find inspiration in the works of key spatial thinkers like Lefebvre and Foucault. Foucault’s notion of heterotopia became a way of thinking about how the virtual domain of the fantasy football website mirrored and subverted physical space (see Foucault and Miskowiec, 1986). For Foucault, all spaces are related and it is these relations that define spaces. However, there are instances where relations both mirroring surrounding spaces, and also invert and contradict surrounding spaces. The latter is a heterotopia.

Heterotopia consequentially became the crux in my theoretical framework for thinking about how users’ bodies inhabited multiple spaces simultaneously through mediation. Through this theoretical lens I was unknowingly adopting a post-modern way of thinking about the world. While these spatial theories initially seemed a world apart from the study of fantasy football - such ideas helped me map the geographies of fantasy football.

If I was to offer advice on using theory, I would say it is important to remember you are not expected to know everything. Theory can be daunting, but trying to read complex ideas can help in making sense of your own research.  I remember for the first month of my dissertation, I felt like I had to consult geography handbooks, dictionaries and my supervisor almost constantly in a bid to understand what I was reading. But these ideas, though challenging, made my project better. I didn’t force theory on to my project, rather it emerged and guided my ideas as they arose during the research process. Without theory then, I would have had great difficulty in understanding and mapping the geographies of fantasy football.

Robert Sheargold completed a BA in Human Geography at Aberystwyth University and a MA in Cultural Geography at Royal Holloway, University of London. He is currently working in London. He holds interests in the relationship between mental well-being, product design and user experience research.