Human Aggression and Football Hooliganism

In 1980 the issue was raised that claimed football hooliganism was due to innate tribalism and human aggression. In Oxford the main publicist of this view was Dr Peter Marsh. However Peter Marsh is not the last word on violence and aggression. His point of departure, whether he is discussing soccer hooliganism, pub violence, intra-familial assaults, or boxing spectators, has to be recognised as mistaken. The underlying basis, the fundamental premise, that human aggression and therefore violence is quite incorrect. Peter Marsh uses the term aggression with some degree of confidence, but, and this is the moot point, what does he mean by this term. The analysis, as well as the entourage of which he is seemingly a part (Eysenck, Ardrey, Morris etc) are those who use the media to publicise what is seemingly a scientific view of social issues, but which is in fact pseudo-scientific nonsense.

The view concerning the causes of football hooliganism are not new in the sense that he invokes pseudo-scientific theory about human aggression to explain violence. Football has existed for longer than the recent phenomenon of football hooliganism. Have football hooligans suddenly developed instincts for aggression? Not all football fans are hooligans – do those supporters therefore lack the necessary hostile drive?

The view of Peter Marsh is allied it seems to the reductionist trend within the human sciences – the ‘man is nothing but…” school of thought. These raconteurs regard human social values and culture as epiphenomena reducible to molecules and genes in action. In other words humans can be reduced to predatory carnivores or laboratory rats. Peter Marsh attempts to analyse football humanism (including the behaviour of Oxford United fans), on the basis of ethological and genetic myths, and that innate animality determines human behaviour. In this respect his views are neither novel or new.

Is football hooliganism a ritualised and formalised expression of instinct? Aggression implies behaviour directed towards violence towards others, causing harm to another of the species. In animals aggression is limited to behaviour and its underlying mechanisms, with the mosaic of ritual, posture, threat, withdrawal and attack more properly termed agonistic (contesting) behaviour. Is this ritual Peter Marsh ascribes to football hooligans? Or is the explanation of soccer fan ritual to be found in a social origin.

Aggressive behaviour was selected in animals as an adaptive characteristic, but in humans the social element was selected for – aggression being a maladaptive feature in primeval social groups. Animal aggression possesses an evolutionary purpose whereas human conflict is sociogenic. Ritualised animal aggression evolved to reduce the outcome of violence and is a biological phenomenon – human aggression is social in origin because in humans instincts do not determine behaviour. Peter Marsh, and Desmond Morris, confuse the ethological concept of ritual with that of the anthropological, likening human aggression with the doctrine of catharsis – the coiled spring model. Group aggression in humans has few parallels in animal communities and must not be confused with self assertive behaviour, nor with ritual fighting and conventional fighting.

Arguments that humans are instinctively aggressive and have an innate propensity to violence leads to concepts of individual and group hostility. This view is, in all essentials, is a Hobbesian sentiment of ‘all against all’ and leaves us with the old English proverb of ‘let him make use of instinct who cannot make use of reason’.

After all, if one considers the origins of football the hooligan is expressing in a spontaneous manner a sense of loss. He is at the same time a part of the team or club and yet separate from it. Hooliganism can only escalate by suppression so schemes to actually involve supporters with their team in a more dynamic manner can only be to the good.

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One response to “Human Aggression and Football Hooliganism

  1. Pingback: The Beautiful Game…I wonder… | Let me tell U a story

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