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"Becoming a football hooligan: Applying the Differential Association Theory in a new way" (by Petter Ingemarsson): Review 1

Published onApr 03, 2024
"Becoming a football hooligan: Applying the Differential Association Theory in a new way" (by Petter Ingemarsson): Review 1

Vote: Publish pending major changes

The article “Becoming a football hooligan: Applying the differential association theory in a new way” is a qualitative analysis of the process of football firm formation, using differential association as a framework. The author applies the major tenets of Sutherland’s differential association to eight interviews conducted with individuals who reported being a part of a football firm. While the paper presents a contribution in its unique application of differential association within qualitative work, I have several concerns, which are highlighted below.

Introduction & Literature Review:

  • No background information and very limited definitions are provided for key terms. For example, an ‘expression’ of hooliganism is provided, but the definition or any additional examples of this term are not provided. The author should consider whether this study actually examines hooliganism and perhaps remove the phrase, or provide more context to the term.

  • Additionally, football firms, which do seem crucial to the narrative, are not well defined. You suggest that a football firm is “a group of men with an explicit ideology of violence who fight men from other firms” (pg. 1). This is not clear and contradictory to the findings provided; you suggest that violence is not the only defining feature of these groups. If violence is the defining feature and individuals are recruited based on this, this needs to be clearly laid out.

  • You do not indicate with “positive supporter culture’ is. Is this the support of the country as a whole or by those who view matches or those within these firms? What are cheering sections? How do these differ from the ‘terrace’? (Pg. 3)

  • In what ways do the firms organize violence by “communicating with each other in some way?” (pg. 3)

  • The last sentence in the first paragraph on page 3 of the manuscript is incomplete. The beginning of the sentence does not logically connect to the remainder of the sentence following the comma.

  • More context to “primarily British but also on the continent” is needed. Readers are internationally based, so context/clarification to specific areas is needed.

  • What is a collective memory? How are they formed? Is this an objective memory by all in attendance?

  • You do not define symbolic interactionism or define the specific elements of Sutheland’s theory to which it specifically applies. You also do not discuss this within the methodology or often in the results. Thus, I’m not clear how this is a unique contribution.

  • My biggest concern, which is also my biggest concern in the other sections as well, is your discussion of football firms and the direct application of learning processes to recruitment and involvement in these firms. The formation of football firms and when/where specific mechanisms occur is not clear. You mention on page four that “how violence is expressed is determined by the agreed-upon common values that are established by the public affirmation of shared memories occurring in the interaction with other individuals in the firm grouping.” Thus you suggest that violent expression is determined by common values held by the group, and these values are established based on prior collective memories with the firm. If the memories are based on prior fights/violence, how can this determine violence expression? I’m confused about how prior values and what is all right or not all right to do are learned or presented in a learning opportunity for those being recruited.


  • Were the men all fans of the same three Stockholm teams or were they based on their memberships collectively in support of three teams total?

  • What is meant by entrance into the ‘field’ on page 6? The field as in the networks of individuals who are a part of football firms?

  • How many of the interviews were snowball sampled (e.g., last sentence on third paragraph on page 6).

  • What does the interview guide look like? Any specific questions/sections you can provide examples of? Was it only DA specific, or did it focus primarily on the concept of violence?

  • What was the average duration of the interviews?

  • There seems to be a lot of information left out of the “participants section.” It could benefit from having a few descriptive statistics for context. What does a secure childhood mean? Were they currently in a football firm or all formerly in one? How long on average? How were the other concepts like social services, SES, etc. measured? They’re different but how?


  • You suggest “none attended only one violent incident.” What was the average? Was there a big disparity? (Pg. 7)

  • Need context for the cheering section/terrace in the beginning or somewhere to better understand how being in these places creates status.

  • You mention it is important to understand the “context-based communication process can be understood” but this is never clearly laid out anywhere.

  • What are ‘sub-groups?’ (pg. 8)

  • The friends or acquaintances section is repetitive and not clear, how does it differ? You only mention recruitment. The recruitment process is also not clear; throughout it seems as if recruitment is almost like a phase where individuals are exposed to events, yet are still considered part of the firm. This is a key area where the process of learning needs to be specified. Exposure to these individuals, how they are learning about the fights, and when they begin engaging in the fights, are all crucial to the application of the theory. The role of ‘intimate personal groups’ is also not well discussed as it relates to definitions of violence. It seems as if they learn this very early on (and that it is somewhat based on their own prior beliefs related to violence?), so would these individuals actually be considered intimate personal groups at this point?

  • You mention multiple times that your findings are aligned with prior research, but stop there. How are these findings aligned? Make connections. (Pg. 8, 10, 11).

  • Because the recruitment learning process is not made clear, the sentence on page 9 which states “those who do not learn this cannot join a firm” is unclear. As again, it is written in a way which suggests that individuals learn behavior within their firm, not before.

  • Clothing attributes is mentioned once in the findings, but stressed as an important symbol. This doesn’t seem like a clear finding; did others mention this? How does it relate to other learned aspects? Were the clothing pieces team shirts or those specific to the firm? Did the firm agree on specific clothing attributes? It’s hard to tell with how it’s currently written its specificity to being part of the firm.

  • You suggest on page 10 “with the pro-criminal men in the firm.” Are they not all pro-criminal? If not, this would contradict the statement that accepting violence is required to join the firm.

  • You state “not the actual martial arts technique used” on page 11. Is this all violence or is some violence based in martial arts? The introduction of this is new.

  • Page 12, “but these symbols are only give status” needs to be edited for clarity,

  • What is meant by “all equally strong” on page 12?

  • Are the non-criminal friends only those friends outside of the firm? (pg. 12)

  • You suggest on page 13 that the firm friends have a ‘greater party atmosphere’ and are more fun than other friends. Can you provide context from the findings to support this?

  • Your statement on page 14 “A person who consistently..... never join a football firm” is an assumption perhaps better fit for the discussion, as this is not a direct result of your findings.

  • You discuss individual’s perceptions of their relationships as being impactful, as it relates to intensity/duration, but you don’t indicate how this was measured.


  • You suggest that the present study looked at how “criminal behavior predominantly refers to the exercise of violence, which is required for joining a firm” which seems to conflict with early discussions where it seemed more like the acceptance of violence was the most important. Also crucial to the earlier points of clearly laying out the process of joining a firm and the learning process.

  • The last two sentences in the second paragraph on page 15 are very broad and they are not clear in their current form. You should spell out the empirical contributions at a minimum. Similar suggestion for the last two sentences on page 16.

Crucial to theory testing is how the theory is operationalized, and its explicit representations within your findings, this is not clear within your manuscript. Better defining the key concepts, laying out the process of firm recruitment, and how learning occurs during that process will greatly benefit the paper.

Minor comments:

  • You have an extra “in” within the second sentence of the second paragraph on page 4.

  • Remove “the” from in front of alcohol on page 4.

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