I am currently conducting my research on Little League Baseball as an Ideological State Apparatus…here is the basic gist of my work…
Little League baseball has three main components that make up its structure: industry, environment, and the individual. These three parts create the foundation of Little League, they form the institution. The industry is the business side of Little League, where the labor of the volunteers is converted into profit, and the players who initially come into Little League as materials are processed, changed, and sold back into the world as developed ball players and citizens. The environment is the confines of the baseball diamond where the materials (the players) are processed and the labor takes place. The individual is both the team and the player. The process of turning materials into goods- players into citizens, takes place as a group, the team. Althusser’s primary example of an ISA was the education system, where while learning basic educational skills such as math, reading, and writing, the students were being molded into particular types of citizens (Althusser 1970). Like Althusser’s education system, Little League participants are also learning skills, those related to baseball, while also being molded into desirable citizens; however, unlike the education system, participation in Little League is voluntary.
Little League started simply as a way to allow children to participate in baseball, learn the game, and have fun. But Little League grew. The participants were not secluded to a single field, city, or state, Little League expanded globally. It was through this growth that the United States recognized its potential; rather than Little League being simply about baseball it could also be about the future. Little League had access to hundreds and thousands of children, who came from different cultures, ethnic backgrounds, economic classes, and genders. Further not only were the children diversified, so were the volunteers: adults, families, and businesses. It was because of that diversity paired with the growth of the United States, that Little League could be a valuable asset to creating a sense of unity among the nation. The federal government incorporated Little League; and by giving its seal of approval took a vested interest in the institution. It becomes apparent when looking at the mission statement of Little League that it is no longer about baseball, but about the future generation. “By espousing the virtues of character, courage and loyalty, the Little League Baseball program is designed to develop superior citizens rather than superior athletes” (History of Little League 2010). This fact provides proof that Little League is an ideological state apparatus.
An ideological state apparatus is an institution that is utilized by the state to engineer a public consciousness. In the case of Little League, an ideology that is congruent with American nationalism. This ideology is more than just a set of values and principles; it is a combination of those ideals with action. Ideology is not just something that can be pressed and transmitted unto someone; it must be acted out, adopted, and internalized by them, become part of who they are. It must be expressed in their actions and for it to be truly effective, be passed on to future generations. Little League baseball, with its endless cycle of youth, who returned year after year to play, and in many cases, such as my own, again as adults who return to become coaches rather than players, made it the ideal ideological state apparatus. The game of baseball and rules of Little League have barely changed. Little League has become a constant; it is dependable and solid and has become part of history. It is because of this stability, that the ideologies are able to flow, year after year, and generation after generation within Little League.
The rules built into the game of baseball are there for a reason. Sometimes the reason is obvious, three strikes and you’re out, and sometimes it is not. But the rules of baseball do more than control and dictate the game. Especially for the children that play Little League, the rules train, mold, and control them. Learning and following the rules, teaches the children about power and authority, statuses and roles, and right versus wrong. It forces the children into a submissive state, where they are not in control. They are confined by the field and the rules of the game. While this portrays Little League as negative, the reverse is true. The rules are presented as logical, the field mimics professional baseball diamonds, and the coaches are the authority simply because they are, everything appears normal and makes sense to the children who participate. Most importantly, the institution is Little League, a trusted and established organization.
The rituals, where these ideologies are most obviously transmitted to the youth and then enacted through repetition continue to thrive. These rituals hold importance within the game of baseball: not stepping on the foul line to prevent bad luck, the uniform for team unity, shaking hands after the game as a sign of good sportsmanship, etc. But they also are the rituals that secretly contribute to the American nationalism that the ISA desires. These rituals seem simple, but their symbolism and hidden value is extensive. Good sportsmanship on the field develops into good character off the field, unity for the team develops into loyalty, and teamwork develops into patriotism for America.
Little League is presented as an organization for the learning and playing of baseball; but also a place for preadolescent children to engage in a socialization process that provides the groundwork for developing skills that will enhance and demonstrate usefulness during their adult lives. It is within the rules and rituals and built into the institutional structure of Little League that an understated moral archetype is hidden. This epitome of what the ideal citizen is and should be. By examining Little League as an ideological state apparatus, the moral archetype is exposed and the opportunity to see the development and dispersal of the ideology through the instruction and play of baseball is finally available.
Through this exposure, my analysis of an under examined American pre-adolescent culture group contributes to the field of anthropology and society at large. Little League players are at an age that is highly dynamic and malleable, yet the fact that Little League is an ideological state apparatus makes the participants reflective of the wider cultural values of the nation. Furthermore, because Little League is a global sport, this analysis enables a partial view into a singular aspect of a greater phenomenon that can provide valuable insight into a cross cultural examination of pre-adolescence, sports, ritual, play, structure, and moral socialization.