Dissertation Proposal: An Embodied Sea of Blue

By Erin Sheehan

An Embodied Sea of Blue: An Intimate Examination of Hockey Jerseys and the Fans and Players Who Wear Them

Watching one another’s dissertation presentations it appeared that all of us, in some way, chose to follow the words of Mark Twain and write about what we knew. My own connection to the hockey jersey was not realised until I went home to Canada. I watched the Winter Classic with my family, and fellow Toronto Maple Leafs fans, who were wearing white and blue while using the #SeaofBlue hashtag.

I previously thought I would write about costuming on teen dramas, and their relationship with the young women that watched them, because I was one of those girls who wished for Lucas and Peyton to get together, and was envious by Blair’s Elie Saab wedding dress. This is what I knew. I was intimidated by the thought of writing a dissertation on hockey, especially since I have always felt like an outsider in conversations with my father and brother. However, the more I thought about it the more I began to understand that I have an embodied experience with hockey. I spent most of my childhood running through the stands of Port Credit Arena, my brother’s room is ‘Maple Leaf’ blue, and one of my earliest memories is yelling at Kaberle in the nosebleeds. Furthermore, I understood that the embodied interaction between player, fan, team, and the wider world was one that was, to paraphrase sociologist Joanne Entwistle, dressed. This relationship between the body, the jersey, and society was seen in my own everyday experience but also in Roch Carrier’s, The Hockey Sweater (1979). The story is based on his childhood; he experienced external humiliation and internal upset when he received a Toronto Maple Leafs sweater to replace his worn Montreal Canadiens one.

Image from "The Hockey Sweater", written by Roch Carrier. Illustration by Sheldon Cohen.

Image from “The Hockey Sweater”, written by Roch Carrier. Illustration by Sheldon Cohen.

The importance of the hockey jersey as a mediator between fans, players, and a team was also seen in the Toronto Maple Leafs’ web series, “The Leaf”, which ran this past season. This, along with my family’s loyalty, was one of the many reasons why I chose to examine the embodied experience of being a Toronto Maple Leaf. Although they have not won a Stanley Cup in forty-seven years (with frustration causing one fan to throw a jersey on the ice last month), the team had the highest earning value last year at $1.15 billion. Their fans are called fools by Forbes magazine and passionate by others. I may be biased, but these fans are the best.

However, what is understood by those who participate in the game is not conveyed within writing on hockey fandom or the hockey jersey. The dissertation I will be writing intends to fill this gap. It will bring the emotional, complex, and everyday experience into the understanding of hockey.

I understand that this topic is ambitious. However, I want it to take a multidisciplinary approach as a means to achieve it. A postmodern and phenomenological analysis situated within material culture, sociology, and subculture theory will be applied. Specifically, this will involve focusing on the work of Joanne Entwistle (2000), Daniel Miller (1987), Chris Rojek (2006), Georg Simmel (1973), Gary Crawford (2004), Michel Maffesoli (1996), and Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1964). They will be applied as a way of understanding fandom, collectivity, and subjectivity in relation to the body and individual garments.

Firstly, my intention is to expand on the examination of the wear of the jerseys within the Hall of Fame, using Steven Milton’s Hockey Hall of Fame Book of Jerseys (2012). This will be done by taking PhD student, Sara Chong Kwan’s interpretation of Jules Prown’s object analysis, which looks for wear and tear. This means going beyond the period of consumption, where the fan has been examined within academia, into, what Judy Attfield (2000) calls, ‘post-commodity’. This method will be supported with semi-structured interviews from both players and fans, along with textual analysis.

Being a Toronto Maple Leaf fan is a complex experience. I say that loving this team, along with Ally McBeal, is one of the things that has made me a hopeless romantic. The intention of this dissertation is to look at what has been missing from the pages of journals, but has been known by fans like me.

Erin image

Me, wearing my Bernier jersey. Image by Lewis Rabjohns.


Attfield, J. (2000) Wild Things: The Material Culture of Everyday Life. Oxford: Berg.
Belk, R. (1988) Possessions and the Extended Self. Journal of Consumer Research. vol.15, p.139-168.
Carrier, R. (1985) The Hockey Sweater. Toronto: Tundra Books.
Chong Kwan, S. (2012) “Drawing on Jules Prown’s Material Culture Method of Object Analysis to Investigate Sensory Engagement with Everyday Dress”. In: Lifter, R. Working Papers in Fashion Studies 2. London: London College of Fashion.
Crawford, G. (2004) Consuming Sport: Fans, Sport, and Culture. London: Routledge.
Davis, F. (1992). Fashion, Culture, and Identity. Chicago: Chicago University Press.
Derbaix, C. and Decorp, A. (2011) Colours and Scarves: An Ethnographic Account of Football Fans and their Paraphernalia. Leisure Studies. vol.30, pt.3., p 271-291.
Entwistle, J. (2000) The Fashioned Body: Fashion, Dress, and Modern Social Theory. Cambridge: Polity Press.
MacDonald, D. (1978) “All Ours: What is so Canadian (or so Beautiful) as a Hockey Jersey?” The Canadian, 18 March, p.12-13.
Maffesoli, M. (1996) The Time of the Tribes: The Decline of Individualism in Mass Society. London: SAGE.
Merleau-Ponty, M. (1964) The Primacy of Perception. Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press.
Miller, D. (1987 ) Material Culture and Mass Consumption. Oxford: Basil Blackwell Ltd.
Milton, S. (2012) Hockey Hall of Fame Book of Jerseys. Buffalo: Firefly Books Ltd.
Podnieks, A. (1996) The Blue and White Book 1997: The Most Complete Toronto Maple Leafs Fact Book Ever Published. Toronto: ECW Press.
Prown, J. (2001) Art as Evidence: Writings on Art and Material Culture. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Rojek, C. (2006) Sports Celebrity and the Civilizing Process. Sports in Society. vol.9, pt.4, 9.674-690.
Simmel, G. (1973) “Fashion”. In: Willis and Midgley. Fashion Marketing. London: George Allen and Unwin Ltd.
Toronto Maple Leafs (2014). The Leaf: A New Leaf- Episode 3[Internet]. Available here. Accessed 6 May 2014.
Woodward, S. (2007) Why Women Wear What They Wear. Oxford: Berg.


2 thoughts on “Dissertation Proposal: An Embodied Sea of Blue

  1. Thank you so much for submitting this article, Erin! I think it’s going to be a really interesting and original piece of research. I love that, unlike a lot of academic writing on sporting merchandise, you’re going to be covering the importance of fandom, and how they interact with – and almost help evolve – one garment x EM

  2. As I’d said after your presentation, I’d never thought I could be interested in hockey jerseys but your angles of reflection just totally fascinate me. I’d love to read your Substance essay about the jersey (I told my husband, a closet football fan, about it and he’s anxious to read it too!) – and of course the dissertation when it’s done! I think it will be a stellar piece, seriously.

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