In 1953 the political scientist Bob Chapman published an essay in the journal Landfall entitled: 'Fiction and the Social Pattern: Some Implications of Recent N. Z. Writing',[ Landfall, 7, 1 (March 1953), pp. 26-58.]
Chapman's article focused on the idea that literature tells us something about the social pattern of the society which produces it. Unfortunately social scientists in New Zealand have tended not to follow in Chapman's wake, in the main ignoring the cultural products of a society as a means to understand and investigate its social patterns and structures.
Recently I bucked the trend by looking at the way the claim 'rugby is New Zealand' religion' developed and circulated in various forms of writing - both fiction and non-fiction- both as an explicit claim and as a more nuanced, implicit idea. That was the first major study of its kind, surprising in that the claim, as I discovered, first arose in 1908. The essay came out late last year in The International Journal of Religion and Sport and when I get a PDF from the publishers I will publish a link here.
However I also wish to extend the idea of using rugby to investigate the social pattern by thinking through what we see of the teams in the Super 15 and the ITM this season. For not only do I want to follow on the more general, often commonly accepted claim that rugby reflects the social pattern of New Zealand in various ways, but I also wanyt to focus on the idea of whether the rugby of differing franchises and provinces itself reflects differing, regional social patterns? Does the rugby of Auckland and the Blues reflect something of the social pattern of Auckland? What does the on-going failure of North Harbour tell us about the North Shore? What does the rugby of the Highlanders, Otago and Southland tell us about the social patterns of the deep south? Is the success of the Chiefs a signal of a changing social pattern in Hamilton and the Waikato/BOP? What does Hurricanes rugby tell us? As for the Crusaders, does the recent failure to win a title signal an end to the success of the type of attitude that won titles earlier?
My view is just like literature, music, art, and other cultural productions express and perpetuate social patterns, that rugby, the type of rugby played and supported, the types of players taken to symbolise a team all reflect- and create a certain social pattern- not only of fans but also of the wider self-perception of the franchise and the province.
This means the game is never just a game, rather it is a type of social and cultural text playing out social patterns in front of us. The start of the Super 15 is more than the start of the rugby season, it is the beginning of a new way to think about New Zealand society.