One of the central topics for sociology is that of globalization and what this may mean for the nation state. Ulrich Beck talks of a shift from a first modernity centred on the nation state to a second modernity which is more global and exists over and against the nation state. In globalization- so social theorists such as Beck and David Held note - what is most important is both the local (where we live) and the global (where we are connected to and imagine and consume via media technology). The result is that the national becomes an identity and a location that means increasingly less for more and more people on a day to day basis.
Benedict Anderson famously titled his study of nationalism as Imagined Communities noted how the nation state is primary a social and political imaginary that has to be actively maintained and confirmed as existing and important for all the peoples whose primary identities are local, cultural, ethnic, religious and the like. The nation is therefore a transcendent claim over and above the lived, everyday indentities and loyalties.
Sport has operated as both the claim of the nation and that which seeks to undercut the universal claim. Most sport is local and in fact the national occurs as rare events. What is important is the local participating within national competitions. The nation state competing against other nation states is always undercut by the question as to what degree does that team represent, in its competition and ethos, the various local identities. International sport is therefore a type of transcendent call to conflict and imagined community. The difficulty is always overcoming the more present local rivalries to support, in the national team, players and by default, regions, localities, identities and an ethos that one spends the rest of the year actively not supporting-and indeed often opposing and dismissing as irrelevant.
When test match rugby was rare and when it occurred in a world of first modernity centred on the nation state it was easier to get support, for playing for the test team and supporting the test test was to support the nation in conflict with others. But when we move into globalized/localized second modernity the test match becomes the attempt to reclaim and reinforce a national identity to populations increasingly existing in everyday existence and imagination both locally and globally-but decreasingly nationally. This is why World Cups become so important, because they actually exist as meaningful events:they are both truly global and not common.
The test matches I am most looking forward to are those of the Wallabies-Lions series.This is the next best thing to a World Cup. Similarly, because they are not yet common, I am most interested in how the All Blacks play against Argentina. But the games against South Africa and Australia are increasingly mundane. In thinking back over the past decade, I have found myself far more interested in Super Rugby than most All Black test series and overall most enjoying the ITM Cup. Perhaps I am over nationalism and national identity. Yet also, so are all those players who choose to go and play offshore. So I find myself still an avid rugby fan but one increasingly self-distanced from the imagined community of the All Blacks. The sociology and social theory of globalization and second modernity would suggest that I am not a singular exception.Therefore the challenge for the All Blacks- and test rugby more widely- is going to be how they handle the challenge of second modernity.