Join | Login


Paul V. Khiatani

City University of Hong Kong


Minnie H.C. She

City University of Hong Kong


From the Court to the Streets: Understanding the Moral Self in the Context of Sports and Protest in Hong Kong

Keywords: Morality, Identity, Moral Self, Basketball, Protest

For centuries, intellectual inquiry over personhood and behavior has been profoundly influenced by the concept of morality. A multi-dimensional concept with roots deeply entrenched in our understanding of who we are as a person in society, morality remains to be relevant and important to contemporary research enterprises that seek to understand the complexities of human behavior. For example, it was just a few months ago when international news reported that more than one-fourth of the admitted athletes to the 2016 Rio Olympics were barred from participating in the international event due to a discovery that they had tried to gain an ‘unfair’ competitive advantage by doping. Another notable example would be how violent or unruly behaviors, despite normative expectations to abstain from it, appear to increasingly find a commonplace among contemporary action repertoires during events of collective action. How can we understand these behaviors from the vantage point of the individual’s private morality? Two relevant research projects, currently being conducted in Hong Kong, aims to delve deeper into the moral intricacies of the relationship between one’s personhood and behavior from the perspective of identity theory.  

While doping may not be a common experience on the basketball court, immoral behaviors, such as intentionally injuring the opponent or breaking the rules of the game in order to gain an advantage, are not uncommon sights among players – no matter amateur or professional basketball players. In connection to this phenomenon, moreover, current research have largely neglected the primacy of internal factors, and instead focused on external factors, e.g. peer pressure, in building an explanatory model to account for such behavioral variations on the court. Minnie SHE’s research project, therefore, written as part of her undergraduate thesis, explores the possibilities and limitations of the moral self in explaining moral and immoral behaviors on the basketball court. Furthermore, to elaborate on the salient features of immoral behaviors, Minnie’s thesis examines the extent to which mechanisms of moral disengagement are used to justify immoral behaviors on the basketball court.

In the political space, a similar study is being conducted by Paul KHIATANI, whose doctoral dissertation examines the relationship between the moral self and protest behaviors in the context of contentious political actions. Attempting to advance an explanatory model for protest behaviors that is grounded on how one sees himself/herself as a moral agent in society, the dissertation uses a mixed methods research methodology and an advanced sequential research design to elucidate the primacy that moral values, moral convictions, and political imaginations of the ideal society have over explaining one’s protest behaviors – in terms of both propensity for the political engagement, and extent of commitment to a particular action repertoire.

So what are the merits to understanding the standards and justifications of one’s morals in the social settings, such as in the basketball courts and protest spaces? In the midst of public confusion over how to comprehend the nature and justifications for immoral and moral behaviors in the social world, it is important to delineate the capabilities and limitations of the personal identity from that of social and role identities. By doing so, not only will we begin to appreciate the unique humanity in everyday actions, but we would also be able to shift the conversation around policy circles and dominant public discourses, which largely champion role and social identity models over that of the personal identity. Moral standards, values, and convictions shape us who we are. As we continue to navigate through troubled, if not dividing, socio-political landscapes, let us remember to not deface those whose actions we cannot comprehend.

<< back