Oslo, Saturday afternoon. Several thousands people are watching Germany-Argentina on the big screen. The man opposite to me is wearing the German jersey. He is not German, but Norwegian. He is not the only one who identified with the"others” during the World Cup. Not only teams from the rich “West” are popular. A few days ago, people from all nationalities cheered on Ghana. Norwegian TV2 interviewed fans of the Ivory Coast team in South Africa. Ivory Coast fans came from all over the world, and many of them were neither black nor from the Ivory Coast.
The Football World Cup is often associated with primitive nationalism. Watching the matches in different public viewing places made me wonder: What about seeing the event as an arena of everyday cosmopolitanism, where people engage with the world, identify with teams, people and nations from far away places?
Even German fans of the German team cheer on players with names like Mesut Özil and Sami Khedira. In the German team, 11 of the 23 players were eligible to play for a different country. What effect does this have on notions of Germanness and identifications in general?
But a quick google search revealed that the cosmopolitan aspects of the football world cup do not seem to be a popular research topic. I haven’t found papers that address this topic explicitly - but maybe a closer look at the 90 journal articles that Routledge Journals made free to access until the end of July will nuance the picture?
Or maybe rather not?
“Academic treatments of football have tended to focus either on the game’s capacity to inspire xenophobic hooliganism amongst its followers or how it has been exploited by politicians for nationalistic purposes", writes Peter Hough in one of them called “Make Goals Not War“. There he highlights the mostly ignored positive contributions of international football to international relations. But he is not addressing cosmopolitanism either.
Anthropologist Hans Hognestad shares his view.
“Despite the apparent existence of transnational football fandom there seems to be a reluctance in academe to view this as generative of new identities contesting more traditional ones related to the nation as a privileged frame for structuring and reproducing identities", he writes in the paper Transglobal Scandinavian? Globalization and the contestation of identities in football that is not freely accessible (mostly about club football, though).
Why is this so?
“The lack of understanding of the popular and cultural appeal of sport seems to me linked to the incomprehension about and instinctive dislike of patriotism", argues Sunder Katwala. In a comment to The football world cup is not xenophobic by Robert Sharp, he criticizes the view “that we will (only) have a better world when people do not identity with national identities, but instead only with the brother-and-sisterhood of humanity.” Instead, cosmopolitanism can in his opinion be achieved “through supporting positive and outward-looking national identities which see the value as internationalism as important to “who we are”.
Maybe the World Cup constitutes such an arena for creating these identities?
Khaled Hroub has written a wonderful text about watching the World Cup in Palestinia and Palestinans identifications with other teams
For more texts see the overviews by Erkan Saka, among others http://erkansaka.net/archives/4233 and http://erkansaka.net/archives/4132
There is also a comprehensive overview at GlobalVoices
Or take a look at Steps to an ecology of transnational sports by Thomas Hylland Eriksen and Ambivalent Football. An Ethnographic Approach to Postcolonial Player Migration by Kristian Dyrkorn
UPDATE: Interesting post by anthropologist Martijn de Koning: Orange Fever: Notes on the Worldcup, football, nationalism and Deep Play in the Netherlands
How do you study wrestling as an anthropologist? By becoming a wrestler yourself! Heather Levi’s book The World of Lucha Libre: Secrets, Revelations, and Mexican National Identity is featured in the new issue of American Ethnography on Lucha libre - Mexican wrestling.
A long excerpt from the second chapter can be read there - an example of good anthropological writing and according to Martin Høyem, editor of American Ethnography, the best ethnography of 2008.
I found some reviews of the book. According to the Los Angeles Times the book is actually “entertaining". And it places wrestling in a political context:
“The success of figures like Superbarrio lay in the capacity of lucha libre to invoke a series of connections between sometimes contradictory domains: rural and urban, tradition and modernity, ritual and parody, machismo and feminism, politics and spectacle,” she writes. And in that tight sentence, Levi nails the appeal lucha libre has had among working-class Mexicans for decades. The various intersections she describes – class, sexuality, gender, xenophobia – are frequently lost on American audiences but make the sport so enjoyable.
“The World of Lucha Libre is one of the most interesting cultural studies of a key pastime in Mexico for many years” according to the Latin American Review of Books, while the Seattle newspaper The Stranger insists that “the first few chapters are pretty dry". But this is to be expected: “Most anthropological writing simply isn’t for general audiences".
But the academic nature of the text is something to be overcome:
Levi lays the entire world of lucha libre at the reader’s feet, from the adulation of the crowd to the metallic smell of blood in the ring, and the act of creativity, installing the personal narrative, is the reader’s job. This is excellent reportage on an endlessly fascinating subject, and Levi should be commended for standing back and letting the luchadores take center stage.
As in previous issues, American Ethnography is really interdisciplinary: It includes images from the Bolivian Lucha Libre scene, a review of a book by photographer Lourdes Grobet on the Mexican wrestling scene and a glimpse into American wrestling magazines from the 1970’s on “apartment wrestling", where women - according to the magazine Sports Review Wrestling in 1978 “clash with the fury of primitive savages fighting for their gods!”
Kambiz Kamrani at anthropology.net has made a nice post about national fotballs: How do the different countries represent themselves? Sport is bringing the world closer together, in his opinion. His list of World Cup participants "shows us the color side of globalization in the form of socio-economic and cultural contributions of each country in the form of soccer balls" >> continue reading at anthropology.net
On the website Expatica, Editor-in-chief David Gordon Smith has written an interesting comment on the recent patriotism in Germany. As also noted critically by blogger Urmila Goel:
As also All of Germany is coloured in black-red-gold. Almost all. And all are very very happy. (...) I hardly find anybody who is so utterly disgusted by all this black-red-gold as I am. 'Nations' are based on exclusion. They are the basis for wars, not only with weapons. I do not like this structuring of the world, and I utterly dislike its national symbols. Especially the flags.
David Gordon Smith might be nearly as critical as Urmila Goel. As a migrant, he feels excluded (for some reason, he uses the term "expat" - but you should use it as a synonym for migrant):
It is a strange feeling to live here and be excluded from the collective hysteria: when newspaper editorials write about 'us' and 'our team', they are not talking about expats. For anyone who does not belong to, or identify with, mainstream Germany, ostentatious displays of patriotism can leave an uneasy feeling.(...) If anyone gets nervous at the sight of Germans waving flags, it is because Germany waged a terrible war within living memory.
He then goes on explaining why patriotism never can be healthy for a society:
Nationalism and war have always gone hand in hand, and probably patriotism is of most use to the nation state when it comes to armed conflict. Without feelings of intense patriotism, it would be hard for the nation state to get young men (and women) to die on its behalf. Patriotic emotions may not cause wars, but they make it easier for governments to wage wars--especially wars which can not be rationally justified. If it was not for patriotism, governments would have to be much more careful about engaging in military action.
But what sort of relationship should we have to our country of origin or residence?
I would argue that in the modern world the ideal relationship of an individual to a nation state (or supranational organisation) should be objective, critical and passionless. You might agree or disagree with certain things the state does, you might even be prepared to fight to defend it, but you do not feel the blind unquestioning loyalty that comes with patriotism. The fewer young men and women who are prepared to fight and die for an idea, whether that is a particular ideology or religion or the equally constructed notion of a nation state, the safer the world will be.
I agree, but nevertheless I wonder: Are all flag waving people patriotic or nationalistic?
(via del.icio.us/anthropology) I've just returned from the match France-Portugal and have just stumpled upon this news story in the National Geographic. Many European soccer stars, including those currently playing in the World Cup, turn to magic and odd rituals before the game:
England defender John Terry, for example, says he always sits in the same place on the bus traveling to the game. He also must tie the tapes around his socks that hold shin guards in place three times before a game.
During this World Cup, Spanish striker Raul Gonzalez was reportedly berated for turning up at practice wearing a yellow T-shirt. His coach, Luis Aragones, considers yellow bad luck. (France went on to knock Spain out of the cup on Tuesday.)
Former Italy coach Giovanni Trappatoni could be seen sprinkling holy water on the playing field from a bottle provided by his sister, a nun.
>> read the whole story (as you see, the National Geographic has a different focus...)
"Superstition, a football tradition" (Fifaworldcup.yahoo.com)
Swissinfo interviews anthropologist Fabrizio Sabelli about the enthusiasm of Swiss fans during the World Cup. According to Sabelli, it's driven by a need for a collective ritual and not nationalism:
We're currently going through a pretty dull cultural period, which offers few gatherings like the World Cup, and people need them. They want to get together because they are increasingly lonely. And this solitude is not a uniquely Swiss malaise – it is found in all contemporary societies. Everyone needs rituals but there is a dearth of them in our globalised society.
I think it's simply about rediscovering a sort of collective feeling shared at a celebration and above all the thought of a potential victory.
This Swiss team is made of different backgrounds, yet it doesn't prevent members from presenting a united front under the Swiss flag. This, he says, is "an effect of the magic of sport ". Nevertheless, he doesn't believe that football can have a determining influence on how we perceive others.
Does the World Cup put a stop to war? It is undeniable that football has the power to unite - but its power to divide should not be underestimated, Daniel W Drezner writes in a Washington Post article where he quotes a 1973 article by Richard Sipes in the journal American Anthropologist. Sipes distilled the debate into two arguments: One is that combative sports and war are substitutes for aggressive behaviour. The other is that sports induce a warlike attitude. Sipes tentatively concluded that sports foster aggression.
Drezner discusses several interesting examples from the history of football and concludes:
The problem is that historically, football has been just as likely to be the trigger for war as the trigger for peace. Football will never bring about peace on its own. The flip side is also true-by itself, Football cannot start a war. The World Cup, like the Olympics, suffers from a case of overblown rhetoric.
PS: It might be interesting to find out under which conditions football may trigger either war - or which conditions may trigger peace