(Turkish) Football: A Politically Charged Research Field?

The scepticism about my research interest is one example that serves to underline the relevance of the analysis of the complex intersection of football fandom and migration. Controversial discussions about my research topic were not only recurring in my research field itself, but also in my private and academic life. My research interest was considered to be unusual and sometimes even strange and was discussed extensively among colleagues at lunch or friends in pubs. This often led me to insights into common prejudices about male football fans, female football fans and also about ‘Turks’.

The prejudice about the uneducated, uncivilised, male, drunk football fan is still widespread in Austria and Germany and particularly in the world of academia. For a long time football was seen as even too ordinary and inferior to be worth researching. These prejudices do not only include aspects of classism but also of sexism. Men are perceived as a barbaric mass where ‘it must be difficult for a woman’ to do research or simply to participate. Johanna Rolshoven (2008) discusses the role and the relevance of football research in European Ethnology. She pays special attention to the prejudices that researchers face when researching football or sports in general.

Furthermore, Rolshoven makes it clear that especially for academic disciplines that analyse culture, sports are an important research field that is still neglected (2008, p. 39). Brigitta Schmidt-Lauber (2009) focuses on the changing perception of football research in academia. She identifies a link between the growing popularity of the perspectives in Cultural Studies and a legitimisation of football as a research field (Schmidt- Lauber 2009, p. 419). The appreciation and valuation of popular culture in Cultural Studies (cf. Lindner 2000; Warneken 2006) has thus impacted growing interest in football fan research.

In this regard, it is remarkable that in the early 2010s a football research project won a highly competitive call for proposals by the 7th European Framework Programme. This decision is not only a reward but also a financial, symbolic and institutionalised appreciation of football research in Europe. Politics and academics alike seem to have understood the importance of the football phenomenon for and in Europeanisation processes. Nevertheless, my personal encounters with, for example, other academics have often mirrored that football is still considered as an inferior, poor, substandard cultural phenomenon. This often resulted in the doubtful question of why one would want to research ‘those violent hooligans’. These prejudices accompanied me throughout the whole research process.

While I do not want to deny or trivialise problems of sexism, racism, homophobia and nationalism in European football stadia (cf. Buchowski et al. 2016; Schwell et al. 2016), generalisations do not help either. Working on a football project often led to puzzled and even worried looks about my research in a place that is perceived predominantly as a male domain. When I specialised my research on Turkish football, questions became even worse. Now some people expected that I was entering a totally men-only environment. Yes, my gender was decisive in my research. Yes, people - no matter if in Germany, Austria, or Turkey - treated me differently because I am a woman. But women are a regular part of football fan culture, also in Turkish football, and academics or people with a feminist or generally left-wing political affiliation too, as well as liberals, conservatives and right-wing people.

The intersection of negative attributions on different levels is what makes this research particularly socio-politically relevant. Turkish football fandom is a field where various and discursive powerful prejudices, stereotypes and cliches amalgamate and interact. The analysis of these social and cultural processes that are relevant to many people’s everyday lives enables the researcher to draw conclusions about hegemonies in society and their subversion in and via football fandom practices.

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