Emotional Practices and Bodily Perceptions

My first visits to the pub as described above had left me a bit insecure. Consequently, as the anthropologist Rolf Lindner describes, I was thinking a lot about what my research subjects were thinking about me (Lindner 1981, p. 54). As a result, I was extremely cautious in interactions and always aware of the different (social) barriers in the room. This led to a lot of sensory irritations and I became extremely aware of my body. How should I sit? Should I kiss people on the cheeks when going there or shake their hands? Should I join in when everybody started screaming or would it seem inappropriate? In the end, I ended up sitting there almost paralysed wishing to be invisible, inaudible and imperceptible.

The following analysis focuses on the one hand on my role as a researcher in the entering process. On the other hand it adds an analysis of bodily experiences, emotional practices and also the sensory perception of the researcher by the supporters. Bodily experiences, emotional practices and sensory perceptions are crucial to understanding why I experienced the access to the Fenerbah^e Pub as particularly difficult. Moreover, this subchapter reflects how the researcher is influenced or even biased in his or her choice of interview partners. In this case the bias is directly linked to emotional practices in the field.

In football fan culture, emotional practices are a central part of the dramatic potential of the game (Sonntag 2008a, pp. 77-104; Elias and Dunning 1986). Mike S. Schafer, referring to Emile Durkheim’s (1981) concept of emotions, emphasises the importance of the collectively shared and ritualised expression of love to the fan object in football fandom to establish a community feeling (Schafer 2010, pp. 115, 125). Christian Bromberger summarises the emotional involvement of the supporter as his or her ‘passionate partisanship’ (1995a, pp. 105-11). Emotional practices and also sensory perceptions obtain an important role in all research fields. In the research about fan cultures, emotional practices can become particularly sensory, visible, audible and so on. For many fans, they are an integral part of why fans like to watch football and like being a fan. Regularly, many fans use football as an emotional outlet:

Ayla: At home we have the atmosphere because we can simply cheer and scream as we like. We can criticise as we like (both Nina and Ayla start laughing), you know? But well, the love is coming from, it’s like this in football, you can get upset, vent your anger but also be happy. This excitement, the adrenaline is just there, do you know what I mean?[1]

Ayla describes football fandom as a place where she can act freely without sticking to strict social rules that would otherwise not allow such behaviour. For many of the interviewees, one of the most important aspects is that football is considered a counterpoise to ‘normal life’. Escaping the real world for a certain amount of time, mostly 90 minutes and a little bit more, is a popular reason to watch football.

Emotions and senses are part of incorporated practices that are habitu- alised and part of cultural practices (Scheer 2012a, p. 209; Bendix 2005, p. 7). They need to be understood and analysed as learned practices that are socially constructed. Regina Bendix emphasises that we should understand senses as an important part of our research methodology and that senses should therefore be included in the analysis of cultural practices (2006, p. 72). The aim of this perspective is a better contextualisation of the gathered observations and interviews and therefore also a better way of reflecting the researcher’s role during the research.

In the Fenerbahqe Pub, fans can watch a match and act loudly. It is a place to meet with friends and to share emotions in a football fan community. Monique Scheer, who discusses emotional practices in the framework of Protestantism, emphasises that emotions are a cultural practice that does not exclusively ‘happen’ inside a person but are also performed on the outside depending on different social rules in different contexts (Scheer 2012b, p. 182). Mike S. Schafer underlines this by saying that in our society, it is rare to have a place where it is legitimate to perform emotions outside the body. In football, on the other hand, it is not only legitimate but expected to do so and can be a serious requirement to be recognised as a ‘real fan’ (Schafer 2010, p. 118).

Accordingly, some fans in the smoking area of the Fenerbahqe Pub — but not all of them - acted emotionally and performed those emotions with the whole body: joy at the score of a goal was celebrated with cheers and joyful chants. People jumped up and down, put their arms into the air, they high-fived with fellow fans and hugged and kissed. Before an important penalty, the tension was expressed by sweating and tearing one’s hair out. When the other team scored, people were mourning quietly. If the referee made a decision that was contrary to the opinions of the fans, some of these people swore at him, booed him and wished him dead, often accompanied by jumping up and down and using furious gestures. During matches that were considered important a quiet room filled with tension could turn into a space of explosive bodily performed emotions in just one second. However, emotional practices cannot be generalised. These practices are impacted by and often depend on age, class, gender or cultural differences and particularly also by space.

Referring to Gertrud Lehnert’s discussion of space (Raum) and emotions (Gefuhl),[2] people construct ‘space’ into places of meaning (Lehnert 2011, p. 11). These spatial constructions then again impact the performances of emotions and their bodily-sensory representations and perceptions. The Fenerbahqe Pub is therefore a place - like any other place - that contains many intersecting layers of various spatial constructions and interpretations. Therefore, it also evokes different emotional and sensory connotations and performances (Lehnert 2011, p. 12). It is crucial to look into the sensory-emotional experiences and attributions linked to the meaning of space in order to understand the different practices in the research field (cf. Pink 2009, p. 25).

When emotions are performed on the outside of the body, they become sensory for others. With regard to Norbert Elias’ work on affect or emotional control (Affektkontrolle) (Elias 1997 [1939]) in modern societies, Schafer adds that football creates a space, or more correctly, fans create via football a space where it is appropriate to perform emotions loudly. However, the way emotions are expressed is still also socially regulated in football places (Schafer 2010, p. 121). As elsewhere, in the Fenerbahqe Pub fans aspire to an ideal emotional performance (cf. Scheer 2012b, p. 180).

In a football context, emotional rules are often experienced as more flexible and ‘free’ but they do not happen in a space without hierarchies. Therefore, emotional practices might be understood more easily when football places are not analysed as an extraordinary space but as a regular part of our everyday lives with its specific norms and rules. This is because we most of the time have to adapt to a variety of emotional expectations within just one day. A family breakfast demands different emotional practices than a work-related meeting just two hours later. An example for the rules that also apply even though emotions, at first sight, seem to be acted out ‘freely’ in football places, is the set of rules that applies for ‘yelling’. In the Fenerbah^e Pub, it was generally considered appropriate to yell, but only under certain circumstances and conditions: yelling loudly was legitimate but using swear words was only considered to be appropriate under very specific conditions (for example jokingly among men). Likewise, loud cheers during the match without any ‘legitimate’ reason such as the chance of scoring were looked down upon by others.

These emotional practices, however, are not specific to the Fenerbah^e Pub. In other football places I observed very similar emotional practices. The following description is taken from a fieldnote from 20 November 2012 in a ballroom of a Turkish restaurant (Football Restaurant) that is regularly used to show matches of Turkish teams:

In the second half it finally happens: Gala [Galatasaray] scores. I am somewhat overwhelmed. Everybody is kissing, hugging. A chair is knocked over.

I am thinking that I should join in, but do not feel comfortable doing that. [...] The match stays exciting until the end. Everybody is nervously and loudly requesting the final whistle. When it finally happens the cheering is intense. Standing up, jumping, hugging. Cem [a member of the group] joins a group singing fan chants.11

When I was watching football with my future interview partners in the Fenerbah^e Pub, or in a living room or some other pub or restaurant, I was often at my emotional and bodily limits. In the Fenerbah^e Pub, for example, I had only gotten to know the people very recently and had not yet learned the social rules of the place. Being unfamiliar with the behaviour that was considered appropriate led to a great insecurity on my side regarding how to conduct myself. I was afraid that if I did something wrong I would never get access to the smoking area or gain the trust of possible interview partners. At the same time, I simply could not act as emotionally and physically anyway because I was not in an ‘intense emotional social relationship’ (Schafer 2010, p. 115 [author’s translation]) to the fan object anyway, in this case to Fenerbah^e. [3]

When I was watching matches of the Turkish league, I neither felt love for the fan object Fenerbahqe nor did I understand the rules of the rituals of how to perform the emotions with your body. As discussed before, the performance of emotions is part of a cultural practice that can be learnt, but not that quickly. Therefore, outsiders cannot so easily become part of the group via shared emotional practices either.

The aim of my research in this pub was not to become a regular member of the group, but I needed to gain the right to participate in the pub due to very practical reasons: access to and understanding of the people that frequent the pub. Emotional rituals are central to collectivisation processes in football (Bromberger 2003, p. 292) and I considered participating in them to some extent important to gain access to the research field. Rosita Henry writes about the emotional involvement of researchers:

I argue that by drawing us into performance mode, moments of intense

emotional engagement in the field can lead to important ethnographic

insights. (Henry 2012, p. 535)

However, the picture of a football fan that loudly performs his or her emotions is rather one-dimensional whereas at the same time it is very dominant in narratives about social (self-)expectations of football fans. When I asked what in the interviewees’ opinion makes a good fan, they would often mention: love, passion, being nervous about a match and passionate cheering. According to many of my interviewees’ definition, a good fan performs his love to the club in a way that is considered sensory - in the sense of perceptible by the senses - for others. Other fans need to see, hear, feel and maybe even smell the emotional performance. This was, however, partly contrary to what I was experiencing in the Fenerbahqe Pub. There were many fans that were quietly sitting in front of the two TVs and watching the matches right next to me in the nonsmoking area. I was not interested in them and did not even notice them at the beginning because I was in this case also relying on my senses.

I thought that you not only had to see a ‘real fan’ but to hear (screaming and yelling), sense (hugging and jumping) and smell him or her (for example when fans did not wash their jerseys as long as Fenerbahqe was winning all the matches). My definition of a ‘legitimate’ fan that

I consequently considered to be ‘right’ for my research was directed to the ones that acted noticeably with their bodies. I considered those emotional practices that I could sense as the dominant practices of performing football fandom. The male and female spectators in the pub narratively related to these dominant practices but did not necessarily adopt this style of fan performance.

Consequently, at the beginning of my research I missed the opportunity to talk to the fans right next to me because of my presuppositions regarding emotional fan practices. Instead, in the first weeks and months I was busy trying to get access to the crowded smoking area where I could not get hold of a seat. Meanwhile, a lot of Fenerbahqe fans were sitting in the non-smoking area, especially men that were more than 40 years old, that I could have asked for an interview. They watched the matches mostly without any emotional ‘outbreaks’ and later turned out to be research relevant people to talk to. However, because I did not hear them, feel them nor smell them, I consequently did not ‘see’ them either. This means I simply did not pay attention to them and therefore I did not notice them.

The question of the performativity of emotions can also particularly be considered as related to age and gender in the Fenerbahqe Pub. Whereas older men often gathered in the non-smoking areas in front of one of the TVs, to watch ‘without disturbance or excitement’, young men and women (approximately 18-35 years old) rather gathered in the smoking area. Women were in bigger numbers among young fans. Both female and male fans performed their emotions similarly in the smoking area.[4] Everybody in the pub had quite specific ideas of what was appropriate emotional behaviour for oneself and for others. This also included expectations for the way I performed emotions. Peter Berger calls situations in the research field ‘key emotional episodes’ when field researchers unintentionally react in a specific emotional way that is mostly not compliant with the rules of the group that is being researched. As a consequence, the researcher can draw conclusions about values and norms of a group. Most importantly, he emphasises that it is not the researcher’s emotions that are important here but the reactions to the emotional performance of the researcher of those who are being researched. The focus should further be on the time and context of when the ‘key emotional episode’ occurs and on the consequences for the further integration of the researcher (Berger 2009, pp. 150-7).

  • [1] Interview Ayla, 25 years old, female, Fenerbah^e fan, 30 April 2013, her work place, Vienna,afternoon.
  • [2] The terms ‘Gefuhl’ [feeling] and ‘Emotionen’ [emotions] are sometimes used to describe differentphenomena and sometimes synonymously. Because of the authors I refer to use them synonymously or do not specify the difference between the two terms, I will translate both terms into‘emotions’ for reasons of consistency.
  • [3] Fieldnote from 20 November 2012, Turkish restaurant (Football Restaurant), Vienna, with student group from Istanbul, Galatasaray vs. Manchester United (Champions League), evening.
  • [4] Fieldnote from 14 April 2013, Fenerbah^e Pub, Vienna, with people in pub, Fenerbah^e vs.Eskifehirspor (Super Lig), evening.
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