Performances of Social Class and Ethnicity

An analysis of the intersection of social class, ethnicity, and subcultural milieus is crucial to reflect on the narratives of the student group from Istanbul and other fans from Vienna who consider themselves as intellectuals. Beate Binder and Sabine Hess, who have criticised the negligence of social class differences in present studies, particularly plead to solve this omission by using the concept of intersectionality (2011, pp. 34-5). This subchapter will show how the intersection of social class and migration is decisive to the fan practices of some of my interview partners.

The following interview sections will illustrate how class distinctions are narrated and reproduced. A recurring image or symbol in this regard is the ‘white table cloth’. In these performances of class, interview partners of the student group not only refer to other Turks in Vienna but also to stereotypes and prejudices towards other football fans in general. For some fans of this group it was very important to underline their intellectual approach to football fandom. Most of them have reflected extensively about why they are football fans and about what football means to them:

Cem: Yes, because it’s escapism like anything else basically. Like alcohol, like drugs. It’s basically, basically it’s true, when he, was it Camus or an Argentinean, who said that football is opium for the peoples, for the masses?[1]

For Cem, it is very important to connect football to his life and selfperception as a philosopher. He often links football to sophisticated theoretical frameworks in order to underline his intellectual and elite approach to football. His worst-case scenario would be to be mixed up with the cliche of an uneducated working-class football fan. This however does not only apply to the student group from Istanbul but also to highly educated people that grew up in Vienna.[2] Selin, a 26-year-old student of architecture, hints in the same direction with her description of what she likes about football.

Selin: But it is not identification for me. Well, I think it is rather like this [for others] but not at all for me. It is more this obliviousness in the moment. It is less the identification with all of that, like “now I’m part of it”, but more like “now we are all here, watch it live and I can unwind for 90 minutes”. And when I am betting it is even more fun and I have never won, always lost (Nina laughs), always lost. But retrospectively it doesn’t matter because if you bet again, it is happiness again. You sort of pay for your happiness and then you have extreme adrenaline and who knows what for 90 minutes.37

Selin loves philosophy and has thought a lot about why football is so fascinating for her. Throughout the interview she emphasised that she has a problem with the so-called ‘football identity’ and further describes her doubts that something like identity in general exists. She very much objects to when fans emphasise their football or club ‘identity’. In her opinion, football is about emotions and escaping one’s everyday life, but here she nevertheless links it to the concept of identity: in the sense of escaping one’s ‘actual’ identity. This ‘intellectualisation’ of football and football fandom only occurred among the highly educated fans. But, whereas the first two examples are quite abstract, the main example of this subchapter illustrates concrete othering practices towards other (lower class, Turkish) football fans in Vienna. Here, class categories strongly intersect with attributions of ethnicity or ‘Turkishness’.

In the interview with Sinan from the student group practices of class distinction became particularly visible. Sinan is a 24-year-old design student and musician. At the time of the interview he had been living in Vienna for five years. In the following interview section, we were talking about how he used to watch matches in Istanbul and how he watches them now in Vienna.

Nina: What did it look like in Turkey?

Sinan: Yes, in Turkey you go to a normal bar like a normal bar in Vienna.

But there is a TV and you can watch the match. Or simply at home.

Nina: Yes.

Sinan: Yes, I mean in Istanbul it is totally different. When there is a football match then it is everywhere, you notice that, it is in every shop, well everybody watches football, it is quite different. There, you don’t have to go into a location you don’t wanna go [to]. You can choose. What did I want to say? (Thinks) Oh yes, then we found out that you can watch the matches online. It’s this Digiturk, this Turkish, how can I explain it, like Sky, and they started online streaming. [...] Now we have the chance to comfortably sit at home and watch football. Because football for most fans is about meeting with a group for a match and this is what happens here too in a Turkish location. When you go there you somehow definitely talk to them. But we [he and his best friend] didn’t want that necessarily. We just wanted to watch football. Or cheering together it’s not special for me because for me it’s about football. But, I mean, in the stadium it is totally different, the atmosphere is great, you can somehow talk to everybody but to meet in a restaurant with thirty football fans, it’s just not special.

Nina: But sometimes you go anyway [to a bar], for example next Tuesday for the Champions League.

Sinan: Well, we have to because Digiturk does not broadcast Champions League matches.

Nina: Ah. Okay!

Sinan: And yes, I guess I would prefer watching at home.

Nina: So the [Football Restaurant] is just a compromise for you and not


Sinan: Yes, yes. I don’t like being there. You have seen the interior design of the place. All these fucking [scheifi] tables with white table cloths. In the corner there are strange colourful things. The room is a wedding room, I think that is really strange. [. T]here are no Turkish bars in Vienna at all, there are only Turkish restaurants and so on. Maybe it has to do with religion, because the Turks in Vienna, I guess, most of them are religious. This is maybe why they do not want to open a bar.38

Sinan is unhappy about the football locations in Vienna much like other people in his group of friends. When comparing football locations in Istanbul and Vienna, he criticises that there are no ‘normal’ football bars where he and his friends could watch Turkish football in Vienna. The ‘non-normal’ football pubs are to him the places that he considers from and for the ‘other’ Turks in Vienna. He is referring to an abstract image of Turkish migrants in Austria. He simply generalises them to ‘Turks in

Vienna’, whereby he does not include himself. On the contrary he explicitly distinguishes himself from them. Also, he uses one of the dominant- hegemonic stereotypes about Turkish migrants in Vienna, claiming that they are supposedly all religious, old-fashioned and therefore do not drink alcohol. Therefore, in his opinion, there is no need or wish for them to open a pub. Riem Spielhaus has written about this othering practice against migrants from Turkey: migrants from Turkey are not simply ethnicised anymore but they are particularly also ‘muslimised’ (Spielhaus 2011).

When Sinan uses these dominant prejudices to distinguish himself from ‘those’ Turks, he declares himself as a secular, cosmopolitan and modern person. His narration is in many terms very similar to Sibel’s narration from Sect. 4.4. Also here, the narration is not about football but the practice of talking about football fandom becomes a strategy to make serious distinctions from ‘those other Turks’. Likewise, the concept of ‘cultural intimacy’ by Herzfeld (1997) works here, too: Sinan feels ashamed and embarrassed by the sheer idea of being associated with the ‘other Turks’. To some extent he indeed feels as part of this constructed community which immediately leads to discriminating othering practices. Here again, talking about his football fandom is a strategy of ‘social positioning’ (Lucius-Hoene and Deppermann 2004b, pp. 59-60) as a counter pole to other Turkish migrants in Vienna. In Sinan’s case, however, the dominant way to do so is by using intersecting narrative constructions of ethnicity and class. Sinan ethnicises class differences. This intersection of class and ethnicity becomes particularly relevant in his description of football places. The image of the ‘white table cloth’ becomes the very symbol for distinction.

The symbol of the ‘white table cloth’ is not only used by Sinan but also by other members of that group. After watching a match in the ‘Football Restaurant’ with different people of the student group from Istanbul and some of their local friends, we had decided to have another drink when Cem insisted on going somewhere else to do so, ‘somewhere without white table cloths’.[3] Comparing Istanbul to Vienna was a recurring narrative in my interviews and fieldnotes. This group usually frequents locations in subcultural milieus such as alternative art places, concerts and so on. The important thing about those places is that they are not connected to the construction of ethnicity. In those places social class and subcultural belonging dominate the construction of places and belonging.

This spatialisation of subcultural affiliations of the student group is in great conflict regarding football places for Turkish football in Vienna. In the football context the fans of the student group are dependent on eth- nicised places, such as Turkish or ‘Turkified’ bars and restaurants, because they are the only places where matches of the Turkish League are shown. But, the students do not want to be identified with ‘these other Turks’ that they perceive as and generalise to one homogenous group similarly to the dominant practice in an Austrian society (Romhild 2014, p. 260). They want to distinguish themselves from the prejudices and stereotypes about Turks in Vienna. Very much like the dominant-hegemonic stereotypes about ‘migrant Turks’ they perceive social class and subcultural differences through the ethnic lens. The Turkish restaurants are not in compliance with their elite and cosmopolitan habitus. As Pierre Bourdieu famously stated:

The conditionings associated with a particular class of conditions of existence produce habitus, systems of durable, transposable dispositions, structured structures predisposed to function as structuring structures, that is, as principles which generate and organize practices and representations that can be objectively adapted to their outcomes without presupposing a conscious aiming at ends or an express mastery of the operations necessary in order to attain them. (Bourdieu 1990, p. 53 [emphasis in the original])

In a nutshell: Sinan’s habitus and his self-perception differ from the constructed group of Turkish migrants in Vienna that he is always associated with by others. This is when differences in class and thus in habitus result in negotiations about ‘proper Turkishness’. Sinan even goes a step further when he specifies how he feels judged by the ‘other Turks’:

Sinan: Because we don’t get along so well. Because for example, there is this bakery around the corner from where I live. It’s open 24 hours. That’s the only Turkish place that I like but it’s because it sometimes saves my life on Sundays when I don’t have anything left to eat (Nina laughs). I go there to get some bread. But the problem is that they do it quite badly, Borek for example. These things are very easy [to prepare] even at home. I can make better ones and this bakery has a huge oven and so on. I don’t understand how they can do it badly. But it doesn’t matter. The problem is that I go there when I am drunk. Around five in the morning. This is why we have very bad communication and seemingly they don’t like it when a Turk goes there totally drunk to get something to eat. They are still friendly but you can see somehow how they keep their distance. Or I go there when I have a hangover. At Sundays at 2 p.m. to get some breakfast and they notice that, too. Somehow I see there a lot of other Turks that don’t go there as regularly as I do but these Turks are friends [with the employees of the bakery]. Either I am unfriendly or they kind of keep a distance from me. But I never tried to become friends because I have friends. I do not necessarily need new Turkish friends.40

In this interview section, it becomes clear that Sinan did not solely judge and generalise about a Turkish migrant community in Vienna. On the one hand, he distinguishes himself from other Turkish migrants in Vienna, on the other hand, however, he feels excluded and awkward when he is afraid of not meeting their expectations of the behaviour of a young Turkish man. This is when the concept of ‘cultural intimacy’ becomes relevant again. Exactly because he feels ashamed, it becomes clear that he also identifies with the people in the bakery on some level which is also the reason why he can feel judged or not accepted by them. Otherwise, why should he care if he did not experience any connection? He projects the social expectations that he thinks other Turks might have towards him on the situations in the bakery. When it is clear that he cannot meet these possible expectations he feels the need to other himself even more. He degrades them by criticising their ability to bake Turkish food and thereby makes himself superior. This finally culminates when he denies that the people from the bakery are ‘proper Turks’ because they are allegedly not able to prepare ‘proper Turkish food’.

The intersection of social class and ethnicity in this subchapter is particularly visible in terms of the perception of social class through an ethnic lens. The students from Istanbul do not consider the Turkish football places as appropriate for their subcultural and social class needs. The crucial thing is that they do not directly recognise the class differences as class differences but instead they interpret them in an ethnicising manner and link them explicitly to a ‘Viennese Turkishness’. This again is strongly informed by attributions by social class and subculture and leads to discriminating othering practices against an ‘imagined’ (other) Turkish community (Anderson 1983).

  • [1] Interview Cem, 34 years old, male, Galatasaray fan, 21 August 2012, Turkish restaurant, Vienna,late afternoon.
  • [2] Also, this does not only apply to fans of Turkish football. The German football magazine HFreunde is the incarnation in the media of intellectual football talk and practices of class distinction.
  • [3] Fieldnote from 5 November 2013, Turkish restaurant (Football Restaurant), Vienna, with thestudent group, FC Copenhagen vs. Galatasaray (Champions League), evening.
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