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Visualising the Game. Global Perspectives on Football in Africa

English title Visualising the Game. Global Perspectives on Football in Africa
Applicant Baller Susann
Number 129263
Funding scheme Scientific Conferences
Research institution Departement Geschichte Universität Basel
Institution of higher education University of Basel - BS
Main discipline General history (without pre-and early history)
Start/End 01.01.2010 - 31.03.2010
Approved amount 10'000.00
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All Disciplines (2)

General history (without pre-and early history)

Keywords (12)

Football; Sports; Africa; Images; Media; Museum; Popular Culture; Sport; World Cup; Visuality; Art; South Africa

Lay Summary (English)

Lay summary
Laysummary: In 2010 the FIFA World Cup final tournament will be held in Africa for the first time ever. This occasion offers an opportunity to reflect on the significance of football in Africa. Football is one of the most popular sports played all over Africa. But it also can serve as a prism for a deeper understanding of social, cultural and political processes in the African past and present.The conference "Visualizing the Game. Global Perspectives on Football in Africa" has contributed to the growing academic interest in football in Africa. The collaboration between the History Department of the University of Basel, the Basler Afrika Bibliographien, the International Centre for Sport Studies (CIES) (Neuchâtel), the University of the Western Cape and the District Six Museum in Cape Town (South Africa) has allowed for bringing together a group of thirty researchers from nine different countries who presented their findings on African football and its social, cultural and political dimensions.While providing the platform for one of the largest conferences on football in Africa ever, the aim of the conference was to explore a very recent research question by focusing on the interrelations between football and visuality. Football, in many ways, is a visual endeavour. From the visual experience within the stadium itself to worldwide media representations, from advertisements to football art and artefacts: football is much about seeing and being seen, about watching, making visual and being visualised.The conference has demonstrated the relevance of this research question. Papers have covered a wide geographic range of Africa as well as different perspectives on the conference topic. They have analyzed the production of images in media images as well as football photography, posters and cartoons. They have examined how football has been reflected in art, and have discussed how the game can be represented in exhibitions and football museums. The conference has made clear that the issue of visuality cannot be restricted to simple pictorial representations, and has highlighted the social embeddedness of visual politics in football as well as the political dimensions that determine the visualization of the game.
Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 21.02.2013

Responsible applicant and co-applicants


The occasion of the FIFA World Cup in South Africa in 2010 offers an opportunity to reflect on the significance of football in Africa. Research into African sports has been neglected for long-time. Many have considered the arena of sports as a field for journalistic and impressionistic accounts. Others have been satisfied with pure descriptions of the institutional framework and organisation of sports in various African countries. In-depth research was sparse until the 1990s. Nonetheless, academic research into football in Africa has grown substantially in the past two decades. Phyllis Martin (1995), for instance, published on the social history of football in colonial towns in Africa. Paul Darby (2002) has explored the history of the complex relations between Africa and FIFA. Raffaele Poli has published on African football and migration. Peter Alegi (2004) has contributed comprehensive studies on the social and political history of football in South Africa, and Gary Armstrong. In 2004, Richard Giulianotti published a first volume on football in different African countries, whereas Susann Baller edited a special issue on the politics of football in Africa in 2006. Yet, recent studies on football in Africa as well as on other continents have been dominated by the analyses of the organising institutions of football and their interconnections with politics, the global dynamics of football and football migration, as well as the local impact of football on social relations and development. Given its focus on the interface between football and visuality, the conference “Visualizing the Game. Global Perspectives on Football in Africa” offers a new approach to the field both in the area of sports studies in general and in research into football in Africa in particular.Football, in many ways, is a visual endeavour. From the visual experience within the stadium itself to worldwide media representations, from advertisements to football art and artefacts: football is much about seeing and being seen, about watching, making visual and being visualised. The FIFA World Cup 2010 in South Africa has already turned into a perfect example of the visual dimensions of football. Stadiums have been built and marketed as tourist attractions, mass media and internet platforms are advertising South African cities and venues, logos and emblems are displayed and celebrated, exhibitions are organised in museums world-wide. Against this backdrop, it is surprising that almost any research has been done on the visual dimensions of football, neither in African Studies nor on football in general. Although research into media and sports has grown extensively during the last decade, most authors have focused on the business of mass media, or on the production of identities through representations of football in media accounts; some have pointed to the visual practices of audiences (see overview on current research on sport and media: Raney & Bryant 2006). That it is worth to consider the interconnections between football and visuality more profoundly has been demonstrated by the art historian Horst Bredekamp in his studies on Florentine football and football photography (Bredekamp 2001 and 2007). In regard to Africa, Nancy Hunt and Jigal Beez have analyzed football cartoons (Hunt 2002; Beez 2006); John Bale has considered colonial sports photographs from Rwanda (Bale 2002). The practice of seeing and being seen, of making visible or keeping invisible, about watching, observing and surveying, as well as about representing and being represented, however, has been hardly analyzed.In a recent research report, the historians Jürgen Martschukat, Olaf Stieglitz and Kirsten Heinesohn (2009) stress the importance of new impetus in sports studies and the high potential of sports history for mingling approaches of social, cultural, and body history. The topic of “Visualizing the Game. Global Perspectives on Football in Africa” contributes to such a multidimensional approach. It allows not only for exploring the social and political embeddedness of football in African societies, but also for examining its cultural images and imaginaries as well as the visual politics of football in mass media, pictures, posters, film and built environment. The program of this conference is comprised of nine panels which consider the history and present of football in different parts of Africa. It covers panels on the places of visualing the game, such as the football stadium itself as well as exhibition projects in African and European museums (first day). Moreover, it includes panels on world-wide football ‘media-scapes’ and the representation of African football players as well as the often closely interlinked politics of gender, ‘race’ and embodiment (second day). Finally, the program considers also football art and artefacts, ranging from football cartoons to the iconography of football on African postage stamps, as well as issues of intermediality in football film, music and broadcasting (third day). The different papers allow for interdisciplinary approaches, bringing historians, anthropologists, sociologists, geographers as well as researchers in sports, performance and religious studies together. The program thus provides cutting-edge research in sports and African studies which will stimulate new research perspectives on football in Africa and contribute to an in-depth discussion on sports and football. This will demonstrate that researching into sports and football “means more than keeping track of records” (Martschukat et al. 2009). Furthermore, it will question how visual practices and politics work in and beyond the football arena. Contributions to this conference will be published in two conference volumes at Routledge and Peter Lang. The volume at Routledge will focus on the interface between visuality and football in Africa by considering three research axes: “Media-scapes: Imaginaries and Representations of African Football Players”, “Spaces and Places of Visuality: Making the Game Visible”, and “Playing with Images: Visualising Football in Popular Culture and Artefacts”. The second volume at Peter Lang will explore mainly imaginaries and expectations related to football in many African countries. It considers the imagination and representation of African football players as ‘icons of hope’ and as social players of development in a globalizing world.Bibliographic referencesAlegi, Peter. Laduma! Soccer, politics and society in South Africa. Scottsville: University of KwaZulu-Natal Press, 2004.Armstrong, Gary & Richard Giulianotti (eds.) Football in Africa: conflict, conciliation and community. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.Bale, John. Imagined Olympians. Body Culture and Colonial Representation in Rwanda. Minneapolis & London: University of Minnesota Press, 2002.Baller, Susann (ed.). The Other Game: The Politics of Football in Africa. Special issue, Afrika spectrum 41 (2006) 3.Beez, Jigal. “Wenn der Präsident zum Kicken bittet: Fußballcartoons aus Ostafrika.” Afrika Spectrum 41 (2006) 3: 427-442.Bredekamp, Horst. Florentiner Fußball: Die Renaissance der Spiele. Berlin: Klaus Wagenbach, 2007.Bredekamp, Horst. Bilder bewegen. Von der Kunstkammer zum Endspiel. Berlin: Klaus Wagenbach, 2007.Darby, Paul. Africa, football and FIFA: politics, colonialism and resistance. London: Frank Cass, 2002.Hunt, Nacy Rose. “Tintin and the Interruptions of Congolese Comics.” In: Images and Empires: Visuality in Colonial and Postcolonial Africa, edited by Paul S. Landau and Deborah Kaspin. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002: 90-123.Martin, Phyllis. Leisure and society in colonial Brazzaville. Cambridge: Cambridge Uni¬versity Press, 1995.Martschukat, Jürgen, Olaf Stieglitz & Kirsten Heinsohn. Sportreportage: Sportgeschichte als Kultur- und Sozialgeschichte, in: H-Soz-u-Kult, 28.05.2009, online: