'Let's just play like we used to play!' Exploring football's (in)ability to create normality in the midst of turmoil in post-Mubarak Cairo
(University of Helsinki)
Paper short abstract:
The paper explores football’s (in)ability to create normality parallel to Egypt’s political turmoil. Comparing professional football’s failure to foster stability to the recreational, played game’s ability to stay ordinary, I ask if this can be understood in terms of diverging ‘affective registers'?
Paper long abstract:
In the wake of three years of political turmoil, Egyptian football has been plunged into a deep crisis. After the stadium disaster in Port Said in 2012 and the subsequent cancellation of the league, passions and interest waned and many Egyptians turned their attention from the previously so popular football talk-shows to political dittos. Based on ethnographic fieldwork among a variety of Cairo's 'football people' during these peculiarly 'non-footbally', post-revolutionary years, this paper takes off from an often repeated trope: Football has to return; because only then will the country get back to normality, stability and economic revival. The paper shows that while these hopes about the game's stabilising capacity were often shared also among fans, the particular historical juncture made it difficult for them to emotionally engage in their favourite team's fortunes like they once had. Yet, football as a recreational game, played by young boys and not so young male friends, continued to be a popular pastime that indeed created a sense of normality, also during - and sometimes also in close proximity to - the grimmest episodes of violence. Comparing the deep crisis of professional football as a mediatized spectacle to the mundane, everyday game that went on undisturbed under the media radar, the paper suggest that this discrepancy could be understood in terms of diverging 'affective registers' (Stoler, 2004): a mediated, national one that was effectively outcompeted by the political turmoil, and an embodied, localised one, to which the affective states of the unfolding revolution were anyway incommensurable.
On the margins of history: keeping a step aside of crisis