Karen's Reviews > How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization

How Soccer Explains the World by Franklin Foer
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Feb 03, 2012

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bookshelves: history, sociology, unfinished, united-kingdom, european-literature
Read from January 19 to February 03, 2012

No, the book doesn't explain the world, but it did complicate my understanding of soccer.

The chapter "How Soccer Explains the Gangster's Paradise" describes soccer in the Balkans. Some of the soccer clubs have fans who have ties to organized crime and to wartime activities--in addition to the regular hooligan nonsense. Soccer didn't explain the world in this chapter, but it did explain how the Balkans instability allowed soccer to function as a site of power and further conflict.

The chapter "How Soccer Explains the Pornography of Sex" describes the way soccer amplifies long-standing tensions between Catholic Irish and Protestant English. The "pornography" mentioned in the title never showed up, unless the author was referring to the arousal that violence brings its perpetrators.

The chapter "How Soccer Explains the Jewish Question" brought to light the way the Jewish body has been a contested site for supporters and critics, and the way Jewish athletes have been pressed to help with fundraising for the Jewish state. Also, how Jewishness is used both as a means to mock and a means to portray ethnic pride through iconography (in language as well as in images) in the soccer stadiums.

By this point, I was too saturated. I am not a soccer fan. I like to read broadly, but this required too much of me. It's a smart book, well researched and thoughtful.

I read a few pages from the chapter about Brazil. It was making the point that Brazil's club failed to transform itself from a feudal system (that valued family connections and favors among friends) to a capitalist system (that could instead value efficiency and profit margins). Pele' himself was an example of this failure. He had people close to him who drained him of money through corruption and mishandling of funds, but he didn't have the heart to even cut them loose let alone sue.

I also read a bit from the concluding chapter about the way soccer in the US does not represent the great unwashed masses as it does in other nations. Instead, upwardly mobile parents use soccer as a place to teach teamwork, discipline, confidence, etc. It becomes a microcosm of the adult workplace in ways that more established sports cannot because of long-standing traditions.

I just have other texts competing for my attention and no intrinsic love of the game. Sociologists of sports or people interested in the specific countries / soccer clubs will have more patience and interest than I. Or maybe I just needed to be trapped on a long flight with this book in order to stick with it.
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