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Political Science in Europe

Non-Elite Conceptions of Europe: Europe as a Reference Frame in English Football Fan Discussions

European Politics
National Identity
Regina Weber
University of Duisburg-Essen
Regina Weber
University of Duisburg-Essen
Arne Niemann
Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz
Alexander Brand
Rhine-Waal University

Discursive approaches of Europe mostly focus on elite discourses. Many analyses seek to understand how Europe is conceptionalised within special sections of societies, e.g. in the quality press or among politicised citizens. These approaches target a narrow political understanding of Europe (and/or the EU). Against the backdrop of the growing discontent with Europe and the known elite-mass split on European identity issues, it seems important to shift the focus towards non-elite discourses on Europe.

The proposed work analyses how football fans discursively construct “Europe” related to their sport. The work is based on qualitative content analysis of online discourses on the issues of (1) rivalry and competition and (2) on player markets and transfer. These two areas are strongly influenced by the interplay of national and European influences. The work focuses discussions in the fan-administered online message boards of the Premier League club Manchester United.

This research strategy provides access to discursive conceptions of Europe in a decisively non-elite arena. The Europeanisation of the lifeworld of football is well-advanced: Player markets, frequent European club competitions and European wide broadcasting of games have created a pan-European space. At the same time, football remains a field of mass interest, thus giving access to groups that are known to show rather little identification with Europe.

England as country context is a hard case on the issue of non-elite discourses on Europe. The public opinion is Eurosceptic, and the relevance of football and its presence in the mass media is very high, while the sport has remained a working class imprint that shapes its audience. The work shows that the English fans have transnational perspectives on football; distinctions between “us” and “them” are not predominantly national. Nevertheless their self-understanding are complex. The work contributes to our understanding of discursive constructions of Europe from a non-elite perspective.
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