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ECPR Virtual General Conference 2020

Between Brexit and the Champions League: Conceptions of Europe among Football Fans

National Identity
Political Sociology
Regina Weber
University of Duisburg-Essen
Regina Weber
University of Duisburg-Essen
Arne Niemann
Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz
Florian Koch
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 conceptualised 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, with Brexit as its apex, 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 football clubs in four European countries: Germany, Austria, France and the United Kingdom (England).
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.

The countries cover clubs in contexts that span from eurosceptic to eurofriendly publics. The relevance of football and its presence in mass media is high in all cases, while the sport has remained a working class imprint that shapes its audience. The analysis shows that the many fans express transnational perspectives on football; distinctions between “us” and “them” are not predominantly national. Nevertheless their self-understandings are complex. It contributes to our understanding of discursive constructions of Europe from a non-elite perspective. The work is part of a broader DFG research project on Europe and identity (EUFoot).
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