Watching the World Cup, American style
Buffington, Daniel Taylor
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This project explores the role of international sport and mass media in the processes of identity formation and the creation of symbolic boundaries between groups. Using qualitative content analysis I document the patterned ways in which media coverage of men’s World Cup soccer characterized national teams, their players, and fans as having a peculiar style of performing or celebrating sport based on national identity. I analyzed how style in this context acted as a form of cultural representation that drew upon the racial and economic history of the nation to conceptualize its imaginary core. In particular, I highlight the way U.S. nationality was constructed via its differentiation from other nationalities as understood through their relationship to soccer and the World Cup. I approach these mediated depictions as part of the social construction or framing of reality that contributes to an understanding of social identity rooted in separate, hierarchically-arranged categories. I supplemented this analysis of media content through ethnographic observation at two nationally-distinct fieldsites where fans gathered to watch live broadcasts of the World Cup. In this way, I was able to move beyond some of the limitations inherent to the study of media texts in isolation by specifying how the format (television broadcast) and context (the public space of the sports bar) of media text consumption impacted its reception. Patrons who gathered to watch these broadcasts experienced this act of consumption as a dialogical interplay between the personal act of viewing the televised broadcast and their collective engagement with a temporary community of fellow sport spectators. Analysis showed that while viewers shared a discourse about nationality and ability similar to that outlined in the analysis of media texts, the format of reception, in particular the public nature of the context, provided opportunities to construct meaning collectively and interactionally unavailable to the private viewer. Thus, I was able to show how media content became bound up in social relations that impacted how patron’s received information provided via the television broadcast.