2014 May | FREE

Archive the month of May 2014

May 21, 2014

Nothing is irrational

On year ago, on 23 May 2013, French sociologist Michel Crozier died at age 90.

Was he known at all outside France? The fact that he has a short wikipedia entry in English seems to suggest that he was not completely unknown. Rather than an obituary, these lines are just a modest tribute. His death reminded me of just how much I owe my interest for sociology to him. Maybe it’s because when I started to read his books in the early 1990s, I wasn’t even thinking about engaging into an academic career, completing a PhD and doing serious research. I only wanted to better understand my intriguing host country.

Michel Crozier (1922-2013)

His 1995 book on ‘The helplessness of the elites when it comes to reform themselves’, whose main title was ‘La crise de l’intelligence’, opened my eyes on the French higher education system just as much as Pierre Bourdieu did. And at the same time it did not have this dogmatic ideological underpinning that characterised Bourdieu’s writing and contaminated so much of French sociology.

Crozier helped me understand from within quite some idiosyncrasies of French culture, especially the ubiquitous penetration of all spheres of society by ‘the State’. And although I had no grasp whatsoever on methodology at the time, I intuitively liked how he built bridges between sociology, politics and management.

My favourite quote by Michel Crozier? I actually have two of them.

The first one,

“I did not become a sociologist by passing state exams, but by doing sociology.”

sums up nicely what research is about: it’s not about making a career in academia in the first place, but to understand society better. Seing things this way not only makes you less prisoner of the absurdities of academic life, but also allows you to have a lot more fun.

The second one is a reply to critics who accused him of not dealing with emotions, desires and passions in his analysis:

‘Nothing is irrational. The understanding of the context allows us to understand the rationality of behaviour that seemed irrational before.’

I am not even certain I fully agree. The FREE project is a lot about emotions, desires and passions, isn’t it? On the other hand, it’s no doubt the context that may help to understand why certain emotions occur at certain moments.

Funny how sometimes you realise with a delay of twenty years the influence a person’s thoughts may have had on your own ideas. Better late than never.

Post by : Albrecht Sonntag in the category : Posts - No comment

May 14, 2014

One thousand shots in the top corner. A tribute to Didier Braun

Sao Paolo, 19 November 1969: Pelé scores a penalty for Santos against Vasco da Gama. His one thousandth goal. The match is stopped, the bells are ringing. If one believes the list enclosed in his autobiography, it could actually have been goal No. 1002. Who cares? Celebration was easier with a penalty anyway.

Mendoza, 11 June 1978: Rob Rensenbrink scores the 1000th goal of the World Cup history (a penalty, the first goal of 2-3 defeat against Scotland).

Saint-Denis, 12 July 1998: Emmanuel Petit chose the World Cup final to score the thousandth goal of the French national team, the third goal against Brazil.

Middlesbrough, 29 October 2005: Cristiano Ronaldo scores a worthless header for Manchester United in injury time, concluding 1-4 defeat – and at the same time scoring the 1000th goal for United in the English top league.

Belfast, 6 September 2006: Xavi Hernandez opens the score with the 1000th goal of the Spanish national team in a Euro qualifier against Northern Ireland (who eventually won 3-2 thanks to a hattrick by David Healy!).

All these goals were obviously followed by others. Football never stops and, to quote once again Sepp Herberger, ‘after the match is before the match’.

'Curtain'. The 1000th and last 'Lucarne'.

When Didier Braun, however, published his 1000th and last ‘Lucarne’ (‘Top corner’) in L’Equipe some months ago, he made it very clear that it would be his last one. This came as bad news to all those who had grown addicted to this little journalistic jewel hidden somewhere on the football pages of the great sports daily. Didier’s ‘top corner’ shot was not only the article one read first, it was also the one you loved to go over a second time. And enjoyed reading it aloud to your wife in the evening. Due to the fact that its author slavishly respected the self-imposed limit of 1,000 characters (and only very exceptionally granted himself an extra of max. 5%), each single word had to be chosen with care and tested on its absolute necessity.

‘La lucarne’ – this is generally where Michel Platini’s free kicks finished. Didier’s short texts were very similar: based on great technical skills, skillfully curled around the wall of triviality, and before you know it, it’s another unstoppable punchline.

There are always plenty of tears in the stadium when a legend of the club plays his last game before retirement. But who celebrates the retirement of those who make reading about football such a pleasure? Let this blogpost be a tribute to one of the best of his profession.

Didier has not always been at L’Equipe. After a short ‘transfer’ to a short-lived competitor in the 1980s he worked for several years for the French Football Federation in the national training centre of Clairefontaine. Which made him a football journalist who not only had earned a master’s degree in history, but had also accumulated technical expertise on the highest level. Which allowed him turn, after have joined L’Equipe again, to draft detailed analyses of playing systems, technical and tactical innovation, variations and interpretations. After having read his explanations, one had the impression of having gained a better understanding.

Outside L'Equipe in Boulogne-Billancourt.

After the 2006 World Cup he was not very keen anymore ‘to hang around in stadium aisles and spend my time waiting for a handful of quotes’ and returned to the office as editor. The project of the daily 1,000-character colum came up in 2008. The idea was to seize a fresh piece of current football news, but to cast a different look at it from a critical, often amused distance, and to relativise the ‘buzz’ by putting things into historical perspective. The first ‘Lucarne’ was published on 12 August 2008. Its title was ‘ephemeral’, which was what it was expected to be. But finally, as Didier wrote 999 columns later, football, ‘which is at the same time game, spectacle, industry, mirror of its epoch, is so rich with facts, gestures, passions, peculiarities, entertaining variations, that is provides the chronicler with a multitude of topics, allowing him finally to reach a thousand texts without much pain’.

Both in the ‘Lucarnes’ and his blog on ‘Another history of football‘, he often managed to point out, very much tongue-in-cheek, that all these football scandals, public indignations, money  issues, extraordinary performances and evidences of decline, are nothing but an ‘eternal repetitition’. Nothing new under the floodlights! He always never got tired of reminding his readers that, however much they may be tempted by nostalgia, it was no use regretting the ‘golden age’ of football, simply because there never was one.

Next season, we will have to cope with his absence. Not easy. And for himself? Well, the doors of L’Equipe’s archives, this unbelievable treasure trove of the history of sport, will always remain open to him. And there are still so many black-and-white photos of players and games and goals that only an encyclopedic football memory will be able to identify and date. Good to know there’s one around!

Post by : Albrecht Sonntag in the category : Posts - No comment

May 5, 2014

Homophobic or Hysterical?

Nils Havemann has recently participated in a round table discussion in Stuttgart with former German international Thomas Hitzlsperger, who made the headlines at the beginning of the year with his coming-out as homosexual. Four months later, he reflects on what the countless reactions to this coming-out actually say about German society.

In early January 2014 you could easily get the impression that German football – in fact, the entire German public opinion – had only one topic. Thomas Hitzlsperger rather carefully orchestrated coming out in DIE ZEIT, which also had a considerable echo in England or France, sparkled a big debate on how ‘homophobic’ German football and German society as a whole really were.

Thomas Hitzlsperger at the recent roundtable in Stuttgart.

The first thing you could learn from the heated discussions all across the media spectrum and social networks was that it is indeed possible to be accused of homophobia even if you paid full and sincere respect to Hitzlsperger – which is not very difficult, as the former VfB Stuttgart captain is an intelligent, eloquent and sympathetic gentleman – and his decision to publicly announce his homosexuality. The online editorial staff of the daily Die Welt discovered ‘homophobic’ tendencies even in two journalistic flagships of ‘political correctness’, the taz and Die Zeit itself.

Moreover, it came as no surprise that Hitzlsperger’s coming-out was a wonderful opportunity for many commentators to indulge in the usual bashing of German football officials, which actually reached a new peak. Die Zeit, itself viewed with suspicion by Die Welt (see above), criticised the half-heartedness of the German Football Association (DFB) in its struggle against homophobia though its president Wolfgang Niersbach had clearly been among the very first to affirm his respect and support for Hitzlsperger.

The tone of the discussions gave the impression that homosexuals are a discriminated fringe group in Germany. This is surprising, as German society is in its vast majority not ‘homophobic’ at all. The Federal Republic abolished the criminal prosecution of homosexuality in 1969, and like elsewhere in the liberal democracies of Europe, the 1970s and 1980s saw the number of prominent coming outs increasing continuously. Needless to say that at first they triggered a sniff in very conservative and, of course, clerical circles, but today homosexuality is widely accepted in Germany. It has even become a kind of non-topic. The fact that the German foreign minister of the second Merkel government (Guido Westerwelle) was homosexual did not raise any eye-brows; for thirteen years now the country’s capital has been governed by a homosexual mayor (Klaus Wowereit); one of the country’s most popular entertainers (Harpe Kerkeling) and its longest-standing female TV police inspector (Ulrike Folkerts) are also among the number of well-known homosexuals.

But why, then, did it take so much time before a famous German football player came out? Without any doubt (and as the FREE project’s work package on feminisation tends to confirm), football is a domain where traditional ideals of masculinity are still dominant. And stadiums are places where people release aggressions against other groups, often in hyperbolic manner. Take these two facts together and you understand why amongst spectators of big football events tasteless jokes or dumb insults against homosexuals are still to be heard.

And yet, in today’s overheated, often hysterical media landscape, what social group, what minority, what celebrity is not offended, derided or mocked at the first occasion? Even those media who in the debate on homosexuality are singing the beautiful song of social harmony and tolerance are very eager to take part in publicly lynching the sexual practices of prominent sportsmen. How much scorn Lothar Matthäus had to bear because of his predilection for rather young women? How many amused comments were given on Boris Becker’s ‘broom closet romp’? How many vitriolic jokes were made on Franz Beckenbauer who on his old days procreated a child allegedly on a Christmas party? Why did hardly anyone protest against these personal attacks? Do German journalists think that homosexuals are more sensitive to verbal cruelties than any other social group and therefore have to be put in a very special comfort zone? Isn’t this the real discrimination? To think that homosexuals are wimps who need more than anyone else protection against the otherwise widespread habit of insulting and offending people in public?

What the artificial outrage about the alleged ‘homophobia’ in German football and society revealed was not only sheer hypocrisy in large parts of the media, but also the fact that homosexuals are indeed not a discriminated minority in Germany. The huge echo to Hitzlsperger’s coming out could rather be seen as part of a well-managed press campaign which has been aiming for several years at obtaining the same rights and welfare state privileges for homosexuals that traditional heterosexual long-term relationships enjoy. It is of course absolutely legitimate in a democracy to fight for such interests, but it is not legitimate (and at the end of the day, counter-productive) to use and abuse cheap accusations like ‘homophobia’ or ‘intolerance’ against other groups who either reject these claims or consider other problems and interests as more important. Considering the aggressiveness of these debates, it is sometimes necessary to remind everybody that tolerance is not a one-way street and that each group may be expected to be tolerant to different opinions and lifestyles.

Nils Havemann

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