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The world cup and academia: what do they have in common and what sets them apart?

Published in Bourdieu by Cristina Costa on July 4, 2014

WorlWorld Cup 2014 Ball, aka Brazuca. (CC)d Cup 2014 Ball (Brazuca) (CC)

WorlWorld Cup 2014 Ball, aka Brazuca. (CC)

I have written before about what in my opinion football and academic research seem to have in common: the constant struggle to achieve symbolic capital.  Football as a field of struggles is also a perfect metaphor to illustrate the Bourdieuian tool kit of investigation; one that Bourdieu himself used to exemplify his thinking.

In the last couple of weeks I have been following the worldcup and this has led me to consider some of the most pronounced aspects of this championship, sociologically speaking, that is.  Amongst them are the perceptions of identity, distinction, and power.

Football moves crowds. The passion for it, depicted mutually through accentuated enthusiasm and a certain sense of fury leaves very few indifferent to it. Even those less interested in the game, come out of their ‘shell’ to celebrate their country, or the country they choose to support for whichever justified reason when their (my!) ‘nation’ is out of the competition. And then there are also the teams one would *never* support, because…  (insert here your personal reason).

This interplay between a strong sense of identity and distinction is fascinating, to say the least. And so is the power dynamics displayed through these games. In terms of the worldcup these do not necessarily translate in the common forms of power that currently govern the world. Here power is (naively) more skill and luck at the game than it is economic capital. We could also throw the concept of ‘tradition’ in the mix. Look at the American team as an example. In comparison to south and central America, some may think they leave a lot to be desired …in football terms. This is however different in the context of the premier league or related championships, because there the economic power speaks louder (buys the best players), whereas the national teams “have” to make due with their ‘home grown players’. [Obviously this is a very simplistic, and possibly naive perspective, but this is often the first layer of interpretation by enthusiastic supporters].

Now, how does this relate to academia? In a way it does, and in another it does not. In the UK, in the period immediately before REF, the ‘transfer window’ was wide open and we saw many of the best players (academics) moving from one team to another (from one university to another) because of their playing skills and assets (research klout that is then translated into the prestige they will provide back to the institution). Although we emulate well this practice, we are less successful in drawing the crowds to support, and make use of our work. And so the question is, how do we adjust our academic playing strategies to make the game more exciting for our potential audiences?


Cristina CostaCristina is a lecturer in Technology Enhanced learning in the School of Education, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, UK. After completing a degree in Modern Languages and Literatures, Cristina worked as an EFL teacher in the Portuguese Navy. During that period she developed an interest in Technology Enhanced Learning and completed an MPhil in Educational Technologies at the University of Lisbon, Portugal. In 2007 she moved to the UK to take up a post in the field of Learning and Research Technologies at the University of Salford. In 2013 she completed a part-time PhD on The participatory web in the context of academic research: landscapes of change and conflicts. In 2010 she was named Learning Technologist of the Year by the Association for Learning Technology (ALT). @cristinacost

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