Making an academic career out of studying soccer might sound (kind of like) fun, but it turns out to be hard work—mostly because you tend to get dissed from all sides. Here’s how Peter Alegi and Chris Bolsmann explain it in their introduction to South Africa and the Global Game, a forthcoming edited collection of scholarly essays addressing issues around the coming World Cup:
“Many conservative and progressive scholars find football (and sports) research superficial and banal; the former dismiss it as the embodiment of ‘low culture’, while the latter denigrate it as an ‘opium of the masses’, a distraction from engaging with truly pressing concerns such as poverty and class struggle, environmental degradation, gender inequality, unemployment, homelessness, the HIV/AIDS pandemic, crime, corruption and so on.”
Perhaps as a consequence, Alegi and Bolsmann also note “the output of academic studies of football in South Africa has been inversely proportional to the game’s relevance in South African society.” The same could probably be said more generally about the study of sports in Africa, though many academics around the world are working to correct that imbalance. And Peter Alegi is certainly doing his part.
A historian at Michigan State University who is spending this propitious year as a Fulbright Scholar at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa, Alegi has been a busy man. Having published “the first academic monograph on football” in South Africa in 2004 (Laduma! Soccer, Politics and Society in South Africa), in 2010 Alegi is publishing two books that should be of interest to thinking fans: both the aforementioned South Africa and the Global Game and African Soccerscapes: How a Continent Changed the World’s Game—a short but comprehensive book published by Ohio University Press as part of their Africa in World History series, which is intended to offer scholarly but accessible perspectives on “the particular and valuable ways in which Africans have experienced, and expressed, universal human experiences.”
Alegi has also been a go-to guy for media looking for intelligent perspectives on soccer in South Africa, and if you are paying attention to the social and political side to this ‘Year of African Football’ you will likely run across his voice (as one example, he makes an appearance in the interesting recent BBC radio documentary series on African football). But amidst it all Alegi was kind enough to respond to some questions I had after reading African Soccerscapes (our ‘interview’ is included below after a brief review), and to help me consider his book in relation to broad questions about what is at stake this year in the world of ideas: Beyond soccer, what does South Africa 2010 mean?
Alegi is a regular contributor to www.footballiscominghome.net