R. (2002) 'Supporters, Followers, Fans, and
Flâneurs', in Journal
of Sport and Social Issues, Vol 26, No 1: 25 - 46.
As the economic and social structure of football changes, so do ways of relating as a spectator. Marxist traditions of analysis, associated with Taylor and Critcher have seen these changes as involving an increasing commodification, an alienation of the real working-class fans, and the development of new bourgeois forms of spectatorship, especially consumerism. There may well be other forms, however -- the four possible spectator identities identified in the title.
Most professional football clubs have a corporate structure, whether we consider Europe or Latin America, or the corresponding sports clubs in North America or Australia. As a result, commodification has become widespread, not only in football but in a wide range of sports. As in the author's earlier work, commodification is defined as 'that process by which an object or social practice acquires an exchange value or market-centred meaning... often involving the gradual entry of market logic to the various elements that constitutes the object or social practice under consideration' (26). These processes have accelerated to produce 'hypercommodification' (27).
Taylor and Critcher provide a starting point for analysing the effects, principally declining attendance and spectator hooliganism. A new bourgeois audience was being sought for the game, with 'presumed interest in family football, spectacle, skill, and performativity efficiency' (27), making football part of a broader leisure industry. Critcher argued, following Williams, that this involved a new form of attachment to the football club -- members become customers, and finally consumers. The latter types are far less emotionally and traditionally involved with football, but take a much more rational calculative stance in seeking value for money. Subsequent work modified this view a little, for example in suggesting that the full involvement associated with membership was an exaggeration -- working-class persons experienced a widespread general disempowering in social life as a whole, and were quite able to realise that football clubs were now offering a major shift towards corporate control.
There is some comparative evidence of a similar trend with American sports -- television weakens local team identification, and sport becomes increasingly a matter of television consumption. Tracing the link the other way, English football commodification introduced some features of 'cultural Americanisation, such as cheerleaders and pre-match entertainment' (28).
Hypercommodification produces additional developments, however. Football has been capitalised by television networks, telecommunications corporations, transnational sports equipment manufacturers and the stock market. These changes are sufficient to lead the author to refer to 'postmodern' forms (29). New social and cultural forms have ensued, including rises in elite player salaries, international migration of football stars, new competitions, new media outlets and 'new forms of cultural encoding of football through these media' (29). The overall picture resembles Lash and Urry on 'disorganised capitalism', 'post-industrial, postmodern, and postfordist... characterised by the genesis of intensified flows... across an increasingly globalised terrain' (29). Communication media become far more important, as consumer culture and identity become aestheticised. Certainly, major football clubs now 'possess transnational characteristics in consumer profile, flexible labour recruitment practices, and the global diffusion of corporate symbolism' (30). Amidst this transnational development, there is an underlying 'specific hegemony of neo-liberal policies and ideologies' (30).
One key aspect of the changes turns on how spectators relate to football clubs. There are four 'ideal type' categories as in the title. These are provided by 'two basic binary oppositions: hot-cool and traditional-consumer' (30). Thus hot traditional forms produce the supporter; cool traditional forms the follower; hot consumer forms produce the fan, cool consumer forms the flâneur. This basic set is supplemented by other characteristics [the whole model is summarised in an economical diagram on page 31]. The hot/cool binary covers different forms of identification with the club -- intense solidarity at the hot end, a more cultural calculating form of identity at the cool The traditional/consumer binary illustrates different forms of personal involvement in a specific club -- 'thick' longer popular cultural identification for the traditionals, 'thin' market centred relationships and consuming for the consumers. [The theoretical debts of this classification system -- to McLuhan, Baudrillard and Turner, are spelled out on pages 31 - 32].
[The types are spelled out in more detail pages 33 - 40. Just to add in a few of these details:]
(1) Supporters are traditional/hot spectators, with long-term personal and emotional commitments, and a full 'thick' relationship with the club 'that resembles those with close family and friends' (33). The club becomes 'a totemic representation of the surrounding community' (33). The Durkheimian parallels with the sociology of religion are clear -- supporter rituals are needed for local solidarity, and, in the process, 'the supporters worship [an idealised version of] themselves' (33). Even the actual ground becomes an object of a special relationship -- a form of 'topophilia'. Supporting the club becomes central to life. Supporters have imaginary relationships with the club and what it is seen to represent, which can include 'distinctive local values' (34). Supporters form a subculture, in the classic sense. As with other subcultures, there may be further divisions inside, however, such as those hardcore supporters who have always supported the club and those who have recently appeared [and there is a reference to Thornton's notion of subcultural capital here but footballing subcultural capital cannot be bought commercially].
(2) Followers are also traditional but more cool, taking a detailed but more distanced interest in a club. Forms of solidarity may either be thin or thick, ranging from particular links between clubs, as when a favourite player goes to another club, or ideological attractions as in the fascistic followings of certain European clubs. Thicker forms include much deeper links of friendship and rivalry 'across club supporter groups', or friendships based on 'religious - ethnic sentiments', or even social connections between club hooligans, or through common national origins. Some 'abstract social and cultural values' are involved in the attachment to a club (35), and consumerist attachments can be denied. Followers may have other forms of allegiances, and manage these as 'a set of "nested identities"' (36). At the most practical level, this can mean that there is always a team to support, but there must be some connection --'only flâneurs... would declare a penchant for both Liverpool and Manchester United, or Fiorentina and Juventus' (36).
(3) Fans are hot consumer spectators. The relationship is a strong one but more distant, and mediated through 'market centred sets of relationships', such as 'the consumption of related products... merchandise... shares... or contributing to fund-raising initiatives' (36). Fanzines and other forms of media facilitate this relationship. In thick forms, purchasing the team shirt might help to demonstrate their visual support for the team, whereas buying souvenirs or shares is one of the thinner forms -- one which is particularly useful for the exiled fan. There is a greater awareness of market forces at work and the financial needs of the club. However, this form of attachment is itself 'utilitiarian' ['pragmatic', as earlier studies of worker involvement in their jobs called this], and lack of success can produce either fan protests (thick forms), or disillusionment (thin). The attachment to players is just like the attachment between fans and other celebrities, and as football players become professional stars and celebrities, that relationship itself becomes 'more shallow, mediated... acting' (38). Similarly, as stars reveal their feet of clay, an inevitable development 'as commodity logic comes to prevail', and as the market tires of them, fan attachment generally declines, although it may be renewed as new stars emerge.
(4) Flâneurs are cool consumer spectators, able to browse and remain cool as a result of 'a depersonalised set of market dominated virtual relationships' (38). The flâneur himself has developed away from the classic mid-nineteenth century types. For example it is no longer confined to males, although the flâneur still requires considerable amounts of 'economic, cultural, and educational capital to inspire a cosmopolitan interest in the collection of experiences' (39). If anything, postmodern flâneurs are even more detached from the experiences they collect: the self is more regulated and disciplined as in Foucault; virtual forms of communication increasingly replace intersubjective ones; social relationships become increasingly commodified and thus open to consumption. Flâneurs consume football experiences, treating team regalia as having no more status than a 'temporary tattoo' (39). It is the sensations of football that are consumed, increasingly via television, and social solidarity with other fans is thin. Nor is there any particular interest in developing an 'underlying meta - narrative' to make sense of the experiences (40). Flâneurs are just as likely to switch allegiances between clubs, or even between sports. Big international clubs openly welcome flâneurs nevertheless. There is a possible contradiction here, because more traditional and hot fans are also consumed as part of the experience, even though they are also condemned aesthetically.
In addition, specific motivations and spatial relationships divide these types -- for example, supporters see supporting the club as a part of their identity, and they insist on the 'symbolic significance of the ground to the club' (41). Flâneurs on the other hand are motivated by sensation-seeking and consumption, and prefer high-tech electronic media.
Overall, more spectator categories have emerged than in the classic marxist work. It might be possible to see the cooler and more consumerist versions as the future of an increasingly commodified game. However, there are some contradictions. For example, flâneurs depend on there being supporters and followers as well, to generate the excitement. Increasingly transnational corporations may focus their attention on flâneurs as the ideal consumer, but fans, supporters and followers cannot be ignored, if the spectacle of football is not to be threatened --'There will be no more curious displays of football tribalism past which to stroll or on which to gaze' (42).
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