An Ethnography of Crowds, Disaffection, and Unruly Sounds
Based on over two years of field research with hardcore sports fans called ultras, I am currently working on a book project titled Insurgent Fandom to explore the ways that crowds can be mobilized to express social and political commentary in the context of professional sport. Following three teams—FC Union Berlin, Shamrock Rovers FC, and EHC Dynamo Berlin—I investigate ultras’ capacity to cultivate atmosphere as a means of support for the players on the pitch while also protesting the increasing commercialization of professional sport itself. Often misperceived as hooligans in the public sphere, ultras are classified by the state and sports’ governing bodies as deviant subjects because of their use of illegal marine flares and intermittent clashes with the police, but they also hold immense amounts of cultural capital as the most dedicated supporters of their respective teams. Calling into question the financial prerogatives of organizations like FIFA, UEFA, and sometimes even their own club administrations, ultras heighten atmosphere as a means of relocating the significance of professional sport back toward the fans, which often brings them in direct conflict with the state as the arbiters of public safety.