What are the chapter summaries for How Soccer Explains the World by Franklin Foer?

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rrteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As its title implies, How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization is Franklin Foer's interpretation on the recent phenomenon of globalization through the lens of soccer, one of its main cultural agents. Foer's main argument is that, despite the globalizing force of soccer, old sectarian, nationalistic, and tribalist traditions have died hard. In Chapter One, for example, Foer explores how a Serbian warlord named Arkan mobilized Red Star Belgrade supporters into a paramilitary group that committed horrific crimes in the ethnic cleansing campaigns during the civil war in the Balkans. In Chapter Two, he describes the "pornography of sects" that characterizes the famous "Old Firm" rivalry between Glasgow's two teams, Rangers and Celtic. In the third chapter, he describes the persistence of Jewish identity (despite the loss of the neighborhood identities that provided their initial context) at clubs such as Ajax Amsterdam and Tottenham Hotspur. This is, he argues in Chapter Four, part of a response to sweeping changes that have also undercut the "hooligan" culture at some clubs--Chelsea, for example--whose environs are now rapidly changing, either through gentrification or due to immigration trends. 

Chapter Five, "How Soccer Explains the Survival of the Top Hats," Foer describes the seedy underbelly of Brazilian soccer, in which so-called cartolas manipulated clubs for their own benefit. Even the great Pele has not been immune from the rampant corruption and scandals that have continued to plague the game in Brazil. Corruption has actually worsened as more money has been pumped into the clubs. Chapter Six describes the "Black Carpathians," African footballers who ply their trade in the Ukraine. They are extreme examples of the increased mobility that accompanies globalization, and while they have managed to make a living (unlike many migrants) they are thousands from miles from home in a very different culture. Ukrainians and Russians (and other Europeans) have not always welcomed these players. Chapter Seven examines the role played by the "new oligarchs" in the global game, focusing on the Agnelli family that owns Juventus and Silvio Berlusconi, the magnate who owned AC Milan when the book was written. The clubs were as much vehicles for their own careers and ego-boosters as they were competitive sports ventures.

In Chapter Eight, Foer takes a look at what he perceives as a benign form of nationalism (albeit one that has emerged as very divisive in recent weeks): Catalan nationalism. FC Barcelona is the showpiece of Catalonia, and the club and its fans argue that it is "more than a club." But the localism it represents is a "bourgeois nationalism," liberal by nature and set against the power of Real Madrid, awash with wealth and having uncomfortable historical associations with the Franco dictatorship. In Chapter Nine, soccer's liberalizing possibilities are examined in the example of a Tehranian club that was forced through local activism to provide women with access to home games. Celebrations of the national team's success always threaten to turn into political demonstrations. Finally, in Chapter Ten, Foer turns his lens inward to look at the game in the United States, where, unlike in many countries, it is associated with bourgeois "yuppie" status, even as it is also very popular among the country's millions of immigrants. Soccer (at least in previous decades) was also largely embraced by social liberals, as conservatives saw it as essentially un-American. So Foer titles this chapter "How Soccer Explains America's Culture Wars."

Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the Prologue of How Soccer Explains the World, Franklin Foer--a Washington D.C. journalist writing for New Republic, the brainchild of founder William F. Buckley--explains how his compelling interest in soccer (i.e., obsession with soccer) drove his interest in examining how globalization and the flaws of globalization were manifest and furthered by the attitudes, organization and actions of the range of international soccer clubs and soccer fan clubs.

Foer explains that the early promise of globalization to override national borders and identities and to build a harmoniously interdependent world was reflected in the composition of soccer rosters that had multinational line-ups of players. After the September 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center (resulting in an international death toll), the promises of globalization took on a new visage: "the consensus on globalization changed considerably ... [it being] no longer possible to speak so breathlessly ... of the political promise of economic interdependence." Foer then explains his thesis by saying that globalization's promise had "failed to diminish the game's local cultures, local blood feuds, and even local corruption. ... globalization had actually increased the power of these local entities." Foer states his intent that his book present the value of nationalism to blunt the re-merging tribalism directly represented on the soccer field.

Chapter 1 begins to prove Foer's assertion that "local entities" of ethnic culture, feuds and corruption were increased by globalization, and "not always in such a good way," by describing his interview with the Serb soccer organization: the Red Star Belgrade team and the Red Star Ultra Bad Boys fan club. The organization is comprised of team members, team management and fan club over-site of management--over-site gained by "intimidation" exerted with "bats, bars, and other bludgeons." During the interview, the "three-fingered salute of Serb nationalism" (forcibly present during the Balkan War Serb attacks on Croat civilians) was a dominating influence. The salute is a critical symbol to the nationalism exerted by the Bad Boys, who enjoy telling their victory stories, such as of when they attacked fans and police at a match against their arch-rivals, the Partzan team. The stadium-wide attacks produced "lines of casualties" as the Bad Boys "'made it around the stadium in five minutes.'"

Foer then presents the examples of Milosevic and Tudjman--the former an elected Serbian national leader and the latter an elected Croatian national leader (representative of World War II Croatian attacks against Serbs)--to illustrate the connection between ethnic hostilities, national policy and soccer. These two men illustrate Foer's intent: "the book uses soccer to defend the virtues of old-fashioned nationalism--[as] a way to blunt the return of tribalism" (Prologue).

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How Soccer Explains the World

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