Mr Carl Rommel
MA in Migration and Diaspora Studies (SOAS), MSc in Sociotechnical Systems Engineering (Uppsala University), BA in History of Science and Ideas (Uppsala University)
My anthropological research is guided by an interest in how large-scale political change is relayed into the intimate domains of human beings: affect, emotions and subjectivity. My PhD dissertation makes these processes legible through an exploration of how the social and emotional valence of Egyptian football was re-configured in the years preceding and following the 2011 revolution. Approaching ‘football’ as a social assemblage (Latour, 2007) – comprising layered discursive, material, financial and organisational infrastructures – my ethnography traces how the sport’s resonance in daily lives of Cairene men developed, from the ‘football-crazy’ Mubarak era through a revolutionary period when football lost much of its appeal. A core argument is that the rapid political transformation that Egypt recently has witnessed only can be fully understood if due attention is paid to the conflations of the national-political, the intimate, and the emotional-affective. The analysis is thus especially attentive to how the football-assemblage induced ‘affective registers’ (Stoler, 2004) and ‘emotional styles’ (Gammerl, 2012), which in turn informed nationally coded, masculine subjectivities. How people adjusted emotionally and carved out spheres of entertainment, play and fun in the midst of turbulent politics, revolutionary dreams and political depression is at the heart of my research enquiry.
The thesis is based on 20 months of ethnographic fieldwork, conducted in Cairo in the midst of the revolutionary process, between August 2011 and April 2013. In the field, I applied an eclectic mix of methodological approaches: participant observation at stadiums and in coffee shops, where men gather to watch football on TV; playing football myself with friends; more or less formal interviews with journalists, club officials, coaches and fans; analyses of media material (printed press, TV an online sources); archival studies of old press material. Since returning to London in spring 2013, I have been busy synthesising my data into a thesis. The early chapters of my dissertation highlight how state-owned clubs, booming sports media, and unprecedented success on the pitch assembled in what I call a ‘football bubble’ that constituted a dominant ‘structure of feeling’ (Williams, 1977) in the late Mubarak era. The middle parts trace the rapid development of the Egyptian Ultras: a new type of younger fan groups that emerged in 2007. I argue that the Ultras constituted a novel ‘emotional style’ (Gammerl, 2012), which challenged the affective homogeneity of the Mubarak ‘bubble’. I also show how these fans got tied up in the revolutionary process and for a while turned into one of the nation’s most adored revolutionary forces, embodying a respectable, masculine subjectivity that fundamentally reformulated the political ethos of the sport. The final parts of the dissertation explore how ordinary Egyptians’ emotional attachments to the game were (or were not) affected by the revolutionary process. Applying the metaphor of ‘ruination’ (Navaro-Yashin, 2012), I illustrate changes in rhythms, temporalities and connotations that made it difficult for former fans to feel anything for the sport. However, I also discuss the footballing ‘debris’ (Stoler, 20008) that remained despite this more general process of ‘ruination’. Through a close ethnography of men who watched European football and/or played the game recreationally, I argue that these components of the football assemblage continued to affect due to their presumed ‘obviousness’ and disconnect from the pre-revolutionary ‘bubble’.
- Rommel, Carl (2014) “A Veritable Game of the Nation: on the changing status of football within the Egyptian national formation in the wake of the 2009 World Cup qualifiers against Algeria” Critical African Studies. Forthcoming (published online July 2014 http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/21681392.2014.936079#.U_M2pBEcRdg).
- Rommel, Carl (2011) “Playing with difference: football as a performative space for division among Suryoye migrants in Sweden” Soccer & Society, 12, 850-864.
- Rommel, Carl (2010) “Assyrians or Syriacs? Middle Eastern identity formation through football in Sweden” Viewpoints special edition: Sports and The Middle East, The Middle East Institute, Washington DC, May 2010.
- Rommel, Carl (2014) “'Let's just play like we used to play!' Exploring football's (in)ability to create normality in the midst of turmoil in post-Mubarak Cairo”, presented at EASA 2014, Tallinn University, 31 July – 3 August.
- Rommel, Carl (2013) “The Breaking of a Bubble: State-controlled, commercialised football under Mubarak, and the challenge from Cairo’s revolutionary Ultras”, presented at IUAES 2013, Manchester, 5-10 August.
- Rommel, Carl (2013) “When Affect is no more: exploring alterations in football’s ability to affect from the late Mubarak era until the present”, presented at ‘Affective politics in transitional North Africa: Imagining the future’, at the Swedish Institute, Alexandria, Egypt, 27-28 May.
- Rommel, Carl (2012) “Researching a dismantling emotional assemblage: on the problems of conducting research on Egyptian football after the 2011 revolution”, presented at ‘CBRC Research Symposium: Asking Questions in Revolutionary Times’ at DAAD, Cairo, Egypt, 11-13 October.
- Ahlberg, Karin and Rommel, Carl (2012) “Introduction: living and researching (in) uncertainty after the fall of Mubarak” presented at ‘The European Association of Social Anthropologists’ biennial conference EASA2012 at Nanterre University, Paris, 10-13 July.
- Rommel, Carl (2010) “Playing with difference: football as a performative space for division among Suryoye migrants in Sweden” presented at ‘Centres and Peripheries in Sport’ at Malmö University, 8-12 April, 2010.
- Rommel, Carl (2009) “Real Play: Suryoye identity formation in Sweden through the performative space of football”, presented at ‘Global Football: History, Gender and Nation’ at York University, Canada, 3-5 Dec.
- SOAS Research Fellowship, 2010-2014
- Visiting Fellow without Stipend, American University in Cairo 2011-2012
Emotionality, affect, media infrastructure, football, fan culture, urban space, nationalism, Cairo, Egypt, masculinity.