Solvejg Wolfers-Pommerenke ©Leuphana/Marvin Sokolis
Solvejg Wolfers-Pommerenke rode in the team bus, attended training sessions and sat in the dressing room with the players. The linguist was interested in how team cohesion is created and 'made' in and through communication.

Professional football is publicly taking a stand against racism: players wear jerseys with the inscription "#blacklivesmatter"; there are video campaigns against exclusion; officials stress the importance of standing up against prejudice. Usually, these messages are directed to the public. Linguist Dr. Solvejg Wolfers-Pommerenke experienced a different perspective during her research in professional football: "'Racialised humour' is part of the negotiation of team cohesion here." This means that jokes about ethnic, cultural or religious stereotypes, for example, construct in-, out- and sub-groups within the team. "This humour can be self-directed and other-directed," the linguist describes.

As part of an ethnography, the researcher collected over 56 hours of audio material at a German professional club with a multi-ethnic player base. Solvejg Wolfers-Pommerenke rode in the team bus, attended training sessions and sat in the dressing room with the players. The linguist was interested in how team cohesion is created and 'made' in and through communication: "I didn't originally intend to do research on humour," she says. But she observed that, among other things, "racialised humour" constructed the team as a whole as well as subgroups. Paradoxically, players on the team had to earn the right to have jokes made about them - and often these were racist in origin. The only player with Asian roots, for example, was repeatedly asked by another footballer whether he had eaten cat for breakfast. This was then usually laughed about together: "The players argue: That's football, you have to be able to take it. They say the comments are not meant seriously and are not taken seriously by anyone. To what extent in fact players do feel hurt is a different matter. The line between humour and bullying is team-specific, but also individual," says Solvejg Wolfers-Pommerenke.

The researcher uses the term "racialised humour" (instead of "racist humour") because many jokes about stereotypes were also self-directed: "In some ethnic subgroups, humour served self-protection, but also empowerment. Commonalities were emphasised and thus cohesion among each other was strengthened," she reports. Therefore, the linguist distinguishes between "biting”, “nipping" and "bonding humour": "I think there needs to be a more in-depth discussion of how players invoke boundaries between subgroups by mobilising racialised categories, effectively fragmenting the team on the basis of discriminatory stereotypes. A better understanding of how this ambiguous discursive strategy is applied, how it works and how it affects group membership claims in this context offers important insights for better understanding and ultimately combating racism in football."

Solvejg Wolfers-Pommerenke critically classifies her own role as a researcher as well: "I studied a male multi-ethnic team and therefore also have to ask myself what influence intersectional factors such as my gender and ethnic background have on data collection and analysis."

The anthology "Football and Discrimination: Antisemitism and Beyond" is edited by Pavel Brunssen and Stefanie Schüler-Springorum and published by Routledge.

Contact

Dr. Solvejg Wolfers-Pommerenke
Universitätsallee 1, C5.103b
21335 Lüneburg
Fon +49.4131.677-1660
solvejg.wolfers@leuphana.de