December 31, 2019
EFC R Sh*t: Lived Particularities of Place
One of the first routines, my partner and I established on arriving in our temporary home in the Walton section of Liverpool was a daily walk to Stanley Park. The walk took us down County Road, a commercial strip with beauty parlors, betting shops and takeaway restaurants offering kebabs, pizza, fish and chips, and Chinese food all in one storefront. A turn took us through an alley, usually filled with school children in uniform and on to Goodison Road. My partner befriended the cat that would squeeze out from one of the gated alleyways whenever we passed. On Goodison Road, Everton’s stadium–Goodison Park–immediately came into view, towering over the two-story attached homes, but not so gargantuan as to look out of place. It was hemmed in by houses on three sides.
As we walked past the stadium on the Sunday after Everton had lost to lowly Sheffield United, we found that someone had painted the words “Silva Out” in large block white letters on one of the blank walls of a pub across the street from the ground. Silva was Everton’s manager Marco Silva. The painter was clearly unhappy with the job he was doing. A little further on we found another incarnation painted directly on to the stadium itself. By the time our walk was over we’d seen the protester’s path with four more renditions of the same text. The graffiti joined the collection of football-related markings throughout the neighborhood including red number 6’s on the abandoned Spellow Pub put there by celebrating Liverpool FC fans in May and the “EFC R sh*t” permanently carved into the sidewalk outside Stanley Park.
By the time we left in December most of this artwork was gone. The paint on the stadium was being removed by a team staff member by the time we returned from our walk that day. The “Silva Out”‘s on businesses and houses were gone within the week. One remained long enough to be photographed by The Guardian as emblematic of the entire fanbase’s mood after the following match. The red 6’s disappeared when new owners re-opened the pub, hoping for better prospects in a neighborhood that might soon feel the shock of Goodison Park itself closing when Everton moves to new stadium. The “EFC R sh*t” inscription stayed in place, joined by a new red-painted LFC put up by a Liverpool fan just next to the ground. The next week, the L had been altered to an E with black paint, as the Evertonians reclaimed the wall space. A blue “Silva In” was painted and removed from a park bench in Stanley Park in time for the December Merseyside Derby. Silva, himself, was let go later that week. We witnessed these changes on our walks, noting how much football is part of Liverpool visual emplaced culture. The graffiti painters voiced their dislike of their rivals and criticism of their own clubs asserting ownership in constant negotiation with each other and the rest of the neighborhood.
Place played an essential role in my ephemeral evidence gathering. Web searches and social media enabled textual research and gave me a sense of how activist fandom communities form and interact, but they provided a very specific and often very limited picture. In contrast, Wolf (1992) argues that, “field experience does not produce a mysterious empowerment, but without it, the ethnographer would not encounter the context– the smell, sounds, sights, emotional tensions, feel–of the culture” (p. 11). Therefore, I took the necessary steps to be in the places where performances occurred, to experience how the residues of ephemera accumulate in geographic proximity to the location of the original performance. By living and making a life in Liverpool–renting an apartment, finding the local grocery store, learning the public transportation system–I absorbed and observed the elements and behaviors that create what Katz (1997) calls, “the ongoing character of particular social places and practices” (p. 378). My performance ethnography engaged in the intimacy of personal connection being fully present in the stadium communities situated with the broader urban environments as they shifted over a period of time to gather distinct evidence of how they function and how performance works while taking part in events, actions, and dialogues. In experiencing both the everyday and the extraordinary of the Walton and Anfield neighborhoods in Liverpool and Humboldt, I gained access to the immeasurable manifestations of place–emotions, interactions, weather, and routines–that make-up the lived particularities of location. By paying close attention to the detailed human landscape around me I learned how place was made and remade on a daily basis.
Katz, J. (1997). Ethnography’s warrants. In R. Emerson (Ed.) Contemporary Field Research, (pp. 361-382). Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press.
Wolf, M. (1992). A Thrice Told Tale: Feminism, Postmodernism and Ethnographic Responsibility. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
December 24, 2019
In The Van: Cultural Labor
My first day at the foodbank collection van at Anfield, I met up with D. who I had gotten to know during my first time in Liverpool two years ago. Then Fans Supporting Foodbanks was a relatively new initiative, and after a long talk with D. at the Liverpool headquarters for the UNITE trade union, I decided to make their effort the center of my work with English fan activists. On my return, we talked about my time in Portland and he asked, what I planned to do in Liverpool. I asked if they needed help at the van on gamedays and how the research might best benefit the organization. At the time, he suggested that the van was well covered. That day, under brilliant sunshine in t-shirts, I met other volunteers, co-founders I. and R., along with regulars P., M., and T., I’s dad. As I talked with D., I observed as they accepted bag after bag of canned goods, UHT milk, and other foodstuffs.
Over the course of four months, I became part of the matchday team primarily by showing up each week. No one taught me the skills, I learned what needed to be done by doing it. D. and I never reached a formal agreement on my role, I did what I was directed to do or quite often took on the most immediate task at hand. Each week, the collection routine started about three hours before kick-off when D. or R. arrived in the van. The banners were tied to nearby fences and club jerseys that read Hunger with the number 8 on the back were hung. There were a few specialized tasks, handing out badges to kids, arranging pictures when specific groups arrive like fan clubs from outside of Liverpool, and making sure every volunteer had coffee or tea, but the primary work is taking bags of food stuffs and household goods off fans going to the game and acknowledging them with a “Thanks, mate.” The food donations were dumped out of bags into crates and then stacked until the crates ran out and then it was matter of finding space in the van for new bags.
My second to last night at the van, it was freezing rain and all of us were decked out in parkas, wool hats and scarves. I arrived before the van and found P. and T., who had brought along a new volunteer. I. was in London getting sworn in as an MP and D. and R. got called away to take care of some tickets. I ended up in the van, organizing the food as it came in and finding badges and now Christmas selection boxes to hand out to kids. Donations increased astronomically when Labour lost the election on December 12th and Christmas was only four days away. There were many times throughout the three hours when I did not leave the van for 15 minutes at a time as one donation after another flowed in. Three hours later, my back was stiff from leaning over. I’d learned how the system works under the direction of fellow volunteers, not through instruction but by experience.
Centering embodiment as evidence and object necessitated that I take part in fandom and the other actions of the fan communities, to, as Bailey (2013) writes “perform and lend one’s own body and labor to the process involved in the cultural formation under study.” (p. 22). Activist and expressive fandom, like the ballroom performances that Bailey studies, is not only an embodied site-specific phenomena, it is “the primary way that the community organizes and sustains itself” (p. 21). Therefore, the most effective way to conduct my research was by performing labor and fandom. This required, what Hamera (2011) calls “corporeal vulnerability” (p. 307). Often this meant following the directives of community members through practices that were unfamiliar to me and learning what I was doing, as I was doing it. In Portland this entailed attending meetings, singing when called upon by capos, assisting in holding and carrying tifo and eventually keeping watch in the crowd for trouble. In Liverpool, it meant picking up a song once started, grabbing bags of dry goods from passers-by, organizing and lifting crates of packed food, taking photographs, and enlisting support for causes adjacent, but not necessarily directly related to collecting food.
Learning in this way, enabled me to contribute to the creation and transference of fan performances and communities, but also left me open to making mistakes, of standing out in my naîvety, much more so than if I had engaged in the study only as an observer. I was not the only one learning, my interlocutors were learning about me, I was as Puri (2013) writes, “constantly being scripted, being made the object of a countergaze, and is thereby forced to confront not [my] geographical but also historical location”(p. 70). Taking part, made me vulnerable, but it also also garnered trust and brought me closer to my interlocutors, while doing the actual activist work of the community. By centering performance both as an analytical method and a way to exchange knowledge in community, my body became, as Bailey (2013) argues, “a vehicle for moving across seemingly disparate social locations and registers of knowledge” (p. 22). I could at once become a member of the group, a co-performer and maintain my theoretical lens. This brought me that much closer to gaining a grasp on the community and my own participation in activist fandom.
Bailey, M. (2013). Butch Queens Up In Pumps: Gender Performance and Ballroom Culture in Detroit. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.
Hamera, J. (2011). Performance ethnography. In N.K. Denzin & Y.S. Lincoln (Eds.) The SAGE Handbook of Qualitative Research, 4th edition, (pp. 317-329). Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications, Ltd.
Puri, S. (2013). Finding the field: Notes on Caribbean criticism, area studies and the forms.
October 21, 2019
Sign On: Emotions
At a moment when West Ham United was dominating the game after playing substandardly from the start, the song went up from the away section of Goodison Park, “Sign on, sign on. With a pen in your hand, cause you’ll never get a job. You’ll never get a job. Sign on, sign on.” The song, which is carried to the same tune as Liverpool FC’s anthem, pointedly directed vitirol at the Everton fans sitting in the Park End around me. The emotions raised just below the surface by the match in front of me, broke through as I screamed along with others “F*ck off” and raise a middle finger to the visiting fans. The song is enraging for many reasons. The song specifically targets Merseyside as a region by mocking ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone,’ reinvigorating faulty rhetoric that the reason Liverpool suffered from economic decline from the 1970s to the present was because people refused to work. The song also uses poverty as an insult, calling on Everton fans to be ashamed if they have been forced to sign up for public assistance by wider economic circumstances.
There are logical ways to refute this song by raising points about the comparative poverty statistics of East London–where West Ham United originated–and Liverpool or to contextualize Merseyside’s massive unemployment in the 1980s by outlining how deeply the central government’s austerity policies undermined the region’s economy. What sticks with me, however, is not the song itself, but the fact that the entire away section of 3,000 fans picked it up. This is infuriating and ultimately deeply troubling. The song is a classist joke, but beyond banter, it exemplifies hatred of the poor and how instead of looking for solidarity along class lines, fans are looking for a target for their own insecurities.
My use of co-performative witnessing emphasizes affect, particularly pleasure. Emotion, is a critical part of ephemera and the feelings that a performance left me with after a match, a collection day, or an interview. What Williams (1997) calls structures of feeling the “specifically affective elements of consciousness and relationships: not feeling against thought, but thought as felt and feeling as thought: practical consciousness of a present kind, in living and inter-relating continuity” (p. 132). In research, feelings, emotions and pleasures of the body are imbricated with thought, rather than separate from it. My embodied feelings and desires were not disengaged from knowledge, rather they were important sites of knowledge. By embracing emotion and affect as critical, I worked against the notions of privileging distanced rationality of observation, written archival evidence and numerical accounting that undergird much of Western philosophical thought, or as Gramsci (1971) puts it, “the error of believing that one can know… without feeling or being impassioned” (p. 418). Feeling is not a distraction from evidence, emotions are evidence, they are what Muñoz (1996) illustrates as, “traces of lived experience and performances of lived experience, maintaining experiential politics and urgencies long after these structures of feeling have been lived” (p. 10-11). As important as the performances themselves were, how my body reacted and how I experienced the movements also became a vital source of my knowledge production.
Gramsci, A. (1971). Selections From The Prison Notebooks. New York, NY: International Publishers.
Muñoz, J.E. (1996). Emphemera as evidence: Introductory notes to queer acts. Women & Performance: A Journal of Feminist Theory. 8(2), 5-16.
Williams, R. (1997). Marxism and Literature. Oxford, NY: Oxford University Press.
September 2, 2019
I Can’t See: Sensuous Ways of Knowing
At the top of the Lower Gwladys Street End, I could touch the ceiling with my outstretched hand when I stood from my seat. The ceiling, which was the floor of the deck above us, extended far enough toward the pitch that I could only see the fans in front of me and splotches of green grass between their bodies. I expected everyone to sit once the game started because football’s organizers banned standing at English Premier League matches after Hillsborough. Every Premier League game I had attended, including several at Goodison Park, followed this protocol except in the away section. The game began and every other section sat. My section, the one behind the goal, remained on their feet. From my vantage point at the top, it was difficult to see the game through the bodies around me. I spent most of the match ducking and swaying from side to side to catch a glimpse of the action on the field. I could not see the clock, my only gauge of what was happening in the match were the emotions and actions of the people around me. A steward, ostensibly the person most directly in charge of enforcing the standing ban, made no effort to force people to sit or move out of the aisles. He spent most of the time, same as us, following the match and commenting on its highs and lows. At half we all sat and then stood again when the second half kicked off. Fans brought beer back from the concession stand and were now drinking within sight of the field, another prohibited activity. At one point, a steward with more authority than our guy, worked his way down the aisle. For a couple of minutes people moved out of the congested aisle, but still no one sat. Five minutes after he’d gone, the aisles are full again. This is how I learned that every section of Goodison follows different rules or enacts distinct behavior. I comprehended this by experiencing the thrills, fears and joys of rebellious behavior. Everton obliged by losing the lead twice before finally claiming it for good maybe 5 minutes from time. The section devolved into madness, people tripped down the stairs in ecstasy. Although it was right in front of me, I hadn’t seen the goal go in, only the sea of emotion that followed.
Ethnography, the word and the practice, carries significant weight and baggage. The practice of entering into a territory that was not my homeplace before I arrived, in order to learn and study with a group of people with whom I lacked familiarity is wrought with legacies of academic voyeurism and colonialist information extraction. Ethnography, has often taken place through the distanced gaze of presumed objectivity and learned authority without the full consent of a study’s participants or full consideration of the researcher’s impacts on them. Many studies ignore or minimize the critical role of participants in the study beyond their function of being studied. At their most damaging, ethnographers frame research as colonial exploration on passive subjects with time in the field and “hard” data extracted as the sole measures of authoritative results. The studies produced range from exoctized fascisnation or normalizing erasure driven by the ethical values of the researcher’s homeplace.
In contrast, by grounding my ethnographic study in performance, I emphasize the intimate subjectivity of research and the essential role interlocutors played in creating the knowledge produced by my study. In the field, I utilized the method defined by Conquergood (2013) and later refined by Pena (2011) and Madison (2011, 2013) as “co-performative witnessing.” Conquergood argues that “ethnography is an embodied practice; it is an intensely sensuous way of knowing” (p. 83). Co-performative witnessing emphasizes the researcher’s role as “listening to and being touched by” (p. 37) experiences in the field. Therefore, rather than detachedly observing fan performances, I performed alongside people with their permission at matches, organizational meetings and social events. I use my body as a site of research in order to study fan performances in relation to the spaces and in context of the cities where they took place, paying close attention to affective, tactile, and embodied impacts of participation in fandom and activism.
Conquergood, D. (2013). Cultural Struggles: Performance, Ethnography, Praxis. E. P. Johnson (Ed.). Ann Arbor, MI: The University of Michigan Press.
Madison, D. S. (2011). Critical Ethnography: Method, Ethics, and Performance, 2nd edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Peña, E.A. (2011). Performing Piety: Making Space Sacred with the Virgin of Guadalupe. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.