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uni'wissen 01(3)-2011_ENG

Does it matter whether a soccer player is black or white if he helps his club win the championship with his goals? Do women who play soccer still have to struggle as hard for re­ cognition as they did ten or twenty years ago? And is a star player on the national team more likely to be forgiven for being gay than an aver- age player in the regional leagues? These are just a few of the questions Nina Degele is inter- ested in answering in her latest research project, funded by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation. The professor of sociology and gender studies at the University of Freiburg has – figuratively speaking – taken to the field in an effort to chart the bounds of racism, sexism, and homophobia in the world of soccer. When various forms of inequality and discrimination interrelate, sociologists speak of intersectionality. This research paradigm allows the individual dimensions of inequality and their significance to be examined in more detail. Gay, but Star Player The sociologist focuses on the conditions of societal interaction: How is money distributed? What role does a person’s gender or position in society play? How do age, physical fitness, eth- nicity, and generational affiliation affect who we are? The sociologist’s natural enemy is thus the generalization. “When I hear things like ‘men are more aggressive,’ I see red,” says Degele. “That’s such a wholesale statement that it has to be false.” Claims like “women are disadvantaged” are also inadequate. “When one examines indi- vidual cases more closely, such as differences between discrimination against a black female manager and a white female employee, the di- mension of gender is compounded by those of ethnicity and class,” Degele explains. These are the ‘big three’ factors class, ethnicity, gender that form the core of intersectionality. Just keeping track of these three variables alone in a broad sociological analysis would seem to be complex enough, but Degele and her colleague Prof. Dr. Gabriele Winkler from the Technical University of Hamburg-Harburg have also included a fourth dimension in their project: the body. This makes intersectionality into a much more nuanced and, as Degele says, “quite complicated” affair. After all, sociology is not only interested in the absolute amount of influ- ence various factors have, but also how they shift in relation to one another or even displace each other completely. For instance: Can a young man who is discriminated against due to his class affiliation compensate for this deficit by way of physical fitness? Nowhere can such questions be examined so readily as in the mi- crocosm of soccer. Soccer is in the public eye, it’s popular, and in many respects it’s a reflection of society at large: “Female soccer players are breaking a taboo just by engaging in a sport that’s so strongly associated with masculinity, while homosexual male soccer players are the very epitome of taboo.” Is it possible to compen- sate the social stigma of homosexuality through status? In order to answer this question, Degele and her research team conducted discussions with various groups that have little in common besides their love of soccer: a lesbian soccer team, an anti-racist fan club, a Catholic church choir that plays occasionally for fun, regular am- ateur soccer players, children, immigrants, and older men. The sociologists visited the soccer players on their own turf in their clubhouse, at their local bar, and even in their locker rooms. “Those dis- cussions were unbelievably fascinating,” says Degele. “We just played the part of moderators and got people talking. They really got into the discussions, often even forgetting that we were there.” One interesting thing the researchers 21uni'wissen 03