Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Brenda Elsey's "Citizens and Sportsmen"

Brenda Elsey is Assistant Professor of History at Hofstra University. Her research interests focus on politics and popular culture in Latin American history.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Citizens and Sportsmen: FĂștbol and Politics in Twentieth-Century Chile, and reported the following:
Citizens and Sportsmen tells the story of a group of amateur football, or soccer, players whose dedication to civic engagement had long-term political significance in Chile. The stability of the Chilean political system and degree of democratic representation, relative to the rest of Latin America, has intrigued historians of the region. The violent collapse of this democracy in 1973 prompted a reevaluation of the country’s history. Inspired by social scientists that argued for the importance of voluntary organizations in creating democratic societies, I decided to study football clubs.

Page 99 reflects the messy task of building a narrative of local history. I am in the midst of discussing Bellavista, a football club from La Florida, located on the outskirts of Santiago. Housing shortages and rural labor conditions motored urbanization of La Florida during the 1930s. Football clubs served as a hub of community activity that connected residents to state agencies and local politicians. Women’s exclusion from clubs meant they were removed from an important forum of public debate. Neighborhood clubs like Bellavista included women only in auxiliary capacities, such as for the “Spring Queen,” beauty pageants, until the 1950s.

Chapter three, in which page 99 lies, analyzes the construction of the National Stadium, completed in 1938. Through the lens of the stadium’s construction, I analyze the emergence of a critical public in Santiago’s cafes, newspapers, and football fields. Local sportsmen denounced the stadium as emblematic of the populism and corruption of President Arturo Alessandri’s administration. Football clubs mobilized in support of the Popular Front, a new Center-Left political coalition that repudiated Alessandri’s conservative policies. I explain, however, that, “a small but significant minority of sportsmen in La Florida felt that local football clubs (including Bellavista) had become too political and should depend less on parties for resources. Their editorials accused these clubs of violating a set of ‘universal values’ to which all true sportsmen adhered. These critics claimed that the political tendencies of clubs had begun to sully the ‘sacred terrain’ of football. “The debate over the proper forms and spaces for political expression was an important one throughout the twentieth century.

So, page 99 is a page full of nitty-gritty details, provided to demonstrate the importance of popular culture in shaping people’s everyday ideas about citizenship, the role of the state, and class identity. I wouldn’t say it is the most gripping or elegant page of the book, but it is representative of the deeply-researched local history that I am writing.
Learn more about Citizens and Sportsmen at the University of Texas Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue