P 64

Leisure, Sports, and Their Dis/connections in African Contexts

Panel abstract
In general, sports and leisure are widely perceived as means and spheres of human interaction, integration, social mobility and the promotion of physical and mental well-being. Hence, they seem to facilitate social connectivity at various levels. However, as both historical and current dimensions of leisure and sports in African contexts indicate, access to and through physical activity has also been regulated, denied and exploited (e.g. as colonial means for disciplining local populations). Therefore, sports and leisure may also serve as tools and spheres to disconnect and exclude people from rights, places, identities and mobilities.
In current African settings, those dis/connections relate to various dimensions and often play out simultaneously. Sports and leisure may reflect hopes of social mobility yet often reproduce social exclusion (e.g. among transnational football migrants). The rise of an African middle class has introduced new spheres of physical leisure time activities (e.g. gym fitness) which may promote rather exclusive body cultures that manifest social stratification. Sport and leisure also serve as arena for political engagement (e.g. as football supporters have proven during the Arab Spring). Yet, they may also serve as self-exclusions from cultural norms and reflect hedonist discourses of alternative life-styles (e.g. surfing communities). Moreover, leisure may also play out as sport’s other (e.g. as forms of idleness or self-exclusion from physical activity). However, particularly social activities such as collective drinking have the potential to unite people peacefully while also cause fights and thus dis/connect people.
Given sports’ and leisure’s ambiguous roles, this panel aims at investigating further the issues and dimensions of their dis/connections in African contexts. The individual papers are empirically grounded in ethnographic fieldwork and relate to dis/connections in the fields of social and spatial mobilities, youth, urbanities, body practices and gender.

Time: Saturday, 30/06/2018, 11 am - 1 pm
Venue: Hörsaalgebäude, HS 15

Christian Ungruhe (Aarhus University, Denmark)
Silke Oldenburg (University of Basel, Switzerland)

Katrin Bromber (Centre for Modern Oriental Studies, Berlin)
Merel van't Wout (Leiden University, Netherlands/University of Copenhagen, Denmark)
Nadine Sieveking (University of Göttingen)
Hanna Lena Reich (University of Bayreuth)

Susann Baller (German Historical Institute, Dakar, Senegal)


Paper abstracts

Katrin Bromber
Turning an Art into a Sport: Sportfification of Wrestling in Ethiopia

Wrestling is one of the most widespread local martial art practices in Ethiopia which diversified into at least 18 different styles. Its selection as a ‘cultural’ sport (bahǝlawi sport) in the early 1980s generated sportification measures at all levels in order to create one national style. The presentation looks into the concrete attempts by national regulating bodies of spatial, temporal, and bodily regulation of wrestling as well as measures of implementation, especially through the teaching of ‘low organized sports’ at the sport science departments of Ethiopian universities and teacher training colleges. It will further demonstrate that local styles continued, especially as very vibrant pastimes of youth in the rural areas, but not in a static way. These styles also changed through media consumption as well as intersections with the national variant.

Merel van't Wout
‘Today We Only Want iPhone 6’ - Social Media, Scamming, and Self-Positioning in Tamale, Ghana

This paper explores the ambiguities of online youth spaces in Tamale, Ghana. Online youth spaces, in particular social media (Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, and Whatsapp) have radically altered experiences of belonging, groupness, and modernity among youth. Youths’ online interactions transform social relations, shape new spheres of leisure, and facilitate experiments with self-positioning. However, the fast pace with which Tamale’s youth has become connected to global grids also has ambiguous consequences. Driven by feelings of immobility and boredom, young men in Tamale have en masse embraced online scamming to escape the ‘waithood’ they find themselves in. Leisure time, now, becomes dominated by the quest for social mobility in radically new ways. The few young men who succeed in their online scamming endeavours – Tamale’s ‘big boys’ – are revered by peers and function as role models for their generation. Through generous donations to Tamale’s upcoming music industry, ‘big boys’ make their mark on social life in Tamale: in the course of this they spread a widely shared message that, in contradictory ways, hails short-cuts, perseverance, and ‘hard work’, and, implicitly and explicitly, declares ‘scamming’ an alternative way to make it in life. This paper demonstrates how ambiguous forms of online leisure on the one hand stimulate creativity, social connectivity, and belonging, while on the other hand they foster new social hierarchies and deepen rivalries and exclusions among the majority of Tamale’s youth.

Nadine Sieveking
Analysing the Social Spaces of New Bodily Practices in Urban West-Africa: Ruptures and Continuities

Social and economic transformations in urban Africa go along with changing bodily practices and the emergence of new spaces for self-realization and representation – on the level of professionalized performances in various domains of work, art, or ritual, but also on the level of routinized activities in the domain of leisure and ‘ordinary’ everyday-life. The configuration of these partly overlapping, partly disconnected spaces reflects processes of social stratification as well as differentiation on the horizontal level. Based on research in urban Senegal and Burkina Faso, this paper analyses two relatively distinct forms of bodily practice, namely the professional performance of contemporary dance and the leisure activity of gym fitness. The art form of contemporary dance is often criticized as a culturally alienated practice, imported from the West and disconnected from the majority of local populations since it is targeting only privileged audiences in the global North and among the small fringes of highly educated cosmopolitan urbanites, intellectuals, and expatriates. This kind of criticism is not usually applied to gym fitness, which is part of a globalized mass culture of consumption and has become an almost omnipresent element of new middle class lifestyle in urban Africa. The paper analyses the different ways in which these practices relate to their respective socio-cultural environment, encompassing ruptures, but also new professional linkages and cultural continuities.

Hanna Lena Reich
The Two Sides of Nairobi Nightlife – Leisure Activities as Inclusive and Exclusive Experiences

The night is very often depicted as the time and space for leisure activities such as drinking, dancing, and clubbing, especially in the African urban context. The paper will address the controversy of Nairobi nightlife: 1. Nightlife as an including phenomenon which has the potential to peacefully connect people from different ethnic/racial or economic backgrounds. The paper will describe how in Nairobi, a highly segregated city (by income and ethnic groups) nocturnal leisure activities offer new opportunities for interaction between the various groups inhabiting the city. Music, dancing, and drinking are experienced as collective activities in social spaces where especially marginalized groups like refugees or homosexuals who are excluded of many parts of daily life feel ‘included’, understood, and welcomed. 2. Nightlife as an excluding phenomenon with strict rules which regulate who gains access to nocturnal spaces and who does not. Despite the image of the night as not controllable, wild, and free, there are many rules and modes of control as well as certain power relations and regulations which allow you to gain access, or not, to nocturnal spaces. The paper seeks to explain various regulations which vary from dress codes or entrance fees to the powerful role of bouncers who decide if someone can enter a nightclub or not based on categories like race, class, age, or gender. The paper will show how nocturnal actors in Nairobi experience leisure activities at night, how people handle the two-sided story of Nairobi nightlife, and also highlight which strategies people develop to avoid exclusion.