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Masculinities. Football, Polo and the Tango in Argentina
Eduardo P. Archetti

Berg, Oxford-New York, mayo 1999, 212pp.


This book is the result of many years of research on the meanings of football, polo and the tango in Argentinean society. The choice of sport and dance was the result of a research strategy that attempted to combine images of men and masculinities with concrete historical contexts, nationalist ideology and modernization of the city of Buenos Aires, and with recent anthropological debates on hybridity and morality. A pioneer book on football in Brazil with the programmatic introduction written by DaMatta (1982), a prestigious Brazilian anthropologist trained in the study of 'primitive' Amazonian people, opened the door to the study of sport and its relation to the 'national' in Latin America and in anthropology in general. Inspired by structuralism as the search for decisive cognitive maps, and by ritual theory as the importance of public dramatic performances in complex societies, DaMatta in an earlier book (1978) problematized the 'national' through the analysis of carnival -and samba- and the construction of popular heroes. The connection between football and dance as an anthropological field of empirical research in Latin American studies thus became evident. I shall first present some of the methodological orientations - the mixing of the oral and the written, the use of limited historical construction and the limitations of auto- anthropology -and, briefly afterwards, the theoretical concerns that have guided my research and that, in many ways, depart from the original preoccupations of DaMatta. The theoretical stances will be developed successively throughout the book.

Methodological Points of Entry

A prologue is needed for placing my research and my findings in a proper anthropological context. To write on masculinities through football, the tango and polo in order to grasp Argentinian identity is not very usual. The book you will read is not a traditional monograph resting upon the long-term presence of the ethnographer in the field. The practice of anthropology in the contexts of 'little traditions' implied an emphasis on the study of oral practices: speaking, singing and orating. The anthropological written texts originate, in principle, from oral transmissions - and, of course, behavioural observation. Orality was thus transformed by the writing of the anthropologist. However, in contexts of 'great traditions', social discourses were and are also embedded in, or expressed through, writing. Anthropologists working in complex societies with ample literary traditions are confronted with a variety of texts. These different texts have been produced nationally, even locally, in the community studied, or elsewhere, by the informants them selves or by 'others' in general: writers, journalists, scientists, politicians, bureaucrats or teachers. Confronted with this dense jungle of texts, research strategies can vary: the emphasis on the consumption of texts concentrates on the impact of reading, while the emphasis on the production of texts permits a discussion on the implications of writing in the shaping of cultural forms. Any cultural theory thus needs to reflect on the multiplicity of writings because identities, or the interface between the self and the social, are also created and re-created through writing and reading. So how heterogeneous literary works may affect the anthropological understanding of a given sociocultural setting is a relevant question to ask.

My book combines traditional fieldwork and orality -stories and histories told by the informants- with textual analysis -historical essays, ideological writings of the nationalist authors, journals, magazines and tango lyrics. A central concern is the process by which meaning is produced in various texts -including the narratives produced by my informants- rather than the simple representation of a cultural reality. I try to combine what my informants said or commented on, read in magazines or journals, and watched on television or saw in films, with what I read or saw. The traditional antrophologist will perhaps find my analysis more textualist than cthllogl apllic, alld the cultlll al studies scholar will find my textual analysis unsophisticated. However, I hope to have reached a balance between the written and the spoken in the presentation of some of the 'myths' of football, constructed historically in written texts and reproduced today in the figures of some outstanding players like Maradona. This, due to lack of research, is less developed in the cases of the tango and polo. This imbalance does not invalidate my key methodological device: the exploration of meanings in written texts as a way of understanding that which is derived from or transformed into orality, which I consider central to anthropological analysis in complex literate societies. I have, in other words, emphasized 'emphatic listening' more than the traditional device of unidirectional observing.

My fieldwork and archival exploration in Buenos Aires were carried out in different periods from 1984 to 1994, a total of twenty months and almost fifty football matches watched. More details will be presented in the introduction. The reader will easily discover that my work attempts to integrate a more distant past with a near present without seeking to give a detailed historical analysis. There is a 'here and now' and, at the same time, a 'there and then' fashioned by the process of modernization of Buenos Aires - and Argentina - that, initiated at the end of the past century, was consolidated in the first three decades of this century. Sarlo has defined this process as modernidad periferica (peripheral modernity), in which European modernity and local differences, acceleration and anguish, traditionalism and change, criollismo and literary avant-garde are coalesced (1988: 15). Buenos Aires was thus in this period 'the great Latin American setting of a culture of mixture (cultura de mezcla)' (1988: 15). Buenos Aires was also a cosmopolitan city -with almost 3 million inhabitants in 1930- in which 75% of the growth from 1900 is a result of European immigration. The histories of football, the tango and polo are related to this concrete period. My main hypothesis is that key stereotypes of masculinities were created through this modernization as part of a general quest for identities, imageries and symbols, making the abstract more concrete. There is, therefore, a historical gap in the book, and the reader must accept this limitation. I am particularly interested in the use of history in the cultural construction of identities in Argentina, and during my inquiry I became interested in the inverse process, the cultural construction of the past from the perspective of my informants. As will become clear later, l extended my focus of research, which initially was on football, to include the tango and polo as a way of achieving an intracultural comparative perspective following the recommendations of some of my informants.

As an Argentinian and, at the same time, an 'outsider anthropologist' -trained and working in Europe- I was on a kind of familiar terrain because, in principle, I had fewer linguistic, social and cultural obstacles than a non-Argentinian anthropologist. Moreover, I have 'always' been interested in football, and the majority of my informants during the first period of my research belonged to my own 'social group' in terms of class, age and education. I was a kind of 'anthropologist at home', like many anthropologists of Brazil, Malaysia, North America or India in the past, and now many more in Europe (see Jackson 1987), and my anthropological research a kind of 'auto-anthropology'. Strathern has defined 'auto- anthropology' as 'anthropology carried out in the social context which produced it' (1987: 17). At the same time, my training as a professional anthropologist, a point also emphasized by Strathern, implies that I am part of an 'anthropological culture' and academic community, from which my informants are excluded. This constitutes a dilemma, which Hastrup commented on in the following way: 'while fieldwork among your own people may provide you with an initially different "context of situation", this context itself will eventually become textualized within the general context of anthropology' (1987: 105). This implies that the 'insider' perspective in autoanthropology is not necessarily that of the 'natives'. Strathern has strongly argued that the personal credentials of the anthropologists -being a male Argentinian in my case- are less important for what, at the end, the written product does: 'whether there is cultural continuity between the product of his/her labours and what people in the society being studied produce by way of accounts of themselves' (1987: 17).

In other words, being at home implies that my way of organizing my enquiry, what Strathern calls 'techniques of organizing knowledge', coincides with the way the people studied organize knowledge about themselves. I shall argue that, in spite of my theoretical concerns, not necessarily shared by my informants, and in this sense accepting the difference presented by Hastrup, the high degree of auto-anthropology lies not only on the fact that my informants agreed on - and directed - my objects of study but also on the existence of Argentinian key cultural and social dimensions that, to a large extent, I share with them. The reader will find in some parts of the book a way of writing that has been called 'auto biographical ethnography', in the sense that some of my personal experiences, in the context of fieldwork or in the realm of the lived, are transformed into ethnographic writing. Some of my informants also advised me on key aspects of my enquiry and scrutiny and became temporarily 'native anthropologists' (see Reed-Danahay 1997). I try to reproduce this process in the general introduction of the book, and the different chapters explore various interconnections, mixtures of genres and voices, in order to better shape the complexity between historical reconstruction, fieldwork and autobiography.


I am conscious that to read about football, polo and the tango has not been an easy task. The reader has been obliged to change subject on several occasions, and, of course, a genuine interest in the history and ethnography of football does not necessarily pre suppose the acceptance that polo or the tango are important clues for getting a better understanding of Argentinian masculinities or masculinities at all. I am also aware of the fact that the rules and the meaning of polo, being a minority sport practised by Argen tinian landlords and their sons, by British aristocrats, American millionaires and exotic princes of distant places like Borneo or Malaysia, is not a part of the standard knowledge of social scientists. I expected, therefore, the goodwill of the reader, and I counted on the contemporary global popularity of football and the tango.

I did not want to leave my conclusions to the last chapter, and the reader, therefore, has been obliged to follow the complex interaction between the theoretical and the empirical findings in the different parts of this book. Moreover, I do not know how successful my strategy has been for putting together different histories, fields and bodily practices in a comparative perspective guided by the scrutiny of selected same-sex and cross-sex relations in Argentinian history and society. I hope that I have been able to show that while same-sex relations in football and polo have traits that are exclusive to men, cross-sex relations, as in the case of the tango, make it possible to transcend this exclusivity. Images of men nc-ed images of women as well as of 'other' men. The technical ability and individualism of the Argentinian football player called for the contrasting image of the disciplined and collectively orien tated English player. The physical strength and moral courage of the Argentinian polo player required the conservative and restrained figure of the English rider. The romanticism and fidelity of the man displayed in the tango asked to be accompanied by the image of a frce woman -a kind of localfemmefatale, the milongllita, leaving the social and emotional roots of the barmo and home for the excitement of cabaret. My findings indicate that once the differ ences between same-sex and cross-sex relations are taken into account, the complexities of masculinities -and gender- as an empirical field of investigation become evident. I hope my book can be seen as a contribution to this field of enquiry and debate, in which the works of Mosse opened new paths for historical and sociological comparisons.

Performing Bodies in Latin America:
a Comparative Perspective on Sport, Music and Dance

In the prologue I mentioned the importance of the anthropological research on football and dance in Brazil inspired by the early publications of DaMatta (1978, 1982). DaMatta problematized the 'national' through the analysis of carnival, a central ritual in Brazil ian society, and the construction of popular heroes - the villains. This paved the way to an examination of football. Since the 1930s Brazilians of all races and mixtures have achieved great success and worldwide recognition of their excellence in this sport. Brazil, according to DaMatta, is a society articulated by the sharp division between the 'home' and the 'street', and between the family - a system of hierarchical social relations and persons - and the market and free individuals. For DaMatta these divisions are less geo graphical or physical places than symbols of moral and ideological universes. The role of football is privileged because the personal ized social world of the home and the impersonal universe of the street are combined in a public ritual (1982: 17). Impersonal rules regulating the game make possible the expression of individual qualities: 'football, in the Brazilian society, is a source of individualization_ much more than an instrument of collectivization at the personal level' (1982: 27). The players escape from fate - the fate of class or race - and construct their own successful bio graphies in an open arena. Football makes it possible to experience male equality and freedom of creati-~ity in hierarchical contexts. In order to triumph, a football player (like a samba dancer) must a  jogo de cintura, the capacity to use the bodv to provoke confusion and fascination in the public and in their adversaries (1982: 28). A disciplined, athletic but boring player has no place hl Brazilian football imagery (1982: 39). The similarities with the Argentinian imagery are, of course, striking.

The victory in the 1958 World Cup, later consolidated in 1962 and 1970, with a 'multiracial' team - a hybrid representing racial complexity and democratization - confirmed the excellence of the Brazilian style. Leite Lopes (1997) maintains that the Brazilian style of football resembles physical activities which have ethnic Afro Brazilian origins, like the samba or capoeira (a martial sport of African origin) (see also Roberts 1972: 26-9). The European identi fication of a Brazilian style of playing relating football and the samba, manifested in the expression 'samba-football', is therefore not an arbitrary creation; it is rooted in Brazilian self- imagery and identity. This identification establishes important cultural differ ences, because the existence and development of European styles of playing football are not linked to music and dance.

The first baseball match in Cuba was played in Matanzas in 1874, and four years later the first danzon, the seed of the salsa, was composed. Gonzalez Echeverria (1994) maintains that music and baseball - together with literature - are the Cuban cultural products of greatest prestige and international recognition, and therefore essential as the founding myths of the 'national' in Cuba (see also Gonzalez Echeverria 1998). Baseball, a North American creation imported into Cuba by the sons of the sugar plantation aristocracy, was rapidly seen as a weapon of 'resistance' against colonialism and primitive Spanish games such as bullfighting. Gonzalez Eche verria writes that 'baseball was an integral part of the patriotic and anti-Spanish ideology which led towards independence' (1994: 73). By 1890 baseball had been accepted by the Hispanic and black working-class population, becoming a very popular bodily activity. From the beginning the ritual of playing was associated with dancing: 'each baseball match culminated in a magnificent dinner and dancing, for which orchestras were hired for playing danzones' (1994: 74). As in the case of football in Argentina and Brazil, baseball was perceived as a democratic and modern game that made it possible for young players of modest origins to experience social mobility. It is quite interesting that both baseball and football, two team sports which originated outside the Latin American countries, were integrated into the construction of 'national masculinities'. 'Thinking national' was, thus, a typically modernist project because it was fabricated by the introduction of foreign cultural practices and not by the revival or invention of traditions - and the same can be said of the creation of the samba, danzon and tango. The Cuban national sport is still baseball, and outstanding players are still produced by the hundreds in the island. Baseball in Cuba, like football in Brazil and Argentina, is not related to the tradition of national romanticism that was dominant in other countries of the region.

I expect that the reader has been convinced that the Argentinian case confirms this historical and sociological trend. However, my results also demonstrate that this picture is more intricate. The creation of 'national masculinities' in Argentina combined the urban - football and the tango - with the rural - polo. This imagery reflected the fragmented, dislocated and mismatched identities, the changing character of the social classes, and gender relations where, in the tango, men and women were at the centre. I have shown that in the rapidly modernizing pampas the gauchos existed as pre-modern and romantic figures, reminding urban Argentinians and immigrants of the existence of a traditional past. With polo, a gaucho tradition was reconstituted in a context of modern competi tion, and it was extended to the other practices. In a newspaper chronicle published in 1932, Arlt, one of the greatest modern Argentinian writers, disagreed on the extensive use of the idea of 'gaucho' to everything that could be defined as Argentinian: polo players with names like Miles, Lacey, Harrington or Nelson; tango orchestras with musicians with names like Cattaruzzo, Nijisky, Duprot or Muller; tango singers singing tangos that had nothing to do with rural scenarios; and football players who played with 'creole courage', 'gaucho enthusiasm' or with a 'typical pampa tech nique' (Arlt 1994:101-4). Arlt did not realize that what he wrote confirmed that the model of transformation and hybridization was working well because immigrants in general - and independently of ethnic origin or class identification - were 'creolized' and con verted into 'gauchos'. Modernism embraced romanticism. The new 'male - and female - hybrids' became models of change and tradition, of cultural continuity and creativity.



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