HCIAS Blogcast: Stephanie Schütze on the ways Bolivian migrant women sobreviver jogando in Brazil
Welcome back to the HCIAS Blogcast! This is a series of posts on the HCIAS blog, we summarize some of the key points from our most recent podcast episode. This week, we bring you a conversation between Prof. Dr. Stephanie Schütze, professor of Cultural and Social Anthropology at the Lateinamerika-Institut of the Freie Universität Berlin, and Dr. Héctor Álvarez Mella, the HCIAS publications editor.
Prof. Dr. Stephanie Schütze introduces us to the world of migrant Bolivian women’s amateur football tournaments in São Paulo, Brazil. Drawing on her ethnographic fieldwork, conducted with a colleague, Julia Haß, Prof. Dr. Schütze explains how football becomes a vehicle for cultural and community gatherings, allows migrants to create spaces of belonging, and above all a way to sobreviver jogando.
Two aspects of the project particularly interested Prof. Dr. Schütze. The first is the role of gender. Football has historically been a pastime for men, but women’s football is becoming increasingly popular, and, in this transition, we can see a process of women occupying an area from which they had formerly been excluded. The second focus was the role that football played in migration. In almost all the cities of the world (including Heidelberg), you can find migrants from Latin America coming together to play football. Because organizing a game requires almost no infrastructure – just a ball and some people to play – the sport can facilitate the creation of communal spaces among people who may not possess the resources to do so otherwise.
Prof. Dr. Schütze highlights the way these football matches can form part of a transcultural strategy for migrants. Women’s football is something which has taken off in Bolivia in the last few years, and many of the migrant women were accustomed to playing in their home country. At the same time, football is the de facto national sport of Brazil, and by organizing these matches Bolivian migrants find a way to integrate into Brazilian society through this shared pastime.
Many of the Bolivian migrant women that Prof. Dr. Schütze met in her investigation arrived in Brazil when they were teenagers. They typically work in the textile industry, in small workshops. Working hours are very long and during the week they have little opportunity for socializing or recreation. Because of this, they form football teams within their workshops and organize matches over the weekend. These events create spaces for the wider Bolivian community in São Paulo as the players’ husbands and children will also come to the match to support them.
Leagues are informal. Come into existence and disappear rapidly. There is no central organization. Everything is improvised out of the network of social relationships that make up the migrant community. Although the matches are spaces of belonging, they are also in part exclusionary. While Bolivians and other Latin American migrants make contact and form relationships with Brazilians through football, Brazilians are generally not allowed to participate in the match. This is because Brazilian players generally have more time to train, and the Bolivians want to keep the space open for migrants, who only have the opportunity to play once a week.
Prof. Dr. Schütze stresses the passion that the women she met have for football. The matches provide an opportunity to get exercise, and an outlet for the physical energy that builds up during the sedentary work week. They also provide the opportunity for Bolivians to travel to other parts of São Paulo that they otherwise would not have the opportunity to visit, as when they are playing a game their transport and food is usually provided by the team’s sponsor. More than just a pastime, football is the thing that keeps them going in spite of the difficult circumstances they encounter in the process of migration and the grueling hours of work they have to endure.
This HCIAS Blogcast has been just a short recap of a wide-ranging and thought-provoking discussion. If you would like to learn more about our guest and her work, you can listen to the whole episode here.