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Max Mauro (PhD)

Max Mauro (PhD)


Thesis Title: Kicking the Ball: Youth, Sport and Identity in Ireland

External Examiner: Associate Professor Michael Giardina, Florida State University, USA

This thesis explores the sport practices of migrant youth in Ireland, focusing on the meaning of sport, namely football, for male teenagers of immigrant origin. Football is the most popular game among young people in Ireland, and according to the Schoolboys Association of Ireland over one hundred thousand boys and girls throughout the country play the game. Through the adoption of a textual and filmic approach, Kick the Ball combines the methodological tools of journalistic inquiry with those of practice-based ethnographic research. The study engages with the social worlds of members of two youth football teams based in west Dublin - a residential location with the highest national percentage of immigrant families. Along with the meaning of sport for youth of different ethnic backgrounds, the thesis foregrounds processes of identity construction and reconstruction, racial/cultural belonging and new modes of citizenship. A central concern of this study is how and in what ways participation in sport functions to enhance the social inclusion of migrant youth and their families. Racism in football emerges from this ethnographic inquiry as a critical topic and focus of analytical attention.

The thesis comprises five chapters in addition to an introduction and a conclusion. Chapter one engages with methodological and theoretical frames of reference underpinning the ethnography. Drawing from different disciplinary fields, including cultural studies, social and visual anthropology, migration studies, sport studies and journalism, the discussion foregrounds debates surrounding the inclusive potential of sport practices and to questions of belonging among youth of immigrant background. The use of the video camera as a means of inquiry emerges as an innovative methodological approach within sport studies, especially in work conducted with youth. Chapter two introduces Mountview FC, a local youth club, and its Under 14 team composed of Irish (white) boys and boys of different African background. Questions of access and the creation of rapport with adult and adolescent participants are addressed, together with the meaning of community and cultural belonging for immigrant boys. Chapter three highlights questions of ethnicity and social class and their relevance to the sport participation of adolescents. Episodes of racial abuse on the pitch are analytically framed, alongside the reaction and their management by adult coaching staff. Chapter four presents an unforeseen turn in the ethnography: the tragic death of a boy of Nigerian background, friend and schoolmate of several of the protagonists in the study. This nationally reported event established the possibility for further fieldwork in Insaka - a football team exclusively comprising immigrant youth and one in which the boy had played. This chapter further engages with performative instantiations of belonging by teenage boys on the football pitch and via the production of rap music, foregrounding two teenage players of Romanian background. Chapter fives explores the myriad meanings attributed to the imposition of ‘discipline' by coaches and players. In particular, it focuses on the racialised position inhabited by members of African background in the Dublin Schoolboys league, posing a wider challenge to Irish society.



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