Book Discussion: Football in Cameroon

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SportsAfrica Network, in collaboration with Football Scholars Forum, welcomes anthropologist Uroš Kovač to discuss his book
The Precarity of Masculinity Football, Pentecostalism, and Transnational Aspirations in Cameroon

“This is an extraordinarily high-quality book, destined to make a mark in Africanist scholarship. Simply by demonstrating the connection between football and Pentecostalism in Cameroon, Kovac’s manuscript takes a step I have never seen before, examining a kind of confluence of two global movements into local production of masculine subjects.” • Sasha Newell, Université libre de Bruxelles, author of The Modernity Bluff: Crime, Consumption, and Citizenship in Cote D’Ivoire

“Tells the fascinating story of young Cameroonians, who opt for football as a career to bring them global mobility and attain what the author calls ‘moral masculinity’ … The story is full of unexpected turns, bringing in a wide array of aspects and actors.” • Peter Geschiere, University of Amsterdam, author of The Perils of Belonging: Autochthony, Citizenship, and Exclusion in Africa and Europe

Since the 1990s, an increasing number of young men in Cameroon have aspired to play football as a career and a strategy to migrate abroad. Migration through the sport promises fulfillment of masculine dreams of sports stardom, as well as opportunities to earn a living that have been hollowed out by the country’s long economic stalemate. The aspiring footballers are increasingly turning to Pentecostal Christianity, which allows them to challenge common tropes of young men as stubborn and promiscuous while also offering a moral and bodily regime that promises success despite the odds. Yet the transnational sports market is tough and unpredictable: it demands disciplined young bodies and introduces new forms of uncertainty. This book unpacks young Cameroonians’ football dreams, Pentecostal faith, obligations to provide, and desires to migrate to highlight the precarity of masculinity in structurally adjusted Africa and neoliberal capitalism.

The book is available in epub format from the publisher for $34.95.

This publication is helpful if you want to get acquainted with Uroš’s work. Here is the abstract:

In the post-structural adjustment Southwest Region of Cameroon, young men are finding it increasingly difficult to achieve social adulthood and are turning to migration as a solution. During the past two decades, the transnational market of association football players has expanded and for young Cameroonian men football has emerged as one of the most desirable ways to migrate. Many young men are inspired by African footballers in elite international leagues and seek opportunities to play abroad and begin earning a livelihood. But opportunities for transnational mobility and careers in professional sport are rare and precarious. For footballers, their managers, and their families, success and failure are tied to the uncertainties of football and migration, but even more so to issues of moral standing and masculinity. Masculinity emerges as a result of self-fashioning as moral subjects, driven by new and old gendered aspirations to engage globalized markets and fulfill family demands of economic redistribution. Evocations of masculinity and morality reveal why young men aspire to precarious careers in sports, but can also obscure the uncertainties of transnational markets and the elusiveness of adulthood in structurally adjusted Africa.

Uroš’s current project

Kenyan long-distance runners have for long famously dominated international athletic competitions. Most of the aspiring runners live and train in highlands of northwest Kenya, in Elgeyo-Marakwet County, where they have access to competitive peer groups of budding athletes and an elaborate infrastructure of camps, coaches, and managers. The most promising and successful ones travel abroad to take part in international races, only to quickly return and continue training in the “county of champions.” Meanwhile, Kenya is undergoing a rapid transformation, envisioned by the government’s development plan that promises to transform Kenya into a “globally competitive and prosperous country.” On the surface, competition is a self-explanatory notion that drives the transnational sports industry and the state’s development plan. However, ethnography of the county’s capital Iten and its community of athletes reveals tensions: Kenyans take up, negotiate, appropriate, and challenge meanings of competition offered by the Kenyan state and the sports industry on ecological, gendered, and moral grounds. Ethnography of ideologies of competition in Iten, conceptualized as moral, aesthetic, and gendered projects, complicates accounts of competition as a tool for global neoliberal governance. It also provides an alternative to analyses of African subjects’ agency in global circulation of capital, people, and ideas, namely analyses subsumed under signs of marginality, dependence, and subjection.

Recent Publications:

  1. 2022The Precarity of Masculinity: Football, Pentecostalism, and Transnational Aspirations in Cameroon.New York: Berghahn.
  2. 2021. “Becoming Useful and Humble: Masculinity, Morality, and Association Football in Cameroon.” Anthropological Quarterly 94 (3).
  3. 2021. “‘This is a Business, not a Charity’: Football Academies, Political Economy, andMasculinity in Cameroon.” In: Besnier, Calabrò, and Guinness, eds.Sport, Migration, and Gender in the Neoliberal Age. London:
  4. 2018. (with Besnier, Guinness, and Hann). “Rethinking Masculinity in the Neoliberal Order: Cameroonian Footballers, Fijian Rugby Players, and Senegalese Wrestlers.” Comparative Studies in Society and History60 (4).