2. Race, Empire, and National Identity

What does it mean to be “Brazilian”? Can futebol truly help us understand brasildade (Brazilian identity)? Intellectuals like Gilberto Freyre, journalists like Mario Filho, and modern-day historians like Roger Kittelson and Greg Bocketti have all tried to unpack brasildade through the “beautiful game.” Their analyses are crucial to understanding how soccer can shape racial and national identity. Their studies, though, are just a small part of academic studies that position soccer at the center of an ongoing process of state formation and empire building.

This unit takes two case studies—Brazil and France—to examine how soccer has been central to the construction of national identity. In the former, Afro-Brazilian players have been crucial to the development of futebol and the “jogo bonito,” but at times that same black identity became a scapegoat for failure. In the latter, heated political debates swirled around the ethnic, racial, and religious diversity in the French national team ahead of the 1998 World Cup, hosted by France. Namely, the presence of black and Muslim players challenged notions of a white, European nation … until Marseille-native Zinedine Zidane, of Algerian immigrant parents, scored two headers against Brazil to secure France’s first-ever World Cup trophy, and on home soil! 

These two stories provide a gateway to explore how soccer shapes and redefines national identity.


  • Bolsmann, Chris, and Dilwyn Porter. English Gentlemen and World Soccer: Corinthians, Amateurism and the Global Game. New York: Routledge, 2020. Chp 3 [Sep 19] 
  • Elsey, Brenda. “‘Because We Have Nothing’: The 1962 World Cup and Cold War Politics in Chile.” Soccer Diplomacy: International Relations and Football since 1914. Heather L. Dichter, ed. Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 2020. [Sep 21]
  • Foer, How Soccer Explains the World. Chps 8-10 [Sep 26]
  • Filho, Mario. The Black Man in Brazilian Soccer. Trans. Jack A. Draper III. New York: Routledge, 2020. Pgs. 308-330 [Sep 28]
  • Dubois, Laurent. Soccer Empire: The World Cup and the Future of France. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010. ALL [Oct 3 & 5]
  • Kittleson, Roger. The Country of Football: Soccer and the Making of Modern Brazil. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2014. ALL [Oct 3 & 5]