More than just a game: An Appadurai inspired analysis of the FIFA World Cup

In opposition to the idea that globalisation is a simple process of cultural homogenisation (O’Shaughnessy, Stadler, 2012, p.458), anthropologist Arjun Appadurai (1996, p.46) proposes that contemporary global conditions reflect the dynamic flow of ethnic groups (ethnoscapes), technology (technoscapes), financial transactions (financescapes), media images (mediascapes) and ideological conflicts (ideoscapes).

While Appardurai’s theoretical framework provides valuable insight into the way global flows of culture are not one-way, as portrayed by O’Shaughnessy and Stadler’s ‘globalisation as cultural imperialism’ argument (2012, p.465), many of the examples he provided are difficult to understand in the context of the 21st Century.  As a result, I endeavour to utilise the example of the FIFA World Cup as a key vehicle for examining these transnational movements.

A central feature of modern sport is the migration of professional sportspeople across international borders (Palmer, 2013, p.16). In the graphics below (‘Globalisation and the World Cup’, 2010), there is a much more complex interweaving of lines in the 2010 World Cup than in 1996, thus highlighting the increasing numbers of footballer’s playing for a club team outside their home country.



This form of ethnoscape has largely impacted the ideoscapes borne out in sport (Palmer, 2013, p.16). While each country has their own national sporting identity, the FIFA World Cup has united different cultures through expressing trans-national ideologies (Palmer, 2013, p.16) and has, in particular, reversed the process of Americanisation, with cultural groups such as the Hispanics now embracing European football (O’Hanlon, 2014). This contradicts Appardurai’s notion that all forms of cultural invasion are destructive in the formation of identity (1996, p.45), as avid football supporters from around the globe share a sense of comradeship and common interest.

Alfonso Apuninam of an Amazonian indigenous tribe. Photo: DW/S.Cowie

Ethnoscapes also take the form of the social dislocation of vulnerable population groups in relation to sporting mega-events (Palmer, 2013, p.16). In order to make available the 10,000 car parking spaces required for 2014 World Cup, the traditional cultural and historical sites of more than 30 varying Brazilian tribes were demolished, resulting in displacement and forced relocation (Cowie, Wingard, 2012).

Other issues surround finanescapes and the global economy of sport. Adidas, the supplier of official World Cup balls, employs cheap labor in Pakistan, with its low production costs guaranteeing profits (Thimel, 2014). In addition, a recent corruption controversy involves the role of former top football official Mohammed bin Hammam in securing the bid to award the 2022 World Cup to Qatar (‘Qatar 2022’, 2014). These examples highlight issues of ownership, control and power, as well as the structured inequalities of global capitalism.

A Pakistani worker hand-stiching the panels of a Bruzuca replica soccer ball. Photo: Asad Zaidi/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A Pakistani worker hand-stiching the panels of a Bruzuca replica soccer ball. Photo: Asad Zaidi/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Technoscapes are evident in the speed with which information and images from globally broadcast sporting mega events are disseminated to audiences worldwide (Palmer, 2013, p.16). For example, the 2014 World Cup final between Germany and Argentina spurred 280 million online interactions by 88 million people, with more than 618,000 tweets per minute (Gross, 2014). According to FIFA,  more than 1 billion people engaged with World Cup content through its website, social media accounts and mobile app, with these digital platforms offering a “shared excitement” (Gross, 2014).

As shown above (Beck, 2014), there is a growing interest for soccer in the US. This reinforces the influence of ethnoscapes, ideoscapes and technoscapes on the World Cup.

As shown above (Beck, 2014), there is a growing interest for soccer in the US. This reinforces the influence of ethnoscapes, ideoscapes, technoscapes and mediascapes on the World Cup.

Technscapes are also closely connected to the production and consumption of images through mediascapes (Palmer, 2013). For example, a number of well-selected images of the World Cup are transmitted to a global media audience by key cultural intermediaries who are responsible for the corporate advertising and marketing strategy of the event (Palmer, 2013).

It is evident that sport has become significantly ‘global’. Technoscapes and mediascapes offer the ability to ensure the accountability and transparency of sports policy and practices, as well as the social regulations and policies relating to securing the welfare and wellbeing of citizens. This is highly important as the unequal circulation of financial resources, coupled with issues such as social inequality and abuses of power, will only continue to accelerate social stratification in the developing world.

In this way, Appadurai’s five ‘scapes’ are excellent instruments to analyse global cultural flows. They do, however, require further exploration, particularly in regard to their implications on local and national levels.


Reference List:

Appadurai, A., 1996, ‘Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy’ in ‘Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalisation, p.40-60, University of Minnesota Press, India.

Beck, M., 2014, ‘World Cup Marketing Reminder: There are 48.9 million US Soccer Fans on Facebook’, Marketing Land, image, accessed 15 August 2014, <>.

Cowie, S., Wingard, J., 2012, ‘World Cup threatens indigenous group in Rio’, DW, accessed 10 August 2014, <>.

‘Globalisation and the World Cup’, 2010, MyFDL, accessed 10 August 2014, <>.

‘Globalisation and the World Cup’, 2010, MyFDL, image, accessed 15 August 2014, <>.

Gross, D., 2014, ‘World Cup walloped social-media records’, CNN, accessed 15 August 2014, <>.

O’Hanlon, R., 2014, ‘What Does Soccer Mean Today? A Conversation With Simon Kuper’, Pacific Standard, accessed 10 August 2014, <>.

O’Shaughnessy, M., Stadler, J., 2012, ‘Chapter 25: Globalisation’ in ‘Media and Society’, p.458-470’, Oxford University Press, South Melbourne, Victoria.

Palmer, C., 2013, ‘Globalisation, Sport and Policy’ in ‘Global Sports Policy’, p. 7-21, SAGE Publications Ltd, London.

Plautz, J., 2014, ‘8 Tips for Travelers Headed to the World Cup in Brazil’, Mashable, image, accessed 15 August 2014, <>.

Thimel, M., 2014, ‘The Dirty Secret Behind the World Cup Ball’, Working Life accessed 10 August 2014, <>.


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