New Speakers on Lost Ground in the Football Stadium

Review by: William A. Harper
By Alfonso Del Percio

The Big Idea

The Big Idea

Perhaps an analogy might bring home the big idea of this research paper.  In the world of Western Pleasure Horse Competition, the competitor is penalised if the horse swishes its tail.  Although now illegal, it was a common practice among competitors to eliminate this possibility by “nerving” the horse’s tail.  Nerving was essentially deadening the tail by cutting the nerves in the tail.  This prevented the horse losing points for the rider in the show.

Now this abuse caused at least two problems for the horse.  First, an individual one.  When pastured the horse is unable to shoo flies away.  The tail just hangs as the annoying fly’s swarm.

Second, there is a social consequence.  Being a herd animal, horses tend to graze together in a pasture.  When the flies are really biting, they pretty much line up side-by-side.  Let’s say they are on a north/south line.  One horse will face north; its neighbour will face south.  In this manner, the north-facing horse will swish its tail to help keep flies off the face of the south-facing horse; the south-facing horse will return the swishing favour for the north-facing horse.

But the horse who has been nerved is typically excluded from the mutual swishing practice.  Since it cannot bring anything to the local custom it is usually ostracised by the herd.  If tail swishing is a sort of language between horses, the nerved horse cannot communicate sufficiently well to be a legitimate herd horse.  It grazes alone, shunned and is now doubly handicapped both individually and socially.

In the human world, nerving is symbolically much the same.  It is by way of language or the lack of it that humans either stick together or fly apart.  In the case of this research paper we see the way in which language functions for better and for worse in the evolution of one soccer club, FC Basel.  In an ethnographic case study two quasi-nerved actors—one a fan, another a coach—find themselves shunned from the FC Basel local herd.