- The Stadium Century: Sport, Spectatorship, and Mass Society in Modern France by Robert Lewis
The iconic Stade de France looms large in histories of sports in France. Fans there witnessed the black, blanc, and beur French national team win the World Cup in 1998 and then also saw Algerian and French fans clash in a violent pitch invasion in 2001. Robert Lewis's The Stadium Century: Sport, Spectatorship, and Mass Society in Modern France also begins in the presence of the Stade, but, refreshingly, his examination of this well-known French landmark only represents a small portion of his book's argument, which instead centers on the influence of stadiums and stadium culture on the massive changes to French sporting life, as well as politics, culture, and society, between the First World War and 1968.
Lewis approaches his study of French stadia with a Lefebvrian methodology, which considers stadiums as spaces "as conceptualized by 'scientists, planners, urbanists, technocratic sub-dividers, and social engineers" and as "representation spaces" that also include the practices of athletes, coaches, advertisers, sports officials, referees, and fans (6). In fact, Lewis rarely concentrates on the construction of stadiums in the hexagon; instead, he illuminates the ways in which sports stakeholders made stadiums to assert their own local, commercial, or gender identities, as well as to debate ideas about national health, consumer culture, and mass politics.
Stadium Century is organized thematically, and the meat of the argument comes from the first four chapters, which deal with "the contested place of the stadium in the realm of public policy and the stadium's role as a crucible for shaping and creating the modern mass crowd" (11). Chapter 1 introduces the broad strokes of French mass sports from the nineteenth century until the Second World War and concentrates on public debates over stadium construction. Municipal and national politicians are the subject of the second chapter, which considers the way that politicians used sports and sports spaces to promote mass politics. The third and fourth chapters move into the stadium and examine fan behaviors, sports officials' attempts to moralize sportsmen and their supporters, and the way that sports spectatorship delineates individual, local, regional, and even national identities.
Anyone interested in the history of French sports can read Lewis's work as a stand-alone book because his clear and careful analysis provides ample background. One of the principal strengths of the book is his attention to the large context of sports during the interwar period. His fourth chapter, on sports and national identity, includes a lengthy discussion of contemporary sporting movements in Germany, Italy, the Soviet Union, and the United States, which shows how the French case was not unique but rather a piece of a larger global renaissance in sporting activity. In addition, while sports histories tend to be the domain of historians interested in men and masculinity, Lewis does not neglect the role of women in stadiums, noting that sporting associations courted women as informed consumers of sports while frequently decrying these same women as a threat to the stadium as a masculine space.
At the same time, the organization of the work, with thematic chapters that stretch across World War II, impels Lewis to elide the real differences between the Third Republic, [End Page 260] the Vichy Regime, and the Fourth Republic. Although all three governments shared significant similarities in their response to physical culture, especially their emphasis on participatory athleticism, the fans' reactions to those different governments strikes me as fundamentally different. When the Vichy French government nationalized the soccer federation in 1943, it needed the support of the stakeholders to legitimize the change. Supporters of local soccer clubs were reluctant to rally to the new federal teams that neither reflected their social identities nor their communal ones. The fans whom associations counted on to fill the stands stopped showing up in such large numbers, and the whole system collapsed in the weeks following the liberation. The nonparticipation of fans, however, was not simply a...