Course Syllabus


The Beautiful Game:

Soccer in Contemporary Society and Culture

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Semester & Location:

Spring 2021 - DIS Copenhagen

Type & Credits:

Elective Course - 3 credits

Major Disciplines:

Media Studies, Sociology, History



Faculty Member:

Andreas Brøgger -

Program Coordinator:

Sanne Rasmussen -

Time & Place:

Wednesdays 19:00-20:20 Central European Time via Zoom
(Additional synchronous teaching may take place in agreement with students)
We meet via Zoom at least until March 1, 2021 (click Zoom link in menu)

Course Description

In recent decades soccer has become a highly profitable and globalized cultural phenomenon. What lies behind the sport’s ability to attract immense crowds, or its seemingly magical penetration of the everyday life of the fan, instilling feelings of compassion, ecstacy, hate, and depression? What propelled the sport from an elite phenomenon in English public schools in the 1800s to a global form of mass entertainment in the 1900s? What makes soccer so appealing to so many, its ritualized global spectacles captivating billions of fans worldwide today? 

If soccer is more important than life and death, as one manager has famously claimed, how can we begin to understand the sport in all its complexity, with historical ties to local communities, national, and postcolonial identities? How have questions of class, religion, race, and gender been negotiated in soccer throughout history?  

In this course we will look at soccer through sociological and historical lenses as a reflection of society, both beautiful and ugly. We will also attempt to understand the particular dynamics of the game through theories of games and play which provide clues to why we play, why we watch, and the role of play in culture in general.  

In recent years, the popularity of soccer has been reflected in an increasing academic interest in the sport from within disciplines such as history, sociology, media studies, art history, psychology, business, and health sciences. These studies provide relevant perspectives on the sport, complementing countless news stories and (auto)biographies of players and coaches, written or co-authored by journalists.

Alongside course readings, relevant works by artists and filmmakers will be included to see how these may contribute to our understanding of the sport.


Learning Objectives

By the end of this course you will be able to:

  • understand how soccer has been shaped throughout history by a variety of cultural, political, and economic forces
  • discuss the mutual influence of soccer and contemporary society 
  • analyze how soccer has been reflected in media and the visual arts throughout its history
  • understand the basic qualities of play and games in human interaction
  • perceive the dynamics of the game (rules, tactics, strategy, innovation, tradition)


Approach to Teaching

This course is for everyone, not only fans. You are not required to possess a knowledge of soccer to take this course, but I expect you to be eager to learn why soccer has attracted so much attention worldwide. This course is for you if you are curious to see what we may find out about society, ourselves, and others, by studying this particular phenomenon.

Our main methods will be the combined lenses of sociology, history, and cultural studies, but you are welcome regardless of academic background. We will take the opportunity to learn from all students' perspectives from various disciplines as we tackle the course topics together in a collective learning experience. Along the way we may engage in creative experiments. Visual art and film will be introduced to open up discussions. If possible, field studies will take us out of the classroom to study soccer and its cultural imprint in various contexts.


Andreas Brøgger, Program Director of European Humanities at DIS.

MA in Modern Culture Studies, University of Copenhagen. Executive Master of Public Governance, Copenhagen Business School. Visiting Scholar, Columbia University 1999-2000, and Otis College of Art and Design 2001. Lecturer, University of Copenhagen 2002-2005. Previously Curator and Director of Nikolaj Contemporary Art Center 2009-2018 where he curated the exhibition KICK OFF – Contemporary Art and Football, among many others. With DIS since 2018.


The following titles are examples of readings, not a complete list. All required and recommended readings will be posted on Canvas.

David Goldblatt, The Ball is Round: A Global History of Soccer, Riverhead, 2008

Richard Guilianotti, Football: A Sociology of the Global Game, Polity, 1999

Johan Huizinga, Homo Ludens - A Study of the Play-Element in Culture, Martino Fine Books, 2016 (1949)

Jean Williams, A Beautiful Game: International Perspectives on Women's Football, Berg Publishers, 2007 

Gabriel Kuhn, Soccer vs. the State – Tackling Football and Radical Politics, PM Press, 2019 (2018)

Andrei Markovits, Women in American Soccer and European Football, Independently published, 2019 

Christoph Biermann, Football Hackers: The Science and Art of a Data Revolution, Blink Publishing, 2019

Tony Collins, How Football Began – A Global History of How the World's Football Codes Were Born, Routledge, 2019

Daniel Haxall (ed.), Picturing the Beautiful Game, Bloomsbury Visual Arts, 2018

Ted Richards, Soccer and Philosophy, Open Court, 2010

Simon Kuper & Stefan Szymanski, Soccernomics, 2018

Laurent Dubois, The Language of the Game: How to Understand Soccer, 2018

Works of art, literature, and film

(selected, preliminary)

Harun Farocki (DE), Deep Play, 2006

Douglas Gordon (UK) & Philippe Parrenno (F), Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait, 2006

Maider Lopez (E), Football Field Sharjah, 2007

Pied la Biche (F), Refait, 2010

Floor Wesseling, Blood In, Blood Out,  2004-

Umberto Boccioni, Dynamism of a Soccer Player, 1913

L.S. Lowry, Going to the Match, 1923

Academic Regulations  

Please make sure to read the Academic Regulations on the DIS website. There you will find regulations on: 


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Course Summary:

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