Chapter 8

The potrero and the pibe

Territory and belonging in the mythical account of Argentinean football*

Eduardo P. Archetti


Introduction

National identity would probably lose much of its enchantment without the appeal and the mystique of a particular territory. National symbols often serve to reflect and strengthen the historical continuity associated with a particular landscape: its natural contour is explored, mapped, lived and transformed into a homeland. Schama (1995) has convincingly argued that inherited landscape myths and memories share two common characteristics: their surprising endurance through time, and their power to shape contemporary meanings and institutions (Schama 1995:15). According to his interpretation, national landscapes are imagined as unique, and the notions of belonging and identity perceived as internal and exclusive. A nation is a territory which is not shared with others (the non-national) and, in principle, not shaped by external forces. Moreover, landscape imagery is powerful because of its tendency to combine a geographical belonging with complex narratives of human exploits, extraordinary characters and cultural-historical heroes. Thus, important cultural and social practices will be linked to the idea that territories empower those who belong to them (Morphy 1995; Toren 1995).

This chapter explores how, in the context of Argentinean football, such imagery and myths appear in areas other than the rural, thus encompassing also urban territories. It will postulate that powerful national representations and key symbols work at different levels, and that reflections on national identity, or nationhood, are not only related to the realm of the state and its dominant institutions: schools, police, bureaucracy, postal systems and military barracks. In Argentina, football is an eminently masculine social arena, also strongly associated historically with the construction of national identity through the international successes of the national team and the ‘export’ of great players to Europe

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