Dynamic sites and cultural symbols: the stadiums of Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires

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Gaffney, Christopher Thomas

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While generally under theorized as geographic objects, stadiums form an integral part of urban landscapes and cultures. As monumental architectural forms, stadiums represent place and senses of individual and collective identity. They provide a stage for the performance of sport and for ritualized combat between sub-cultural groups. Because they are built to control tens of thousands of people, stadiums play an important role in urban political economy, media production, identity performance, processes of socialization and the dissemination of political ideologies. Similar to plazas, squares, and markets, a stadium is a nexus of broad-based socio-cultural interaction. This dissertation argues that by entering into cultures through the stadium, a wide range of social interactions and geographic processes can be critically evaluated and compared. The cultural centrality of stadiums in Latin America has a long history. The ball courts of Maya, Aztec, Zapotec, Mixtec, Hohokam, and Olmec societies functioned as ceremonial sites for the performance of sport and occupied important positions in religious and urban landscapes. In the late-nineteenth century, modern stadiums appeared on Latin American urban landscapes in response to British and North American political, economic and cultural influences. The proliferation of institutionalized sport in the twentieth century consolidated stadiums as central components of cultural life throughout the region and the world. Throughout this historical span stadiums have continued to function as a universal and dominant elements of Latin American societies. This dissertation employs a comparative methodology to investigate and interpret the way cultural differences are manifested in two different key settings for stadium construction and use. By examining and comparing the historical trajectories and contemporary realities of stadiums in Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires, Dynamic Sites and Cultural Symbols answers the questions: How and why did stadiums come to form such an important part of urban cultures in Latin America? What role did stadiums play in facilitating the transformation of race and class relationships in Rio de Janeiro and the formation of national identity in Brazil? What are the historical urban associations that positioned stadiums as sites of masculine solidarity and conflict in Buenos Aires? How do the very different stadium cultures within each city inform larger socio-cultural and geographic conditions? How can local responses to globalizing forces be understood through the stadiums of each city?