Get to know Professor Laurent Dubois of Scholl Lecture Series

As the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ approaches, the fútbol fever in Miami can be felt all around town, and it’s real. Fans of the sport have proudly showed their love for the sport at our latest exhibition The World’s Game: Fútbol and Contemporary Art, an art-based exhibition on the subject of soccer, or fútbol, and its interactions with societies around the world.

When it comes to fútbolresidents of the 305 represent their favorite teams’ city-wide in a variety of ways. Flags wave proudly, jerseys are worn with honor, and game day traditions continue to stay strong.

Love the game of soccer or want to know more about it? Professor Laurent Dubois, specialist on Haiti and the Caribbean within the transatlantic frame and authority on all things fútbol, will join us at PAMM to close out the fourth year of the Scholl Lecture series. Dubois will reflect on the work of many artists from the current special exhibition The World’s Game: Fútbol and Contemporary Art through the lens of postcolonial theory and world soccer politics. His most recent book is “The Language of the Game: How to Understand Soccer” (Basic Books, 2018).

We chatted with Dubois who will be participating in our PAMM’s Scholl Lecture Series on May 31 at 7pm. Check out our interview with him below.

Laurent Dubois credit to Joel Elliot, National Humanities Center
Laurent Dubois. Credit to Joel Elliot, National Humanities Center

What are your thoughts on the intersection of fútbol and contemporary art?
I think contemporary visual art is actually one of the richest spaces for understanding soccer and its global reach. Soccer itself is an inherently visual medium. We can think of the soccer pitch as a kind of canvas, and the motion and position that players trace across it over the course of the game as itself a work of art. As David Winner notes in his great book “Brilliant Orange,” during the 1970s, with the rise of a new style of play called Total Football in Holland, artists and designers became fascinated with the aesthetics of the game. Today, soccer games are visible everywhere—pitches are everywhere in the world, the game is constantly flashing across screens, moves and moments are being shared on social media—and contemporary artists are the ones who are enabling us to really see and understand the phenomenon in new and exciting ways. And contemporary art, like the game itself, has the power to harness and communicate really deep and powerful, as well as challenging, emotions, and ideas.

How did your love for soccer come to be?
I was born in Belgium but we moved to the U.S. when I was a baby, and I grew up with soccer as a youth sport that helped connect me with others in the neighborhood where I grew up. Since then, I’ve played recreationally and followed the sport. But it was really in the 1990s, when France won the World Cup with a really fascinating and beautifully-playing team, that I got hooked. Since then, I’ve found soccer to be a source of great emotion, a connector with people all over the world, and a really useful space to reflect on bigger questions that interest me as a scholar of history and culture.

George Afedzi Hughes. Made in the Colonies, 2008-11.Acrylic, oil, and enamel on canvas. 71 x 97 inches. Courtesy the artist and Skoto Gallery, New York.

Why do you think soccer is the world’s most popular sport?
Soccer has this amazing capacity to become indigenous almost everywhere it travels. The rules the world plays by were developed and codified in England during the nineteenth century, but by the turn of the twentieth century soccer was as much Latin American and African as it was European. It’s a simple game, open to people of all body types. Women have played it all over the world as long as men have, an often forgotten history that I highlight in the book. And it allows people in many different places and cultures to express themselves, to come together, to tell stories and feel connected through the human drama the game offers.

What inspired your latest book “The Language of the Game: How to Understand Soccer”?
I wanted to share what I find so wondrous and fascinating about this global sport, about the stories it tells, the power it has to bring people together, and the ways it teaches us about ourselves and our world. The book is meant to be accessible as an introduction for those who don’t know much about the sport and want to learn more, but also provides avid fans with a way into both well-known and lesser-known aspects of the history of the game and great players and moments. More broadly, it’s an analysis of and reflection on the culture of the game, and the mystery of why it has become the most popular sport on the planet, and one of our most widely shared forms of culture.

What is your favorite thing about teaching romance studies and history at Duke?
I have wonderful students and colleagues, and have found the university to be a really supportive place for doing adventurous and inter-disciplinary teaching and research. For the past decade, I’ve been teaching a course called “Soccer Politics” at Duke University. The students in the class are amazing. Many are die-hard fans of the sport and particular teams already, others come to it just curious. But I always learn so much from them, and they write really interesting projects which are shared on the course blog, called “Soccer Politics,” so that others can read what they’ve come up with.

The university did a digital story about the course this past spring and there is a blog.

opening the worlds game
Installation view: The World’s Game: Fútbol and Contemporary Art, 2018
Photo by

Is soccer a serious sport at Duke?
Duke is pretty into its basketball, to say the least, but both Duke and UNC have excellent soccer teams. This has been one of the central areas in the country notably for the development of women’s soccer. One of the coaches at the Duke women’s soccer team is Carla Overbeck, the captain of the 1999 Women’s World Cup team that won the tournament that year—a legend, and a great and compelling figure who has come to speak to my class and at events we’ve held. I’ve had some great players take my classes over the years, some of whom have now gone on to professional careers, and that has been really enriching.

We all want to know… As the authority on all things fútbol, which team is your favorite?
I’m most passionate about the international tournaments like the World Cup, and I have a few favorites. I attended the 2010 Men’s World Cup in South Africa and the 2015 Women’s World Cup in Montreal, where I was rooting for the U.S. team when they defeated Germany. And I’m planning to head to the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France next year, rooting for the U.S. and also France. For the last twenty years have been a passionate fan of the French men’s team, through its many ups and downs. Many of my favorite soccer players, like Zinedine Zidane and Lilian Thuram—who I wrote about in my first book, Soccer Empire: The World Cup and the Future of France—have played for this team. More broadly, though, it’s been a symbol in France and beyond because of the really rich diversity of the player’s stories and backgrounds. But now I have another team I’m also rooting for: the Belgian national men’s team. I was born in Belgium, but for much of my life the team hasn’t really been very competitive. Now they’re awesome, featuring an amazing line-up and, like the French, a really diverse group of players. So this summer I’ll be rooting for both France and Belgium, and also for Senegal, because I love the country and would love for an African team to do well this year in the tournament. If any of them end up playing against each other, I don’t know what I’ll do!



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