Itamar Dubinsky is a Visiting Assistant Professor at the School of History, Philosophy, and Religion at Oregon State University, and an honorary fellow at the UW-Madison African Studies Program. Itamar examines the intersections of sport and society, culture, politics, and economy in Africa, with a prime focus on Ghana. His studies have been published in numerous journals, including Children’s Geographies, The International Journal of the History of Sport, and The Journal of Modern African Studies, with two forthcoming articles to be published in African Diaspora and African Studies Review. His first book, which examines Ghanaian football academies from an Africapitalistic perspective, is currently under review at UW-Press.
1. What brought you to Madison?
UW Madison is famous for having a long tradition of Africanist scholarship, a lively African Studies Department, and for being the university in which my partner is doing her PhD. These three factors, not necessarily in this order, have led me to visit the city.
2. Tell us an interesting fact about you.
One of the biggest cultural shocks for me coming to the States was witnessing the “hummus” that is being sold in supermarkets. It often contains preservatives and redundant ingredients that diminish the nutritional value of this food. As such, through trial and much error, I have taught myself how to make proper, healthy and organic hummus. It takes merely five minutes, and judging by the positive reactions I receive, I am contemplating opening a hummus stand on the campus of Oregon State University, calling it Dr. Hummus. I’ll be happy to share my recipe and technique with anyone interested.
3. What sparked your interest in Africa?
An introductory course of African History, as a first-year undergrad of General History at Tel-Aviv University, sparked my interest in Africa. I grew up in a house with plenty of smells, sights, and sounds from the continent, owing to my mother being South African and my father growing up in Nigeria. But it wasn’t until this course that my interest in these two countries, and the continent in large, developed. One course after the other, I was amazed by the misconceptions and stereotypes I had about Africa and Africans, owing to the portrayals of the continent in the popular media and the curriculum in Israeli schools. These misconceptions were debunked and challenged.
4. Briefly tell us about your research, and what inspired you to pursue this field of study.
My research seeks to understand how local communities experience and interpret the role of Ghanaian football academies in community development. My research reveals that academies can provide educational opportunities, empower youth and gender equality, promote health issues, be a catalyst in developing the community’s infrastructure, a source of pride and identification for local fans, a source for mutual help, and a free-of-charge gathering and entertainment space. Nevertheless, academies also expose the ways in which discourses of development are leveraged for personal advantage, fuel unrealistic expectations, and reproduce problematic structures.
I was inspired to pursue this field owing to my interest in African studies and sports. I believe that sports serve as an excellent prism to learn about social, cultural, political and economic issues. Fortunately, my supervisor, Prof. Lynn Schler, encouraged me to pursue my scholarly interest in sports in Ghana, and the Africa Centre at Ben-Gurion University provided me with the financial means to conduct several fieldwork trips in Ghana.
5. How did you first get to know about Ghanaian football academies?
When I started my MA and I began reading on youth football in Ghana, the only scholarship on the subject that was published focused on European-owned academies operating in Ghana. As interesting and important as these studies are, they overlooked the perceptions of local entrepreneurs and participants, portraying academies in an Afro-pessimistic light and as an extension of neo-colonial relations. The absence of scholarship on Ghanaian academies inspired me to examine whether indeed such institutions do not exist. I received the answer during my first fieldwork trip as I visited multiple locally-owned academies. I decided to focus my research on three Ghanaian academies. I spent days and nights with these academies’ founders in meetings, with participants in training, with coaches in tactical briefings, with teachers in classes, with supporters in the stands, and so forth.
6. What are some of your favorite memories when carrying out research on Ghana and Ghanaians?
Arriving in Ghana for my first fieldwork trip, I was highly preoccupied with finding Ghanaian academies. My online searches did not yield much success, and I began fearing that I would not utilize my funding in accordance with my research proposal. Luckily, while taking taxis and tro-tros, I became acquainted with the tendency of many Ghanaians to speak with great passion about football and to provide advice for those in need. It was through such mundane conversations that I was linked to individuals and organizations who then opened for me the doors to locally-owned football academies throughout the country. As such, the warm and friendly hospitality I received from Ghanaians, from all walks of life, continues to serve as a long-lasting favorite memory.
7. What advice would you give students who are interested in studying Africa?
Though this advice is not necessarily unique to studying Africa, arriving in class with an open mind and with a willingness to challenge the knowledge they gained in school and from their environment would assist those students in grasping concepts that might be new to them – such as oral history.
8. What is your favorite winter activity?
On my visits back home to Tel Aviv during the winter breaks, I especially enjoy my mother’s minestrone soup.