Why do ethnic minority groups play or not play football? The answers might be different depending on specific socio-cultural contexts. This thesis concentrates on the Uyghurs and the Kazakhs from Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China. By situating the diverse participants (young footballers, coaches, parents, government cadres in charge of sports, and fans, etc.) in current China’s emerging neoliberalism with marketization led by state domination and appeal to nationalism, this thesis seeks to answer the major research question: How do ethnic relation, state governance, and social mobility shape the discourse or phenomenon, which I call, the “rise of Xinjiang youth football”?
As empirical data in this thesis illustrate, the “field of play” is not just the pitch where the youth play football; rather, it might be seen as the field where grassroots of ethnic minority groups and the state compete, compromise or cooperate for defining identities and values; furthermore, it might be the Bourdieusian social field, in which ethnic minority youths, as agents, involve in football and aim of converting their capitals for achieving upwards social mobility.
By jointly analysing neoliberal practices and ethnic/nationalist discourses in Xinjiang youth football, this thesis argues that while China’s authoritarian sport officials selectively embrace neoliberal logics of marketization, competition and meritocracy to ease inter-ethnic conflicts and to seek regional stability in Xinjiang, the popularization of football reflects and contributes to public debates on inequalities existing betwixt classes and ethnic groups.