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Contextualizing Changes at the Copa do Mundo

Thursday, June 12, 2014

History and philosophy alumnus Chris Gaffney ’92 studies societal impacts at the heart of the World Cup in Rio de Janeiro

by Jeanna Goodrich Balreira '08

World Cup fever is upon us—64 games, 32 countries, and 12 stadiums in 12 cities—and Chris Gaffney ’92 is in the thick of it all. But for Gaffney, a visiting professor at the Graduate School of Architecture and Urbanism at the Universidade Federal Fluminense in Niterói, Brazil, just across the bay from Rio de Janeiro, the World Cup is about more than just the fútbol fervor--Gaffney’s geographical studies of stadiums in urban landscapes have led him to explore the urban, political, and economical impacts of the 2014 Copa do Mundo in Brazil.

Soccer has played a pivotal role in Gaffney’s life, including his time on Trinity’s varsity team. “Captaining the soccer team was definitely one of the most important elements of my life at Trinity,” Gaffney says. “I learned a lot about my strengths and weaknesses as well as what it meant to be able to communicate with peers. I've been able to call on some of those experiences in Brazil.”

Paul McGinlay, head coach of the Trinity men’s soccer team, notes that Gaffney’s enthusiasm for the sport has only grown since Gaffney captained the team in 1991. “I’m not surprised that Chris is down in Brazil in the heart of things,” McGinlay says. “He’s a participant, not a spectator. It’s pure Gaffney—when he’s in, he’s all in.”

All in, indeed. Gaffney’s interest in urban planning came about as he looked for ways to integrate soccer into his academic life. After a brief period in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Gaffney found himself in Rio doing research for his dissertation at the University of Texas. “I started looking into the role of stadiums in urban landscapes,” Gaffney says. “I published a book (Temples of the Earthbound Gods: Stadiums in the Cultural Landscapes of Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires [University of Texas Press, 2008]) and in 2009 won a Fulbright to study the impacts of the World Cup on stadiums and stadium cultures.”

Gaffney’s Trinity degrees in history and philosophy provided a solid foundation for his explorations. “I found that my travel experiences exposed me to all kinds of history that wasn't in texts, that my history courses prepared me for what I was going to see and how to contextualize current events, and that my philosophy degree was quite helpful in interpreting the people and places I encountered,” Gaffney says. “Geography was a perfect discipline for those threads to come together.”

And Rio de Janeiro is quite the place for the threads to come together, as well. “My blog has been an attempt to keep track of societal changes,” Gaffney says, “and in my academic and journalistic writing I have tried to analyse and contextualize the changes that Rio and Brazil have been going through.”

After the World Cup, Gaffney is headed to Zurich, Switzerland, to study the planning and impacts of mega-events in Russia and Brazil at the University of Zurich’s Department of Geography. Read more about Gaffney’s travel experiences, his thoughts from Rio on the 2014 World Cup, and his insights into Brazilian culture on his blog,

Jeanna Goodrich Balreira is the associate director for creative communication in university marketing communications and a 2008 Trinity graduate. You can reach her at jgoodri1 [at]