How one sociologist views boxing

Boxing is a familiar subject for movies but not so much in sociology. French sociologist Loic Wacquant has written about his boxing experiences and plans to write even more. But this sociological writing about boxing may not be easy to digest for those who are used to movies like Rocky or The Fighter. Here are a few excerpts of Wacquant’s work courtesy of The Guardian:

We get analysis, but best of all we get a fist/hand account of the action: “Jabs from me, blocked by his fists, versus jabs from him, blocked by my nose. I’m better able to see his punches coming, but I still don’t move fast enough. He lands another punch on my face, a right that makes my headgear turn sideways. DeeDee growls ‘Move yo’ head, Louie!’ I’m trying!”

A second book, to be called The Passion of the Pugilist, will, Wacquant says, address “the dialectic of desire and domination in the social genesis of the boxer’s vocation”, “the work of the trainer as virile mothering”, “confrontation in the ring as a homoerotic ritual of masculinisation”, and other topics that did not fit or had not matured in time to go into Body Soul…

A paper called Whores, Slaves, And Stallions – Languages Of Exploitation And Accommodation Among Prizefighters, in the journal Body and Society, hard-boils down to this:

“The boxer’s experience of corporeal exploitation is expressed in three kindred idioms … The first likens the fighter-manager combo to the prostitute-pimp duet; the second depicts the ring as a plantation and promoters as latter-day slave masters; the third intimates that boxers are used in the manner of livestock”.

This sounds like weighty analysis. But it sounds like Wacquant certainly put in his ethnographic time: 35 months in the gym and thoughts about ending his study and turning pro.

(I’m not quite sure what it means that this story is part of a series called “Improbable Research.” Or consider the description about the writer: “Marc Abrahams is editor of the bimonthly Annals of Improbable Research and organiser of the Ig Nobel prize.” If you go to the website for the Ig Nobel prize, the tag line is “Research that makes people LAUGH, and then think.” Hmmm.)

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