Alex Stewart 2016

Embodying the fight game:

The social construction of desire among English professional boxers

This paper draws on the findings of ethnographic research conducted over a five year period among amateur and professional boxers based in and around London, England, to outline reasons why boxers willingly risk harming their body in pursuit of the often brutal athletic practice of professional boxing. The strategic rationale for conducting this ethnography was from the outset premised upon my ability to adopt an ‘insider’ research role having garnered many years’ experiences as a reasonably successful amateur boxer. I was thus able to gain a professional boxers licence to investigate, and endeavour to make sense of, the relationships between wider (popular) cultural and social forces and the embodied practices and interactional nuances through which boxing-practitioners constructed patterns of meaning informing their worldviews, values and actions. This ‘insider’ ethnographic journey entailed a necessarily introspective journey through which I reflexively grappled with the realities I upheld as a male and heterosexual ‘boxer’, of Anglo-Greek heritage, with fieldwork experiences grounded in complex social and cultural factors related to the sport ethic, media representation and commercialization, gender ideology and ideas about masculinity, and the cultural dynamics of social class in England. This paper seeks to inspire an open forum of discussion on the significance of sensuous, aesthetic and symbolically creative dimensions through which desire, and understandings of violence, are socially constructed by boxers in and through their sporting experiences.



Having conducted a five-year ethnographic study of amateur and professional boxers in England, my central research interests now lie in the examination of cultural and social aspects of the sporting experience. Reciprocally my academic interests and teaching competences take in the following related areas: the socialisation process into and through sport; embodiment and identity formation; sport violence; sporting subcultures; and sport development in relation to aspects of inclusion/exclusion; athlete welfare; youth development; crime reduction and education. In a previous life I spent my time split between boxing competitively as an amateur and briefly a professional boxer and backpacking and working my way around the globe.