Fighting for an Authentic Self: An Ethnographic Study of Recreational Boxers

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Title: Fighting for an Authentic Self: An Ethnographic Study of Recreational Boxers
Author: Satterlund, Travis D.
Advisors: Michael L. Schwalbe, Committee Chair
Michael Messner, Committee Member
Barbara Risman, Committee Member
Stacy De Coster, Committee Member
Richard Della Fave, Committee Member
Abstract: This study is an ethnographic examination of the rank and file recreational boxers—mostly white and middle-class males—who frequented a gym in a mid-sized southeastern city in the United States. I conducted field research as a participant observer for nineteen months and also interviewed forty-eight fellow boxers and the gym's two owner⁄trainers. This research shows that gym members used the cultural meanings associated with boxing as resources to construct boxing as an activity from which they could derive gendered identity rewards. At the same time, however, both gender and social class complicated matters considerably, creating dilemmas for the middle-class white recreational boxers, and for the women who claimed space in a masculinist domain. As such, I show how authenticity of the gym was socially constructed to meet these identity rewards and also to resolve these dilemmas. Gym members were attracted to boxing, at least in part, as an avenue to address feelings of what it means to enact manhood. Such displays of masculinity were important for these men because of the perceived limitation of their professional identities. While most of the men had secure middle class jobs, these jobs weren't the primary basis for their feelings of self worth, especially in relation to their identity as "men." In essence, then, the boxing gym offered a means for the men to compensate for their inability to signify power, control, and toughness in their professional lives. Moreover, for the men at the gym in particular, boxing served as a resource to gain valuable cultural capital. Women also sought identity rewards from boxing and had reasons to want to signify masculine qualities. For them, too, boxing was a way to signify agency and strength. Yet, they also faced dilemmas in seeking to distance themselves from other feminine women but without being viewed as too masculine. The final chapter has implications for the gym's activity in terms of the inequalities that are maintained and (re)produced.
Date: 2006-12-22
Degree: PhD
Discipline: Sociology

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