Cultures of Boxing

by David Scott (Volume editor)
©2015 Edited Collection VIII, 192 Pages
Series: Sport, History and Culture, Volume 4


Bringing together boxing writers from different cultural and disciplinary perspectives, this book offers a vital and original contribution to the understanding of this enduringly fascinating and controversial sport.
This collected volume investigates what is at stake in boxing in the modern world by exploring different aspects of boxing culture and problematic concepts attached to the sport such as masculinity and violence. This approach implies input from different academic and creative disciplines including aesthetics, cultural studies, creative writing, anthropology, history, literature and sociology. The points of view of participants in boxing as a sport, amateur and professional, will also be incorporated. In this way, themes as different as what it feels like to receive a punch on the nose or the role of fist-fighting in traditional Russian folk customs will be explored.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of Illustrations
  • Introduction
  • 1 Boxing and Urban Culture
  • 2 The Historical Transformations of the ‘Boxing Idol’: The Case of Max Schmeling
  • 3 Speaking Through Silence? Whites’ Efforts to Make Meaning of Joe Louis
  • 4 Boxing and ‘Ethnic’ Masculinity in Colonial North Africa
  • 5 Iron Mike and Me: The Fall and Further Fall of Mike Tyson
  • 6 Single and Mass Combats: A Comparison of Traditional Russian Fist-Fighting and Western Boxing
  • 7 Ideology and Satire in English Bare-Knuckle Boxing Literature
  • 8 Boxers’ Noses
  • 9 A Nose for Punchers: A. J. Liebling’s Boxing Writing
  • 10 ‘He certainly was a fighter’: Boxing as Bildungsroman in Ellison and Bellow
  • 11 Boxing as Staged Performance in Contemporary Art
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Index
  • Series Index

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Boxing has formed part of western culture for about 2,500 years. Like other sports, it emerged from the ancient Greek ethos, as a socially acceptable form of violence that had adapted to a non-war situation the male imperative to take up arms and fight to protect the civis. Boys were taught to box just as every able-bodied man was trained to fight to protect the city from foreign aggression and to uphold the prevailing ethos. Boxing was thus from the beginning seen as being a civilizing influence within society in that, within a controlled environment, it provided an outlet for male violence, while at the same time promoting the masculine virtues – courage, strength, ingenuity and endurance.

In a sense this ethos has remained fundamental to boxing throughout its long history, and still forms today part of the sport’s appeal, motivating its institutionalization not only in schools and in the armed services, but also within civil society and professional sport. As this book shows, the issues of violence, masculinity, self-knowledge and even heroism are still relevant preoccupations for those who reflect on the sport at the start of the third millennium. These concerns, however, have been supplemented, since boxing’s eighteenth-century revival in Europe and America, by other important areas of preoccupation in modern culture, in particular money and social status, and also boxing as a subject of aesthetic representation in art and writing.

The dramatic revival boxing underwent in England in the Georgian period was in part a function of the culture of gambling that predominated in the early capitalist world of the later eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. As in horse-racing and cock-fighting, the rich and noble were prepared to place heavy bets on the prize-fighters in their stable, and the sport attracted massive popularity among all sections of the community, both urban and rural. Pierce Egan’s classic account of prize-fighting in the ← 1 | 2 → 1760s to the 1820s era in his Boxiana (1812) gives a vivid insight into the huge investment in betting that pugilism attracted, as well as continuing to extol the traditional manly virtues associated with the sport. The promotion in Georgian England at the time of the Napoleonic Wars of virile strength and courage may not have been coincidental, since boxing became increasingly envisaged as a national sport, the stalwart virtues of which the British Army and Navy would later embrace, as worthy representatives of the national figurehead John Bull. From that time, the association between boxing and military training became close in both Britain and America, while at the same time boxing became integrated into the English boys’-school syllabus.

In the twentieth century, however, the money interest in boxing gradually began to displace its ethical, pedagogical value, as the sport became first professionalized and then, in the second half of the century, massively mediatized. At the same time, boxing’s promise as a vehicle for social ascension, particularly in the more marginal communities in early modern America – Irish, Jewish, Italian, Black – vastly increased its appeal to a mass audience, for whom the romance of the mythical transformation of social outcast into sporting hero had an irresistible appeal. Money, therefore – whether associated with the boxers’ purses, the promotional and mediatization rights, as well as betting and other forms of illegal financial dealing – has become an intrinsic element in the boxing equation, with the multiplication of the world title-awarding organizations further increasing the financial, if not necessarily the heroic, potential of the sport.

At the same time, the massive professionalization and commercialization of boxing, and, in particular, the monopolization of major championship boxing by private TV and promotional networks, has meant that it has become – outside amateur boxing – somewhat removed from the more popular, hands-on accessibility that it enjoyed until the mid-twentieth century. It is in part for this reason that, in the twenty-first century, there has been a considerable increase in Mixed Martial Arts, and other forms of less strictly regulated fighting sports. This has, in its turn, led to a certain re-assessment of classic western boxing as an ethical model within the contemporary world.


VIII, 192
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2015 (September)
Boxing masculinity sporting violence
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien, 2015. VIII, 192 pp., 5 coloured ill., 2 b/w ill.

Biographical notes

David Scott (Volume editor)

David Scott holds a personal chair in French (Textual and Visual Studies) at Trinity College Dublin. A middleweight amateur boxer, he has explored his experience of boxing in terms both of creative writing (The Aura of Boxing, 2014) and academic study (The Art and Aesthetics of Boxing, 2009). His interest in the representation of boxing in writing, the visual arts and in design reflects his wider academic and creative interests which include literature, painting, semiotics and textual/visual studies, around which subjects he has organised a number of exhibitions and on which he has published many books. He is currently working on a collection of short stories entitled Boxing Rings.


Title: Cultures of Boxing
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206 pages