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.
4 Boxing and ‘Ethnic’ Masculinity in Colonial North Africa
This essay focuses on the functional and symbolic linkage between two forms of violence: the codified spectacle of boxing and the systemic violence that underpinned the French colonial presence in North Africa. In France’s overseas empire, at least as much as anywhere else, the constitutive violence of boxing was central to its appeal as a socially significant drama. In Christian Pociello’s terms, the distinctive combination of visibility and concentration found in the boxing ring served to place ‘an enhanced meaning on sporting combats through an unusual transformation into theatre of their spectacles’ (1998: 150).1 This theatrical quality permitted multiple readings and contested representations of events in the ring. As David Scott explains, in his incisive study of The Art and Aesthetics of Boxing:
[…] the aim of boxing is not just to stage a fight (though this is a vital part of the sport) but also to set in train an action that will have symbolic importance. One fighter may represent a certain colour, race, nationality, or religious belief […]; one fighter may be the underdog attempting to fight his way out of poverty or obscurity […]. Whatever the issues at stake, boxing provides an elegant and symmetrical format within which tensions and conflicting aspirations may be more or less consciously worked out, combining enthralling entertainment with a display of courage and pain. (2009: 8)
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