Loughborough University
Thesis-2011-Matthews.pdf (1.42 MB)

The thrill of the fight - sensuous experiences of boxing - towards a sociology of violence

Download (1.42 MB)
posted on 2012-05-22, 15:14 authored by Christopher Matthews
This thesis employs ethnographic methods to examine lived experiences of sports violence, particularly, the ways in which action in, and around, a boxing ring can be psychologically and physically significant. Crucial in this regard is the social conditioning of such experiences. Here, norms and values that dominate the framing of sports violence are informed by participants assumptions based on traditional understandings of gender and class. In this way, social processes associated with masculine identities and the working classes inform what was considered possible, permissible and pleasurable. It is contended that phenomenologically informed accounts of such pleasurable experiences of violence remain relatively underrepresented within research examining sports participation. The central focus of this thesis is to provide such an account within a boxing environment. As such, the observations and interviews presented in what follows contribute to the sociological study of sports violence in particular and violence more generally. Alongside this substantive dimension, there are also conceptual, theoretical and methodological contributions that can inform future sociological study in the area and more broadly. Specifically, the contention that experiences of sports violence tend to contain a mimetic dimension and a figurational or processes sociological interpretation of such experiences, are empirically evaluated. The naturalisation of biological interpretations of masculinity as a popular means of explaining and justifying acts of violence is explored. The embodiment of social processes, including masculinity, is theorised using figurational sociology, specifically employing the interconnected concepts of habitus, figuration and established/outsider relations. Methodologically, notions of insider / outsider knowledge are reconceptualised using Elias discussions of involvement/detachment. The sports violence masculinity complex is proposed as a means of conceptually framing the social processes that contour the pleasurable experiences of conducting, and being the target of, violence. This overarching frame is linked to local factors that also impinge upon the gym space. With these social fault lines explored, a phenomenologically sensitive account of sports violence is presented. In this way, it is hoped that some of the theoretical pitfalls of other, arguably asociological, examinations of emotion and sensation are avoided. Using field notes and interview extracts a wart and all picture of gym life is painted. Particular attention is paid to sensuous experiences of working the bag and sparring. Here, significant physical markers and emotional expressions are detailed. Inside and around the ring, men learned the techniques and tactics of mimetic violence. These experiences enabled a socially conditioned, controlled decontrolling of emotional controls and the elicitation of physical sensations that generally remain off limits during the relative emotional and physical staleness of their work-a-day lives. It is contended that the experiences detailed within this thesis and the theoretical frame used to interpret them can inform future work examining sports violence and violence more generally.



  • Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences


© Christopher Matthews

Publication date



A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.

EThOS Persistent ID



  • en

Usage metrics

    Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences Theses


    Ref. manager