Sunday, 22 March 2020

Round 10 - ‘trapped’ in the gym (chapter 8) and After fight analysis

Deborah argues, ‘Boxing traps men in a culture of ‘respect’ and constructs habits of proactive and reactive violence that at no always conducive to criminal desistance’ (p163) Or are they trapped in masculinity and boxing, joyriding or being a male criminologist is just one way to do it?

I start to wonder if ‘gym-life’ is so all-consuming it might be called a subculture in which ‘delinquent solutions’ are found (Downes, 1966) in which her boxers sought to ‘magically’ solve their problems (Phil Cohen) and Sugden (1985) calls boxing an ‘occupational sub-culture’.

Gilligan (1996) is quoted on activity being seen as the mark of a man which brings me back to what I think is the point of my book that both crime and sport are gendered and gendering and valorise activity over passivity. The reason that sport can be both a cause of and cure for crime is that they are both lodged deeply in the construction of society. Boxing cannot, and should not be expected to, cure society.

Knife and gun crime get a mention with attempts to encourage the use of ‘gloves no guns’ and #putdowntheknivesandputonthegloves. I can’t find any source online but I recall in my youth depictions in popular culture of ‘dastardly foreigners’ - doubly unmanly because devious and not English - resorting to knives whereas the upright English hero only used his fists and strictly according to the Queensbury’s rules.

Referring again to the code of the street Deborah notes it, ‘made violence permissible when it was employed as a resource for enforcing and upholding ideas around interpersonal violence’ (p167) ie it was in some way ‘not crime’.

In policy terms, if boxing is to be supported it must, sit alongside more therapeutic and pro-social identity change mechanisms’ (p171). But there are ‘no magic solutions’ (p173) - for the men or policy makers. 

After fight analysis

Throughout I’ve offered the odd thought. How am I going to score this?

I like the book and the subject which I see she has wrestled with. I hope it is clear this is an epistemological point not a ‘mansplaining’ one but as a man who has done martial arts and spent time in all-male bantering company I personally learned little but I think others will.

You will see I clearly wanted the book to be twice as long and I’m going to blame the constraints of publishing but also the supervision process for a PhD. In my academic gym I’d run a different regime.

The focus is narrowly on the gym and immediate surrounds. We get only brief glimpses of mothers, sisters and girlfriends/wives.

Feminism is mentioned and informs the book but a strong feminist analysis is avoided and issues of racism are absent.

The desistance literature and (self) control theories are examined but a whole raft of other criminological theories might have been tested against the material including queer and cultural ones. Methodologically I wanted more reflexivity on the possibility of a woman being an ‘insider’ in such a setting.

Why nothing on crimes/deviance within boxing such as gambling and doping etc?

I fear that in addition to reviewing the book I’ve also strayed into attempting a secondary analysis of the data she presents. I have also highlighted some of my work but also of others that she has cited and some she has not.

On the penultimate page she admits her love of boxing. I have made clear my ambivalence and perhaps it is for this reason that I feel she has ‘pulled her punches’ somewhat.

Round 9 - ambivalence (chapter 7)

Deborah is clear that, ‘boxing, while incapacitating, offers nothing by way of cognitive transformation’ Giordano et al (2002) (p133). Indeed, for some of the men, ‘boxing arguably creates as many (if not more) opportunities for extra-gym violence than is prevented in incapacitation in the gym’ (p133) It is the need for ‘respect’ that may outweigh any pro-social message of the gym. This might require Ricky to ‘crack’ someone, ‘before he cracked me’ (p137).  

From a queer/psychoanalytic perspective I’ve posited a fear of penetration in the men. Here I’m picking up on what Deborah says. Talking of ‘insults’ and ‘incidences of disrespect’ (which she describes as playful or in ‘jest’, p145) she opines, ‘insults of a disrespectful nature seemed to penetrate (sic!) the men deeply’ (p145).

The subject of white-collar boxing was scorned, indeed the jobs workers held were declared ‘shit’ (p148) suggesting that both crime and boxing were opposed to the world of boring work being told what to do.

Illegal, unregulated, unlicensed boxing gets a brief mention (p149) and again I’d like the thin line between legal and illegal violence to have been explored.

And as promised in Round 6 we get back to Marcus. In the body of the text we are told that he felt that a police stop in his car was racist but admitted he’d, ‘spent a period of time in prison for a crime he “didn’t commit”’ (p153). I’m a great lover of a footnote but to wait until page 162 to discover he’d been accused of nine attempted murders and cleared his name after six months.

Saturday, 21 March 2020

Round 8 - in which the appeal of the gym to Frank, Eric, Leroy and many others is considered (chapter 6)

In this she explores the tensions between surface gratifications (my word) and deeper psychological motivations. This prompts one of the few mentions of boxing popular culture when the words of one man prompt her to mention the film Fat City (p106) and apart from a mention of a Rocky (p110) poster that’s it for cultural references.  I’ve not seen either yet I (2017) said this:

Boxing is a sport that has a long history of being illegal or involving illegality and continues to attract calls for its renewed criminalisation. Boxing’s home may now be in the USA but its original origins are in the UK. Even where it is legal, illegal versions still occur. Popular culture has continued to engage with both. Thus the Rocky (Avildsen, 1977) and multiple ongoing sequels lionises the brutality of the legal version and Fight Club (Fincher, 1999) the illegal - and illegality surrounds even the legitimate. Though a case might be made that sport is only the vehicle but the subject is actually masculinity - damaged and damaging.

Obviously I’d be hard pushed not to mention Simon and Garfunkel’s The Boxer somewhere or sneak in a lyric.

Back to the homosocial, even homoerotic, we find Deborah noting:

Interestingly, some men spoke of the boxing gym as they would a lover and discussed (without being aware) the sensual and erotic pull of pugilism: disclosing how the smell of sweat and the feel of skin contributes to the seduction of sport. (p106/7)

and offering these quotes from Baz and Sal (p107)
forget drugs, a good fight if the best buzz, up against the ropes toe to toe
it’s just you and him, puts you in a trance, like a form of dancing
She relates this to Lyng’s (1998) ‘edgework’. He uses the term ‘risky’ but she says ‘risqué’ and speaks of ‘preening and manly display’ and even the ‘carnivalesque’ (p107) which is all sounding very camp/very queer.

Goffman (1967:185) is cited on boxing being ‘where the action is’ and elsewhere extensively so feel I should mention Prof Liz Pike a sport sociologist with a keen interest in his work.

She touches on her gender as potential obstacle to becoming an insider noting her presence ‘perturbed’ some and others ignored her (p114). I really want a whole chapter on this wrestling with ethnography across gender.

On page 115 she does use the term ‘homosocial’ (no index entry) and she very much picks up on sexist and homophobic epithets, like ‘pussies’ and ‘bitches’, being used as means of dealing with the anxiety this induces in the men. And specifically mentions the men’s fear of becoming someone’s bitch and being ‘fucked’. She helpfully adds - in the sense of being beaten as opposed to penetrated. I disagree I think both a queer and psychoanalytic analysis would suggest this is exactly what they are psychically fearing.

In round 6 I mentioned ‘religion’ and on page 117 she does same in similar vein plus ‘salvation from crime’ (p123).

She quotes Woodward (2004:7) that ‘boxing invokes hegemonic masculinity’ and I must disagree with his monolithic non-nuanced take on hegemony, a crude reduction. The ‘gangster’ contends with ‘the boxer’ for dominance in this milieu and as Deborah’s work shows this may even play out in the lives of the men in the narratives they use to construct their lives show.

Baz (p127) started boxing in jail and Ricky and he agree it kept them out.  Prison gets mentioned periodically but I’d like to know her opinion on boxing in prison.  She’s for boxing but not blind to its problems how about in prison?

Round 7 - Leroy’s dad and grandfather (and Panto villain JRM introduced to make a point) (chapter 5)

Leroy also boxed professionally, as had his father, but was less dismissive of the amateurs at the gym than most. He sees himself only as ‘street smart’ so his physicality is his only source of negotiable ‘capital’. His father and grandfather were both abusive and largely, or often, absent. Many boxers see such abuse as inherited. He still desired a,‘different scenario for my little lad’ (p92). 

Leroy lived in a pub for while on a rough estate where his dad’s hard reputation was needed and she records him saying, ‘we had a dog, a pitbull, and that used to be involved in the fights (p86)’. Walking to school one might be robbed or see ‘cars blown up’ (p89). Is this dogfights or the dog weighing in on human ones? Either way some reference to Maria Kasperson on dangerous dogs or Simon Harding on status dogs or even the mentions I make of cock and dog fighting might have been made.

Leroy had originally not wanted to be a boxer having seen his father come home ‘broken’ (p87) and I’m reminded of the accusation that the boxing impresario Don King, a successfully rehabilitated ex-convict, was someone who ‘for 15 cents will put boys in the ring and girls on the street’ (in Johnson and Long, 2008:122). I conclude in my book that boxing is like sex work in its use of the body.

At his first school his father’s fearsome reputation had some cachet but on a move to a more middle class school it held against him with teachers, perhaps sharing the belief in the heritability of violence, and fellow pupils unimpressed. I take this as an opportunity to point out differing and fluid hierarchies of masculinity contending to be hegemonic. For instance, Jacob Rhys Mogg’s posh languid style is often seen as effete (feminine) but he is rich, successful and has the balls to father many children. His lying on the benches of the Commons is a form of ‘trash’ talk. The violence he and his colleagues can unleash is structural not visceral. An ideologically-rendered invisible but toxic masculinity. Neither Deborah or I are going to be invited to do an ethnography of Eton as cause/cure of rampant villainy.

We are told Leroy’s sister ‘felt less pressure … in defending the family name’ (p95)but guess a concern would have been shown should she dishonour it. We are reminded of Sennett and Cobb, 1973) on the hidden injuries of class men like Leroy suffer. Their comments throughout about the place of women in society suggest they may also subscribe to a belief in the looming injuries of feminism. There is only one indexed mention of feminism (p23) and none of racism!

Friday, 20 March 2020

Round 6 - Eric our Champion (chapter 4)

Eric is not alone in having problems with his father but it is an issue picked out in this chapter. His father’s attempted strangling of him a feature. Many of the men at the gym were now fathers and not always making good on their promises to self to be better fathers. Earlier Wacquant (1995) is cited on how trainers come to be seen as ‘fathers’. At one gym Eric felt a coach whom he had seen as a father used methods that amounted to bullying. As a coach he admitted he may now be doing the same. I might add from an oriental fighting perspective that such a person might be called ‘sensei’ or, to go back to religious metaphors, ‘holy father’? A whole psychodynamic reading on these men’s relation to their father might be merited.

As a professional Eric had eventually won a British title but now coached at, and ‘was the gym’ (p63) spending every day there. He owns it jointly with Marcus (of whom more later). He is now 51 and was born to Jamaican parents. Wacquant is quoted on boxing as a cult and throughout the book Deborah uses the terms, ‘monastic’ and ‘ascetic’ and from the nomenclature of desistance ‘redemption’ so I’m going to through in soteriology - the theology of salvation. Joyce Carol Oates is quoted on the sacrificial universe that is boxing. The boxers and their supporters have faith that boxing will or has saved them. Deborah and I are more agnostic.

On the homosocial theme Messner (1992) is quoted on the ‘covert intimacy’ of doing sport!

Obviously I pick up on an early anecdote from Eric about being caught by the police whilst being carried in a stolen car because of the significance I give to cars in the formation of masculinities. Cars feature in several stories told to Deborah and guess a search through her fieldnotes might reveal more.

We discover Eric had used his asthma inhaler between rounds which reminds me nothing I’ve read so far or peeking ahead and examining the index talks of performance or appearance enhancing drugs. Gyms are often sites of steroid abuse yet no mention.

The abuse of the boxer’s bodies is, in a sub-heading, called ‘bulimic’, a ‘bodily destruction’ the need to make the weight requires dieting and surveillance of self that only a super-model might expect. Such concerns over one’s appearance is often societally coded as feminine or gay.

Eric, as many of the men, was quick to see disrespect and felt justified in using their physical capacity for violence to exact payback. Deborah calls this ‘transposable attitudes from ring to street’ (what critics of violent sport often focus on) but I know as ‘cultural spillover’ (see this on ice hockey but note also the ‘Super Bowl effect’ etc).

The work of Winlow and Hall (2009) feature strongly here and throughout the book. They are good on the viscerality of some men’s demeanour and here I might mention I’d not want to fight either of them. They theorise pugnaciouly. 

Thursday, 19 March 2020

A brief reflection on homosociality in boxing and MMA

As some of you might have noticed this is not just a review of Deborah Jump’s excellent The Criminology of Boxing, Violence and Desistance but often a restatement of some of my own work. Indeed an attempt to clarify in my own mind some of these issues. Please join in on here or twitter. This little inter-round ‘ring girl’(?) does not relate to any particular chapter but to the theme of homosociality which I detect throughout but goes unnamed as far as I can determine currently.

I offer no definition of my own other than to say I disliked the all male grammar school I attended, much of the all male Scouts and rugby. I see I only used the term once in my PhD, in a discussion on the extent of homophobia amongst the boys and young men.

A quick look on Google Scholar for ‘homosociality boxing’ through up a number of items and I was intrigued by the following.

Bird’s (1996) WELCOME TO THE MEN'S CLUB Homosociality and the Maintenance of Hegemonic Masculinity is clearly a starting point.  She notes:

The men who described themselves as less competitive (or noncompetitive), on the other hand, explained that they considered the intensity with which other men engaged in competitions (especially sports) as relatively unimportant for them- selves. At the same time, however, these men recognized the expectations of masculinity to be competitive. One man explained, Guys don't know what it means not to be competitive. Even those men who tell you that competition is silly know they have to [compete]. It's like otherwise you're gonna get walked.

Silly me, I’m doing it now.

I very much like Ungar’s recent PhD on The Boxing Discourse in Late Georgian England, 1780-1820: A Study in Civic Humanism, Gender, Class and Race which makes extensive use of the term. His understanding of the hegemonic seems to accord with my own. For instance, ‘Politeness was “French” and foreign; boxing was “English” (p74). 

Stenius (2015) also addresses homosociality in The Body in Pain and Pleasure An Ethnography of Mixed Martial Arts.

Doubly interesting is Jennifer Ruth Lewis-Vidler PhD on Traveller, Boxer and Fascist: The Identities of Joe Beckett which deploys the concept liberally and has material on Tyson Fury.

Round 5 - our first contender, Frank (chapter 3)

Frank’s narrative is the soteriological one of salvation through boxing, from identifying as a gang member to identifying as a boxer to the extent that he takes pleasure that people came use ‘Boxer’ as his name rather than Frank.

He is 31 and has boxed since he was 12. As a young black man he had little trust in people from the Feds to Deborah herself, initially. His first experience was of boxing with others, who like him, had been excluded from school. He knew that some of them couldn’t take the physical demands. Which reminds me of Cloward and Ohlin on illegitimate opportunities for crime/deviance not always presenting themselves. No boxing gym was available to me, nor would likely have succeeded, in my troubled teenage years. Becoming a discontented civil servant and then maverick academic has had mixed success in building my sense of self. Very much an ongoing project. Retirement requires a new narrative as we’ll see later in Eric’s story. Yes, I’ve peeked ahead.

Frank’s initial access to a gym was blocked by postcode rivalries. A gym in every ‘hood needed obviously. He is now settled in one gym where he trains others and earns his living as a bouncer. Shaw and Haysom (2016) found organised crime connections between bouncers and boxing in South Africa, a ‘bouncer mafia’. For a bouncer boxing also serves as the necessary bodywork (a recurring issue throughout book). An investment of, ‘physical capital’ (p51).

Prompted by Frank she notes, of all the men, ‘that their definition of respect meant the ability to intimidate and command fear’ (p52). In this search for respect Anderson’s Code of the Street is key. And supporting Cloward and Ohlin’s view Frank has this to say about his opportunities, ‘Prison, death or shit jobs’ (p56). Perhaps part of the code of the streets is to think that there are jobs that are not shit. But in good news for the social control theorists Frank felt he’d found a ‘new crew’ (p56).

On the way back to the gym after one long interview in a nearby cafe Deborah and Frank came across a group of drunken youths who Frank felt were ‘eyeballing’ them. The moment passed so  Frank refrained from, “‘fuckin’ them up”. It is not clear if this is just standard male paranoia or Frank’s own locally situated one but influenced by Mulvey I’d want to explore why, for many men, being looked at is like being screwed. His big body is meant to say don’t look at me as I am terrifying. But it also says I’m terrified that you’ll penetrate me and that’ll make me the punk. Perversely I have written more in this queer vein elsewhere.

In that work I said this:

Reiss likes to keep his animals in separate cages in the name of sociology. As he says: ‘From a sociological point of view, the peer–queer transaction occurs between two major types of deviators – ‘delinquent’ and ‘queers’(1968/61: 375)’. He sets out exceptions to the norms of the ‘peers’ and has this to say about their identity:

Boys are very averse to being thought of in a queer role or engaging in acts of fellation. The act of fellation is defined as a ‘queer’ act. [. . .] Boys who accept the female role in sexual transactions occupy the lowest status position amongst delinquents. They are ‘punks’. (1968/61: 377)

This despite such exceptions to these norms as Danny S., leader of the Black Aces ‘a fighting gang’ who tells Reiss: ‘we all get blowed by this queer . . . we don’t get any money then . . . it’s more a drinking party’ (1968: 376). Or this on their experiences with a boxing instructor from the State Training School:‘He’s got a cabin up there on the creek and he blows us. But mostly we just drink and have a real good time’ (1968: 376).

Which lead me to say over twenty years ago:

Today we might want to go beyond interaction to the ‘interpenetration’ of these worlds, to examine what such sexual activity meant for them and how their views of homosexuality might be challenged by a boxing gay.

And back to the homosocial Frank admits being a bouncer, working on the door, pays the bills but like the gym it’s where, ‘the boys hang out’ (p60).