Important contribution to the study of boxing

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Anne Tjønndal
University of Nordland


Kath Woodward Globalizing Boxing 182 pages, paperback. London: Bloomsbury 2015 (Globalizing Sport Studies) ISBN 978-1-4742-5305-5

Kath Woodward
Globalizing Boxing
182 pages, paperback.
London: Bloomsbury 2015 (Globalizing Sport Studies)
ISBN 978-1-4742-5305-5

People think we live in a civilised society. Boxing hurts our sensibilities; it reminds us that we don’t (quote by Frank Warren, pp. 91).

This quote in Woodward’s book describes some of the complexities of the sport of boxing. Boxing has been called primitive, a residual sport with no place in modern society. Many scholars and politicians have blamed boxing for glamourizing violence and violent behaviour, while others have claimed that boxing provides an opportunity for salvation from a life in poverty and crime for many young men and women. Despite all the contradictions surrounding the sport, boxing is a widely popular sport today. Furthermore, professional boxing represents a multi-million dollar industry. For instance, World Champion Floyd Mayweather topped Forbes’ list of the world’s highest paid athletes in 2015. In her latest book on boxing, Kath Woodward uses the sport as a ‘vehicle for exploring aspects of social, cultural and political life in order to show how power operates to create inequalities and provide opportunities as part of globalized and globalizing social forces’ (p. 1).

Globalizing Boxing is published by Bloomsbury in its series “Globalizing Sport Studies”. Professor John Horne, University of Central Lancashire, is editor of the series. The series focuses on social scientific and cultural studies of sport, bringing together innovative scholarly empirical and theoretical work with a global perspective.

The author, Kath Woodward, is Emeritus Professor of Sociology at the Open University, UK. Woodward works primarily with psychosocial approaches to sport, including feminist theories of gender, diversity and inequality. She has previously written the book Boxing, Identity and Masculinity: the “I” of the Tiger (2006), as well as several articles on boxing (e.g. 2004, 2008, 2011).

In her introduction to Globalizing Boxing, Woodward raises some interesting questions, which the book aims to reflect upon: ‘How is a sport like boxing implicated in global transformations? Does the sport contribute to changes or mainly respond to them? What can a sport as traditional, long lasting and, some might say, primitive as boxing contribute to an understanding of the fast pace of change in the contemporary globalized and globalizing world?’ (p .2). Overall, Woodward provides a deep and insightful analysis of these questions throughout the eight chapters of “Globalizing Boxing”.

One of the strengths of this book is the diversity of the topics covered in the chapters. In six chapters the author explores different dimensions of globalization in boxing. These dimensions include the development of boxing culture (chapter 2, “Traditions and Histories: Connections and Disconnections”); migration and boxing (chapter 3, “Movements and Mobilities”); the interplay between financial incentives and professional boxing (chapter 4, “Cultural Economies of Scale”); bodies and the role of embodied practices in boxing (chapter 5, “Boxing Bodies and Everyday Routines”); the relationship between embodied practices and wider social and political arenas (chapter 6, “Inside and outside the ring”); and historical transformations in the sport of boxing (chapter 7, “Transforming the fight game”). Chapters1 and 8 contain the book’s introduction and conclusion, respectively.

Boxing has been, and remains a ‘working class’ sport. As Woodward points out in her book, this makes boxing an interesting site for studies of migration and sport. One of the high points of the book is Woodward’s analysis of boxing as a sport mostly for those who have only their bodies to invest in their dreams of achieving financial rewards.

Kath Woodward does a great job of demonstrating how boxing can provide a constructive site for exploring social, economic, political and cultural processes. She exemplifies how boxing in many ways is a primitive sport where traditional social divisions and inequalities remain intact. However, Woodward also manages to explore the diversity of boxing culture in a global perspective.

The main contribution this book provides to boxing literature is shedding light on the many contradictions that shapes boxing today. As the author points out, modern boxing is both spectacular and routinized, both heroic and corrupt, terrifying and beautiful, telling stories of broken bodies and beautiful bodies, concerning both the local and global. Like many other scholarly works on boxing, Globalizing Boxing is mainly concerned with professional boxing, while amateur boxing is not discussed at any length. In her conclusions however, Woodward does touch upon the impact that the inclusion of women’s amateur boxing in the London Olympic Games  2012 may have had on women’s sport and women’s boxing in particular.

Woodward’s book is a good read for any boxing fan. I would also recommend it to academics and others interested in gender studies in sport (as Woodward addresses several topics of boxing masculinities and embodied practices), sport and migration, and social inequality in sport.

Copyright © Anne Tjønndal 2016

References

Woodward, K. (2004). Rumbles in the Jungle: Boxing, Racialization and the Performance of Masculinity. Leisure Studies, 23 (1): 5-17
Woodward, K. (2006). Boxing, Masculinity and Identity. The “I” of the Tiger. Abingdon, UK: Routledge.
Woodward, K. (2008). Hanging out and hanging about – Insider/outsider research in the sport of boxing. Ethnography, vol. 9: 536-560.
Woodward, K. (2011). The Culture of Boxing: Sensation and Affect. Sport in History, 31 (4): 487-503
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