1st Edition

Fighting Identity An Ethnography of Kickboxing in East London

By Amit Singh Copyright 2023
    174 Pages
    by Routledge

    174 Pages
    by Routledge

    This book is an immersive ethnographic account of how fighters at a Polish-owned Muay Thai/kickboxing gym in East London seek to reject prior identity markers in favour of constructing one another as the same, as fighters, a category supposedly free from the negative assumptions and limitations associated with prior ascriptions such as race, class, gender and sexuality.

    It explores questions of subjectivity and identity by examining how and why fighters sought to disavow identity, which involved casting aside pre-established ways of thinking, feeling and acting about constructed differences to forge deep bonds of carnal convivial friendships. Yet, this book argues that becoming a fighter is highly socially contingent and remains subject to rupture due to the durability of taken-for-granted thinking about race, gender and sexuality, which, if drawn upon, could pull people out of the category of fighter and back into longer-standing durable categories. This book deploys Butler's theory of performativity and Bourdieu's conceptualisation of habitus to explore the context-specific ways people transgress identity whilst remaining attentive to the constrained nature of agency.

    The book is intended for undergraduate and master's students on courses looking at race, racism, gender, social anthropology, sociology and sociology of sport.

    1. Introduction

    2. Becoming a Fighter & Escaping Identity

    3. Gender in the Gym: Fighting for Respect in a "Cis-Male space"

    4. Carnal Conviviality, Culture & Complex Identities

    5. No Race, No Racism?

    6. Black Masculinity: Being a Fighter or Being a "Black Fighter"?

    7. Conclusion: Making Fighters, Un-making Identity?


    Amit Singh has a PhD in Psychosocial Studies from Birkbeck, University of London. He has written on questions of race and subjectivity and is involved in public education projects such as the Connected Sociologies Curriculum Project. He also runs a 26-week supplementary sociology enrichment curriculum – "Race, Class & Society" – across two sixth forms in South and East London, as well as an annual summer school.

    "A tender yet quietly punchy portrait of the precious multiracial convivialities that obtain amid the sweat, blood and tears of a (kick)boxing gym. The bonds of working-class multiculture forged through the mutual vulnerability and trust as cultivated in the gym stand here in firm resolve against the insistent weight of the racisms and nationalisms that otherwise colour our political present. Marrying patiently observed ethnographic detail with a deftly accessible and unburdened prose, Amit Singh reminds us that the anti-racisms of tomorrow are already being incubated in the ostensibly mundane spaces and practices all around us. Fighting Identity is, in other words, a moving witness to the cultural textures common to our cities that help us scope a path out of racism’s wicked diminution of the lives that we might otherwise lead together."

    Sivamohan Valluvan, Associate Professor of Sociology at The University of Warwick, UK; and author of The Clamour of Nationalism (2019)

    "What happens when Pierre Bourdieu meets Judith Butler in a kickboxing ring? Sociological sparks fly! Fighting Identity is not just a fascinating field account of the fabrication of fighters and a theoretical rumination on masculine plebeian dreams in black and white. It is also an astute sociological dissection of the making and unmaking of habitus, rooted in a community of suffering bodies that lifts its members above their mundane condition, and a deft demonstration of the carnality of identity."

    Loïc Wacquant, author of Body and Soul and The Invention of the "Underclass"

    "For anyone who ever wanted to see inside the sweaty glamour of the fighting gym, this scholarly story-telling will gratify your curiosity and touch your heart. We learn how fighters navigate the intense connections of the gym-space to unsettle racism and homophobia, at least a little, and what it is in the demanding disciplines of fight culture that edges open space to imagine more hopeful relations between us. You may also experience a strange urge to train more - embrace it."

    Gargi Bhattacharyya, author of Rethinking Racial Capitalism