Wacquant, L.  (2001)  'Whores, Slaves and Stallions: Languages of Exploitation and Accommodation among Boxers', in Body and Society, Vol 7 (2 - 3): 181 - 94.

The common view is that boxers are  'naive, over-credulous, in comprehending or ill-informed as to the real nature of their occupation' (181). However, they are more than aware of the conventions of their trade --  'a universe of no-holds-barred exploitation' (181). Indeed, they can see the results of exploitation all around them, and have no doubts that they are being exploited. [Here as elsewhere there are extensive extracts from transcripts to illustrate these points. They sometimes take the form of eloquent soliloquies from boxers themselves].

Boxers commonly used three metaphors or 'idioms' to discuss their exploitation --  'prostitution, slavery and animal husbandry' (182). Some boxers deployed all of these  'languages of exploitation' at the same time (see 185 for an example)

  • In the first case, managers are seen as pimps, and the fighter offers a body for sale for the benefit of others just like a prostitute. Boxers are forced to go with anyone to make money.
  • In the second idiom, there are strong resonances of slavery, especially for black boxers. Slavery is a term used to describe brutal conflicts with little reward, or excessive control over boxing and boxers by promoters.
  • In the third case, boxers see themselves as beasts to be 'reared, fed, trained and displayed -- even devoured with cannibalistic cruelty' (183). Again, lack of control over when and whom to fight evoke these metaphors. Other participants are also described as  'gym rats' (184), to symbolise the bitterness that boxers often feel as a result of excessive sacrifice and few rewards, or the way in which people turn on you when you're losing. Managers can be described as mosquitoes or bloodsuckers.
Boxers are aware that they are underpaid and are being cheated by their managers and the industry. However they develop  'three "vocabularies of motive" [a term used to explain the connection between apparently personal choices and social contexts that structure available motives]  (Mills, 1940)'  to cope and to maintain 'a sense of personal and professional integrity' (186):
  1. In the first case, exploitation is seen as inescapable, a fact of ordinary existence, a constant. This is an accurate perception for many boxers of their lives, and they see no difference between fighting and the other exploitative games on offer in the form of  'an unskilled employment market awash with cheap labour' (187). Boxing is no different from hustling, no more dangerous than living in a deprived area anyway. Indeed, at least boxers get a chance to escape, and no-one is unaware of the dangers. Boxing is seen as just a business, with promoters 'just doing their job'  (190).
  2. Secondly, boxers  'are fed a steady diet of folk notions and narratives that lionize the defiant individual and portray the boxer as a lone warrior... seizing his own fate' (188) [usual male heroics then]. It is a kind of entrepreneurship, where boxers work on their own body to increase its bodily capital. Boxers then display their  'moral valor' on a public stage, avoiding the status of  'non-person' [Goffman is cited here, page 188]. At least bodily capital is  'inalienable personal property' , and they have a trade. They are also in control of their own bodily development. Normal jobs involve too much  'personal submission, cultural humiliation and loss of masculine honour as a condition of durable employment'  (189), while boxing affirms  'individual "agency"' (189). This helps boxers downplay  'the impersonal arrangements and structured relationships that effectively determine... boxing careers' (189). At the end of the day, there is  'brute economic necessity' (190).
  3. Lastly, boxers deny risk by imagining they will be exempt from the general rule, as a result of personal qualities such as  'sheer dedication, unbending will and constant vigilance' (189) [see similar views expressed by bikers -- here]. Boxers are determined that they will not be ruined by the game. Some believe in divine protection. At the same time, misfortune is seen as a result of a personal flaw as well, arising from a lack of control.
Together, these beliefs help  'produce the collective misrecognition that leads boxers to collude in their own commercialisation and practically consent' to becoming a commodity  (191). The visibility and intensity of exploitation arises from an unusually large gap between exploiter and exploited -- boxers only have bodily capital, while managers and promoters simply  'monopolise the specific competencies and assets required to run the business' (191). There is no state regulation, because boxing is seen as  'marginal and tainted' (191).

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