Can the boxing gym be recognised as an effective space for supporting desistance?
Exploring the psychosocial manifestations of boxing, this enlightening study reviews conflicting evidence to determine boxing’s place in the criminal justice system.
Drawing upon the empirical insights, with case studies of participants’ backgrounds and their motivations for taking up the sport, Jump measures the value of the discipline, as well as the respect and fraternity that some claim boxing provides for young men. This is a perceptive addition to the debate about sport’s role in criminal desistance that delves deep into themes of masculinity and violence.
The chapter explores the history of boxing and its relationship to desistance from crime. It will briefly examine the appeal of boxing and also its position in contemporary criminological theory. I will introduce arguments that examine and critique the relationship between the sport of boxing and desistance from violence. I will argue that combat sports in general are conducive to the maintenance of valued masculine identities and therefore perpetuate dominant discourses of masculinity that value violence as a central theme
The chapter further explores the meaning of boxing for young men, and considers sport as definer of masculinity and domination. I consider the ways in which boxing forms part of class and masculine discourses. I therefore discuss the appeal of boxing from a class based masculine perspective and outline how contact sports form part of male working-class identities, particularly those that are informed by ‘hardmen’ discourses. Thus, boxing’s appeal is enduring, as it not only supports and perpetuates identity formation among men who use violence as a mechanism of control and domination, but further allows them to express this in their performance of masculinity and sport.
The pen portrait of Frank demonstrate how boxing offers a medium by which men can re-shape a sense of identity to support valued themes, and also why boxing is appealing particularly for these men having had a prior history of economic, academic and structural disadvantage. Frank’s story discusses how boxing acted as ‘survival training’ in an environment that took violence as a form of defence, Frank’s story talks of childhood bullying, gang violence, and a burning desire to accrue respect at a time when being a young unemployed Black man was viewed negatively by both state and society
Eric’s pen portrait speaks of familial abuse - both as a victim and perpetrator – and describes the ‘deep’ appeal of the boxing gym as a site for establishing an identity that denies and defies victimization. Eric’s story illustrates the destructiveness of gym life, and the serious negative impacts that this can have upon men’s bodies and minds.
Leroy’s story discusses boxing’s appeal as a mechanism to avoid shame. It tells the story of Leroy and his upbringing in a ‘hard’ working class environment that valued toughness and respect. With a violent boxing father, Leroy talks of boxing as a way of life, and the ways in which intersections of class, working class habitus, and violence, meld his life. His story further reflects on how boxing can be employed as a form of ‘physical capital’, and how the prestige that comes with ‘hardness’, can be used to overcome feelings of shame, stigma, and vulnerability
This chapter discusses the themes that emerged from the research, particularly those that relate to boxing’s enduring appeal, and those that demonstrate how the sport can be a fundamental source of masculine accomplishment and status. This chapter discusses how boxing is a response to personal and structural vulnerability and illustrates how the appeal of boxing has changed over men’s amateur and professional careers. It further explores the tension between the straightforward ‘surface’ reward-statements of men (money, status, fame, health, discipline, etc.) and what are interpreted as ‘deeper’ motivations that suggest the gym is a physical, social, but also a psychological space for accomplishing masculinity, and for creating and sustaining self-worth in the face of chronic autobiographical and structural limitations
In this chapter I examine the structural positioning of young men and how this translates into the appeal and desisting elements of boxing. Building upon criminological theories, I present arguments that elaborate on how the sport of boxing is appealing in its promotion of physical capital, money and peer admiration, and also how the logic of the gym reinforces the logic of the streets. In short, the lessons learnt and the masculine discourses inherent in the boxing gym reinforce the discourses of the streets, and the men who attend the gym are well versed in its translation. Seen in this light, the boxing gym merely acts as a site of incapacitation and is therefore not contributory to a process of desistance or cognitive transformation (Giordano 2002; Maruna 2001)
The concluding chapter summarises the findings, and elaborates on issues of situated respect, identity, and on the psychosocial perpetuation of an immersive violent habitus. In light of these findings, I problematise the extent to which boxing is still deemed relevant for youth policy and practice today and argue, that this misplaced and counterproductive faith only underlines the limited options of damaged, socially marginalised men, and the equally limited public expectations of them
Violence is a powerful resource, and boxing is a legitimised version. This book aims to give the reader a powerful tale of legitimacy, and also a darker, more sinister version of illegitimate violence and the men that perpetrate it. I question common tropes that suggest boxing is a panacea for all social ills, and unpick the criminal justice responses to youth crime and the well- intended misgivings that boxing is the cure. Boxing is seen as a ‘male preserve’ (Dunning 1986), and policy makers and parents, as well as criminal justice agencies, believe that the structured disciplining environment of the gym is enough to combat criminogenic attitudes and violent behaviour. I dispel this myth.