Violent Bodies? An Ethnographic Examination of a Mixed Martial Arts Club

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Bishara, Jeffrey (2022) Violent Bodies? An Ethnographic Examination of a Mixed Martial Arts Club. PhD thesis, Victoria University.


There are growing concerns over the effects of mixed martial arts (MMA) on the levels of violence in society and the dangers of participating in combat sports. MMA is a full contact combat sport that uses striking and grappling techniques in a continuous fighting form. The sport first emerged in North America in 1993 as a No- holds-barred spectacle, under the name the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), which continues to remain the largest MMA organisation. Media representation of the sport are split into two camps. On the one hand MMA is presented as a brutal and barbaric display of violence, where thugs beat one another senseless, and is presumed to cause a surge in street violence and societal decay. Conversely, it is presented as an art form, tool for self-defense, discipline, fitness and bully-proofing children. To date there has been no significant research focusing on everyday MMA participation in Australia. The research aims to understand the experiences of people who practice MMA and how they negotiate violence within training, thus establishing a nuanced understanding of the people who practice MMA, than what is understood in the predominant debate surrounding MMA. This thesis is based on a four and a half year ethnography as a participant training in an ordinary MMA gym in the outer suburbs of Melbourne, Australia. The data collected consists of fieldnotes and 13 life history interviews with the core group from Praelia MMA (pseudonym). Furthermore, the research reveals through the embodied nature of MMA, how hegemonic relations form through everyday practices and rituals. Understanding violence requires an analysis of both broad social and structural processes and the minute and mundane interactions of everyday people. Opposed to understanding MMA participants’ as possessing violent attributes or psychologically attracted to violence, I draw on the theoretical approaches of Pierre Bourdieu, Randall Collins, Raewyn Connell and Norbert Elias, to argue that in the moment of the here and now, participants use forms of cultural capital (resources) in interactions to make them feel energised through group solidarity. With increasing social insecurity disproportionately effecting working-class, and lower middle-class populations, MMA becomes one answer for inclusion into the global images of male success. Participants’ in Praelia MMA (re)establish a social hierarchy around historically androcentric forms of capital, as they enter into the field and play for the rewards at stake. Thus, I conclude that MMA does not automatically produce bodies capable of violence.

Item type Thesis (PhD thesis)
Subjects Current > FOR (2020) Classification > 4410 Sociology
Current > Division/Research > Institute for Health and Sport
Keywords mixed martial arts, violence, Australia, ethnography, masculinity, society
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