Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant: Expansion of Anthropological Research on Masculinity for Contemporary American Society

Project: Research project

Project Details


Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant: Expansion of Anthropological Research on Masculinity for Contemporary American Society Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant: Embattled Identities: Masculinities in the Realm of North American Cage-Fighting In recent years masculinity has been increasingly recognized as a critical and relatively unexplored area of enquiry in anthropological gender studies. This project seeks to expand anthropological research on masculinity to contemporary US society. Using the case study of a malecentered popular new sport, cage-fighting, this project integrates theories of embodiment (Csordas 1999; Merleau Ponty 1962) and feminist perspectives (Connell 1987; Connell and Messerschmidt 2005) to explore how masculinity and masculine hegemony are shaped, contested, and perpetuated in the United States. Following Messners (1990) multi-level framework, this project explores: 1) how masculinity is represented and constructed in a public domain (e.g., in the media), 2) how masculinity is shaped and embodied (i.e., through individual participation), and 3) the relationship between public and individual conceptions and expressions of masculinity. Researchers question whether in this hyper-masculine environment, there exists space for multiple, negotiated masculinities or whether the media archetype (or hegemonic ideal) is so pervasive that participants possess a singular view of what it means to be masculine. A multi-sited ethnographic research design will be used, as the sport itself is not geographically fixed. Participant observation will take place in specialized training facilities and competition venues for a period of seven months. During this time, researchers will also conduct approximately 50 semi-structured interviews and five focus groups (employing photo-elicitation techniques) with fighters, cage-fighting organizations, and the media. Researchers will also conduct media analysis to explore representations of masculinity in the public domain and to trace the historical trajectory of the sport. All data will be cataloged, coded and analyzed primarily according to grounded theory methods. Intellectual Merit. Cage-fighting is a valuable new context in which to examine imposition and resistance to masculine ideals because it is highly masculinized and commodified, and as a new sport, public images and ideals of masculine representation are still being negotiated. Such research is critical to developing more comprehensive theories of gender and masculinity to better understand how gendered identities and ideals are commodified and disseminated though hegemonic power structures (e.g., the media) and how they are embodied by individuals. As cage-fighters come from diverse economic backgrounds (near poverty to the extremely privileged) and equally diverse ethnic backgrounds, this study provides an opportunity to explore how ethnicity and status come into play with the hegemonic structuring and commodification of individuals in this multi-million dollar industry. This is an integrated study of the relationships between the outward conditions (such as media representation) that shape a social self, and the corporeal aspects (such as the training of the body) that shape self-identity. This research will critically examine how masculinity is constructed and contested in various ways in the U.S. where it is often taken for granted. Broader Impacts. Cage-fighting is a multi-million dollar industry, growing rapidly in popularity in the U.S. and globally. This study imparts an opportunity for participants to represent themselves in a forum that is not mediated by competition or commodification. An analysis that includes the opinions and experiences of the participants will provide policy makers, athletic commissions, and the general public with an emic, more nuanced understanding of cage-fighting and its impacts on society, particularly in regard to conceptions of gender. Furthermore, critical analysis of the contexts under which gender is institutionalized will provide insight into beginning to address issues of gender inequity in policy. Support for this project will also advance the training of a female doctoral s
Effective start/end date8/1/095/31/11


  • NSF-ENG: Division of Biological & Critical Systems (BCS): $14,964.00


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