Body & Soul: Notebooks of an Apprentice Boxer by Loic WacquantWhen French sociologist Loic Wacquant signed up at a boxing gym in a black neighborhood of Chicagos South Side, he had never contemplated getting close to a ring, let alone climbing into it. Yet for three years he immersed himself among local fighters, amateur and professional. He learned the Sweet science of bruising, participating in all phases of the pugilists strenuous preparation, from shadow-boxing drills to sparring to fighting in the Golden Gloves tournament. In this experimental ethnography of incandescent intensity, the scholar-turned-boxer fleshes out Pierre Bourdieus signal concept of habitus, deepening our theoretical grasp of human practice. And he supplies a model for a carnal sociology capable of capturing the taste and ache of action.
Body & Soul marries the analytic rigor of the sociologist with the stylistic grace of the novelist to offer a compelling portrait of a bodily craft and of life and labor in the black American ghetto at centurys end.
BODY & SOUL: Notebooks of an Apprentice Boxer
Yet for three years he immersed himself among local fighters, amateur and professional. Breaking with the exoticizing cast of public discourse and conventional research, Urban Outcasts takes the reader inside the black ghetto of Chicago and the deindustrializing banlieue of Paris to discover that urban marginality is not everywhere the same. It also reveals the crystallization of a new regime of marginality fuelled by the fragmentation of wage labour, the retrenchment of the social state and the concentration of dispossessed categories in stigmatized areas bereft of a collective idiom of identity and claims-making. Urban Outcasts sheds new light on the explosive mix of mounting misery, stupendous affluence and festering street violence resurging in the big cities of the First World. The punitive turn of penal policy in the United States after the acme of the Civil Rights movement responds not to rising criminal insecurity but to the social insecurity spawned by the fragmentation of wage labor and the shakeup of the ethnoracial hierarchy. This paternalist program of penalization of poverty aims to curb the urban disorders wrought by economic deregulation and to impose precarious employment on the postindustrial proletariat. By bringing developments in welfare and criminal justice into a single analytic framework attentive to both the instrumental and communicative moments of public policy, Punishing the Poor shows that the prison is not a mere technical implement for law enforcement but a core political institution.
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Just as one cannot understand what an instituted religion such as Catholicism is without studying in detail the structure and functioning of the organization that supports it, in this case the Roman Church, one cannot elucidate the meaning and roots of boxing in contemporary American society—at least in the lower regions of social space, where it continues to defy an extinction periodically announced as its imminent and inevitable fate—without canvassing the fabric of the social and symbolic relations woven in and around the training gym, the hub and hidden engine of the pugilistic universe. A gym is a complex and polysemous institution, overloaded with functions and representations that do not readily reveal themselves to the outside observer, even one acquainted with the nature of the place., L oic Wacquant, perhaps the only French sociologist who spent at least three years in the Woodlawn Gym in Chicago, Illinois, boxing with both amateurs and professionals, emerged from the experience strong, spry and of a mind to punch out some books and papers.
On the one hand, Bourdieu wrote, those who know the most about sport tend to lack the inclination or ability to appreciate much less be critical of its broader social connections and significance; on the other hand, those who possess the requisite skills to analyze its forms and social functions generally dismiss sport as unworthy of serious scientific investigation. Scholarly research and writing on sport has progressed a great deal in the last twenty years, but it is not until now, with the appearance of Loic Wacquant's dazzling ethnographic journey into the world of an inner-city Chicago boxing gym, that I would say for certain that Bourdieu's challenge has been answered. As serious about the sweet science of boxing as Wacquant is practiced in the craft of sociology, Body and Soul not only sets a new standard for scholarly research and writing on sport. It is a virtuoso performance that could — if properly read and disseminated and emulated — put the study of sport at the center of all sociological theorizing and analysis. The book is divided into three parts, each having a distinctive purpose and style. The first and most extensive is "The Street and the Ring.