This dissertation builds on my six-year ethnographic immersion into the mixed martial (MMA) scene in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan region to contribute to our understanding of pain, intimacy, meaning making, and masculinity. In training alongside men who devote their time to learning MMA, whether for hobby, local and regional competitions, or dreams of “making it big,” I move beyond mainstream spectacle and media-fueled public crisis to further understanding of a site where a painful brand of carnal knowledge is exchanged daily. I pursue a classic sociological and anthropological goal of making sense of the seemingly bewildering, explicating the allure of the embodied, violent practice to the communities of men that fill the schools that dot the often-suburban landscape to exchange energy, pain, sweat, and blood with little hope of utilitarian reward. In doing so I expand sociology’s theory toolbox through engaging traditions and writers generally overlooked within the discipline. In each chapter I take seriously a different facet of the appeal of the sites and practice. With each exploration I begin with the writings of Pierre Bourdieu and the carnal sociologists he inspired before encountering the limits of this dominant approach to physical practice. To overcome these limitations I turn to scholars often relegated to the fringe of the discipline and place into conversation bodies of literature that rarely speak to each other. In particular, I draw on affect theory as I discuss the manner that the participants seek to discover their own corporeal limits through painful exchanges; the writings of Georges Bataille to understand an intimacy formed through shared transgressive moments and physical vulnerabilities; and scholars of storytelling as I argue that the discursive and the carnal are mutually constitutive. Taken together, my work not only offers a corrective to theories of embodiment and practice, but also tells a story where the excesses of contemporary American masculinity, in particular contemporary suburban masculinity, reveal themselves in the punches, chokes, hugs, and narrative explorations that take place on the mat.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. August 2015. Major: Sociology. Advisors: Douglas Hartmann, Teresa Gowan. 1 computer file (PDF); iv, 270 pages.
The Allure of Mixed Martial Arts: Meaning Making, Masculinity, and Embodiment in Suburbia.
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