Drawing on a 3-year ethnography and participant observation study of a ghetto gym in Chicago, this article purports to (a) de-exoticize the subproletarian bodily craft of boxing by uncovering its embedded social logic and meaning, and (b) contribute to a theory of practice that escapes the false antinomies associated with rational choice and normative models of action. The first part explores the peculiar relation of symbiotic opposition that ties the boxing gym to its proximate social matrix of the black ghetto and to the masculine street culture from which it draws its sustenance and shelters its members. The second part treats boxing as a Durkheimian “social art” whose mastery involves an intensive, ascetic, and strictly regulated manipulation of the body designed to inculcate through direct embodiment the set of corporeal, visual, and mental schemata immanent to pugilistic practice. The social production of the pugilistic habitus as embodied practical reason thus suggests the need to place the socialized lived body at the center of the analysis of social action.
Loïc J.D. Wacquant is a member of the Society of Fellows, Harvard University (78 Mount Auburn St., Cambridge, MA 02138), and a Research Associate at the Center for European Sociology, Paris.