When Boxers “Put on the Gloves”: Sparring and the Limits of the Fighter’s Institutionalization
Breaking into a broad smile, Éric’s face seems to expect no particular reaction from me. Leaning on the gym’s outdoor wall, we are waiting for Luis to open his punching factory. Soon, some of us will be facing off in what George Herbert Mead, inspired by boxing, called a “conversation of gestures.”1 These engagements, comprised of countless combinations of blows, dodges, feints, parries, and counterattacks, instantiate every principle that a fighter must follow in order to perform adequately in the ring. These predefined models of conduct, which tend to impose themselves on fighters, constitute the boxing institution that each, under the coach’s authority, comes to embody. From along the ropes and at their sides as they prepare for combat, the ethnographic gaze informing this chapter will follow the boxers as they acquire the requisite skills. Observing the twists and turns of these face-offs as they evolve over time reveals, moreover, the limits of merely reproducing gestural models.