Listening to Boxing Hearts and Beats: Analysing Boxing (Through) Soundscapes

The article explores sound and hearing in boxing both as an object of study and method of researching the social reality of this combat sport. Building on the more than two-year long ethnographic research among the boxing communities in Central and Eastern Europe I analyse boxing as a sonic, corporeal, and social practice. In this essay I show how boxing incorporates sounds and body as sites of knowledge production in and about this physical activity. I approach boxing soundscapes as socially and culturally constructed phenomena. I argue that sounds are a fruitful source of data that play important role in making sense of the social reality of boxing. Thus, I engage in a long-term project of sensory/perceptual equilibrium (Woolf, 2004; Classen et. al., 1994) in social sciences. This project attempts to disrupt the hegemony of sight as a source of data in modern science (Sparkes, 2009). Boxing produces unique multilayered soundscapes composed of music, voices and bodily sounds. These soundscapes serve different purposes. They are means of representation, tools of knowledge production and ways of reproducing, mirroring and contesting social divisions (see Donnelly, 2003). This essay investigates the ways gender, class and ethnicity affect the sonic characteristics of boxing soundscapes. I argue that gender plays an important role in volume and amount of sound boxers produce and in how and what we (don’t) hear. To be perceived as women/men according to normative gender identities female/male boxers do not only need to behave and look but also sound feminine/masculine. Moreover, this sound is further influenced by boxers’ other identities such as class and/or ethnicity. I show how non-conforming sound of lower class and racialised of boxing bodies is perceived as less disruptive to the existing gender order.