‘Real Men Can Control Their Shit’ – Violence, Ambiguity, Coherence and Identity

Sports worlds are sites at which the construction of masculine identities has frequently been described. A key aspect of such works has been the articulation between violence and ideas about manliness. Within the present article, ethnographic observations and interview extracts are used to explore a boxing subculture. In particular, men’s understandings of what was considered ‘correct’ male subjectivities are described. These men found significance in violence, however, contextual caveats regulated the legitimacy of such experiences. Here, notions connected to class, ideas about ‘real’ men and the informal codes of boxing commingled to frame an understanding of the controlled, cooperative and caring nature of sparring. Within this largely heterosexual male preserve (Matthews, 2012) one might expect masculine identities usually associated with the hegemonic masculinity thesis to dominate. However, the tensions, inconsistencies and varieties within identifications meant Connell’s (1987) framework was thought overly reductive. As such, this paper adds empirically to resent critical observations aimed at such work.