Giorgi Vachnadze, Fighting Bodies: A Genealogy of the Ring, Epoché Philosophy Monthly, Issue #44 September 2021
The following essay will attempt to trace a genealogy for the institution of professional boxing. Applying Michel Foucault’s method of Archeology and Biopolitical critique, the aim will be to demonstrate several things. First, that boxing has not been constituted as a proper object of connaisance and therefore exhibits the same elusive features as other Foucaultian hybrid-formations like madness and the psychiatric ward. Instead, there is a proliferation of discourses such that each constitutes pugilism in their own way with only a partial convergence of definitions, techniques, maneuvers, strikes, guards, postures, and other discursive and non-discursive formations and social practices. The various techniques of the self will be analyzed at length as a field of possible “moves” within the war-game of boxing; more specifically, a space where various methods of governance crisscross and overlap. A distinction, similar to the one made by Hannah Arendt, between domination (violence in Arendt’s case) and power will show to hold in combat sports as well as in political discourse surrounding it. A testament to the heterogeneous nature of the quasi-object-institution of boxing, will be its own internal ambivalence, as expressed through the writings of the selected 18th and 19th century English fighters. Boxing is at the same time declared to be useful and harmful for the social body, both violent and refined, transgressive and reforming. The training of boxers will play an important role in identifying the disciplinary mechanisms at play, while multiple forms of political propaganda and economic marketing campaigns, both pertaining to the present as well as the 18th century, will prove as evidence for the historical emergence of boxing, including the current state of the sport, as a type of governmentality. Boxing will show to be a sophisticated technique of administering bodies, of making live and letting die. It will be seen that the pugilistic institution, as well as combat sports in general, turn out to be a Neoliberal hub of economic governance. A complete genealogy will not be offered. Instead, the essay will concentrate on 18th century English boxing as a predecessor to combat sports as we witness its rising popularity today. The boxing institution will be used as a case example of the emergence and on-going activity in (neo)liberal governance.