Embattled identities: constructions of contemporary American masculinity amongst mixed martial arts cagefighters

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Masculinity has been increasingly recognized as a critical and relatively unexplored area of inquiry in anthropological gender studies. This project seeks to expand anthropological research on masculinity to contemporary American

Masculinity has been increasingly recognized as a critical and relatively unexplored area of inquiry in anthropological gender studies. This project seeks to expand anthropological research on masculinity to contemporary American society. Using the case study of a male-centered popular new sport, Mixed Martial Arts (also known as cagefighting) this project integrates theories of embodiment and feminist perspectives to explore how masculinity and masculine hegemony are shaped, contested, and perpetuated in the United States. Using a multi-level framework this project explores: 1) How is masculinity experienced and expressed by Mixed Martial Arts fighters as a form of self-identity? How do their bodies play a role in constructing masculinity? 2) What are the pervasive forms of masculinity associated with Mixed Martial Arts (MMA)? Are they truly representative of the sport? 3) Can these pervasive forms of masculinity be seen as hegemonic? How would hegemony operate in relation to individual experience? Using multiple methods to capture multiple points of view was critical to thoroughly examining the complex notion of masculinity. This study employed participant observation, semi-structured interviews, focus groups, surveys, photo elicitation, and media content analysis, as each presented particular benefits and allowed for the development a more well-rounded understanding of masculinity within the realm of MMA. This study also situates the rise of MMA and its representations of masculinity within the greater perspective of contemporary American society. By doing so reveals how ideologies of prescribed masculinity do not arise out of a vacuum but in relation to particular economic, social and political contexts. An emphasis of this study was to examine the daily lives of MMA fighters to understand how their participation in what may be regarded as a hypermasculine activity affects their own perceptions of masculinity. In looking at how masculinity is embodied, the gaps and often contradictions between representation and individual experiences are revealed. Ultimately, the goal of this research is to contribute to a better understanding of masculinity as both an embodied and relational construct.