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'Not a circus, not a freak show': masculinity, performance and place in a sport for 'extraordinary men'

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Abstract:

This article contributes to the study of sport and culture by examining in relation to the minority sport of strength athletics or 'Strong Man', the concept of sport 'subcultures', the cultural construction of the sporting body in terms of both masculinity and the notion of a disciplined, healthy body and the mutual constitution of bodies and places. The research centred on an ethnographic study carried out at the 'Britain's Strongest Man' 2007 competition. The article argues that, while strength athletic events may be viewed by some as 'freak shows' or 'circuses', this perception is strongly contested by the organisers of and participants in such competitions who, in contrast, view their sport as part of mainstream sporting culture. Strength athletics is, however, highly dependent on television coverage, both for its continued existence and for its manner of representation. The article discusses the attitudes of production personnel, as well as contestants, to the nature of the sport, the presentation of the sporting body within hegemonic masculinity and in the context of discipline and health, and the importance of place. The ambivalence involved in the presentation of a healthy body is noted. With relation to the presentation of gender, the study concludes that a particular style of 'gentlemanly' masculinity is performed by competitors, this being related to hetero-normative assumptions that both reinforce, and are reinforced by, the character of the place of the competition.

Keywords: Strong Man; body; masculinity; place; strength athletics; television sport

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0966369X.2011.535299

Affiliations: School of Arts and Humanities, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Publication date: February 1, 2011

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