Descartes’ shadow: Boxing and the fear of mind-body dualism

Leo Hopkinson


This article explores the body and self engendered through a boxer’s training, drawing on fieldwork conducted in boxing gyms in Montreal and Edinburgh. Contrary to contemporary anthropological accounts of the sport, I argue that training practices in these gyms instill a dualistic sense of self, evocative of Cartesian dualism. Paradoxically this is not alternative to, but concurrent with, a sense of embodied knowledge and selfhood in proficient boxers. Dualistic selfhood is traced throughout training regimes and in a boxer’s progress from novice to experienced pugilist, considering the different practices developed and encountered during this progress. I conclude by problematizing the anthropological fear of the Cartesian body. By treating the Cartesian body as a philosophical mistake rather than a social reification, social scientists working with concepts of body and self risk creating a straw man that inhibits their capacity to analyze mind-body dualism as a social construct.


boxing, dualism, embodiment, Descartes, sport

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.14318/hau5.2.012