The field and the stage pugilism, combat performance and professional wrestling in England: 1700 – 1980

Doctoral thesis English OPEN
Litherland, Benjamin M (2014)
  • Subject: GV0733

Speaking to a local radio station in the 1960s, with the glitz, glitter and glamour of televised professional wrestling at its height, one old, retired Cumbrian wrestler declared that ‘wrestling…was a game for the field not the stage’. This statement, condensed and potent as it is, could stand in for the questions this thesis asks and seeks to answer: why did wrestling develop as a professional, performed ‘sporting entertainment’? To answer this question, existing theories of social and sports history are combined with cultural studies methods and applied to Pierre Bourdieu’s notion of fields.\ud Chapters one and two surveys the birth of a fielded society and the growth of spectator and professional sport as part of a wider cultural field in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Considering many sports during this time had relationships with the theatre, circus and fairground, the seemingly logical expansion of professional sport was closer to that of professional wrestling. Sport, however, did not develop in this way. Chapter three explore the reasons for this and posits that the genesis of the sporting field, demonstrated by the growth of sporting bodies and the perpetuation of amateur ideal, dominated the field. Control of wrestling, however, for various reasons, was not gained in this manner. Chapter four examines the consequences of this when professional wrestling became a fully performed sport in the interwar years. Finally, chapter five assesses the relationship between the sporting field and television in the late twentieth century.\ud Wrestling as a ‘sporting entertainment’ is of interest precisely because it displays a ‘discarded possible’ of how professional sport may have grown had it not been for the institutions and ideologies active within the field during the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century. It also demonstrates the often precarious nature of fields and concludes that sport’s meanings, pleasure and values are not as consistent as are first assumed.
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