This paper will explore discourses and practices of masculinity in the context of Senegalese wrestling. An extremely popular and lucrative, if rather heterogeneous form of sport in Senegal, wrestling is here taken as a space for the construction of multiple and dynamic male identities, in constant dialogue with one another, with non-Senegalese masculinities, with female identities and with non-human entities such as supernatural powers. ‘Wrestling’ functions also as a metaphor for the negotiation of such identities, in a context (and a contest) of power. An arena where money flows in very conspicuous ways and where status can be displayed and reproduced; a space in which social hierarchies and ‘hegemonic masculinities’ are inscribed. Always performed in relation to many ‘others’, be they physically present or discursively constructed by negation or opposition, the marking of the person juxtaposes multiple and fragmentary aspects of personhood within a single actor, who occupies them all at the same time (and through time) and renders relations with other persons unstable.
While local discourses on men and wrestling emphasise masculine purity and lack of interpersonal exchange flows, I argue that the construction of masculinities also relies on interconnections and exchanges that are made visible on people’s bodies. A metonymical incorporation of others through objects, substances and other kinds of signs underlies the construction and reproduction of persons.
The idea of incorporation at multiple levels also allows for a critique of culture as a bounded and unitary whole, and for a questioning of the categories of ‘tradition’ and ‘modernity’. A discourse appealing to ideas of continence and restraint in male personhood is counterpointed by an exploration of discourses emphasising cultural boundedness and auto-referentiality. In both cases, I argue that representations of ‘purity’ run parallel to a series of ‘contaminations’, or rather of active incorporations of the ‘outside’, visible in practice and through which this detachment and auto-referentiality (of cultural identity and of male identity within it) are de facto made possible. The malebody, and the wrestler’s body in particular, provides the key link between these two parallel processes, as the site in which they are dialectically and tangibly negotiated.
Irene Peano (Economic and Social Research Council Scholar and Gates scholar) is a PhD student at the department of Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom, where she graduated in Social Anthropology in June 2004. Her research focuses on sex traffocking networks between Nigeria and Italy, her home country, and concentrates on issues of gender, sexuality and the commodification of bodies; social networks and the anthropology of organisations and institutions. She is co-chair of the Cambridge University Social Anthropology Society (CUSAS), a student-run forum for the sharing of anthropological knowledge.