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Accepted Paper:

Hooks, jabs and cross-purposes: ethical orientations of critique from the ring  
Leo Hopkinson (Durham University)

Paper short abstract:

Boxers’ attitudes towards violence and racism in their sport challenge anthropologists’ anti-violent disciplinary (and personal) ethics. In this context, I ask whose ethical orientations should inform a ‘productive critique’ of the sport and for whom critique should be productive.

Paper long abstract:

One response to a ‘politics of the anti’ is to suggest progressive changes to practices we like, which build on our interlocutors’ experiences. However, this process assumes a shared political and ethical orientation between researchers and their interlocutors – that the ‘good’ changes we suggest align with our interlocutors’ desires and strategies for navigating the world. This paper explores what form ‘productive critique’ takes when they do not align.Building on research with Ghanaian boxers, I explore the problems of ‘productively critiquing’ boxing; a sport I like and want to exist, but which is at odds with anthropology’s anti-violent ethics. My research has led me to critique boxing’s violence (some of which I participate in) in ways that reflect anthropology’s disciplinary ethics. Yet, at times my critique contradicts the aspirations and life strategies of the athletes I work with. Boxers’ attitudes towards physical violence, their strategies for navigating the boxing industry’s structural violence and their co-opting of racial stereotypes all jar against anthropological critiques of these phenomenon.These tensions highlight questions of responsibility when ‘productively critiquing’ practices we like or support. Should we represent the ideals of those we work with (as collaborative methodologies suggest) when their life strategies do not reflect our personal or disciplinary ethics? Or should we articulate critiques we consider morally ‘right’, but which might adversely affect our interlocutors? Where boxers’ attitudes towards violence and racialisation challenge anthropologists’ disciplinary and personal ethics, can ‘productive critique’ avoid paternalism and for whom should it be productive?

Panel Evid01a
Critiquing what we like I
  Session 1 Friday 2 April, 2021, -