Breton wrestling through the body
(University of Florence)
Paper short abstract:
In this paper I analyse how a skilled and active bodily participation influenced and enriched my ethnographic research about the Gouren (Breton Wrestling), focusing on its epistemological utility in the analysis of the different meanings that similar gestures acquire in different wrestling contexts.
Paper long abstract:
Inspired by Loïc Wacquant's methodology, I conducted an «observant participation» of Breton Wrestling (gouren), exploiting my judo expertise to actively participate to the training and competitive activities. In this paper I would describe how such bodily participation enriched my ethnographic experience, focusing on its epistemological utility in the analysis of the different meanings that similar gestures acquire in different wrestling contexts. In fact, sporting practices are not only series of biomechanical actions: they are gestures which make sense («techniques du corps»). The learning of a body knowledge is not only the transmission of a set of actions and rules, but also of a system of values and dispositions. From this perspective, "traditional wrestling" could be more than a physical activity: it could express, define and transmit a particular sporting culture, as well as a localised cultural identity, giving the practitioners a way to express and to (re)produce their belonging to a regional community in the context of globalised modernity. It also represents a cultural, ritual and a regulated way to interpret the physical confrontation between men, explicitly or implicitly linked to the social representations of fundamental cultural features, like violence, strength, masculinity, body, proxemics. By practising, I understood how Breton wrestlers shape, embody, and transmit their "Breton Wrestling culture" (the «gouren spirit»), clearly differentiate from other wrestling cultures (especially from judo, even though they are technically very similar) and evidently linked to the most emblematic features of what is supposed to be the Breton culture and "character".
Doing ethnography through the body