Accepted Paper:

Duelling, Prize Fighting, and Boxing: The Role of Medicine and Technology in a Shifting Legal Terrain   


Jennifer Hardes (Canterbury Christ Church University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines the relation between law, medicine and technology in the construction of boxing as a legitimate legal practice in the 19th Century. This examination is framed in the wider social, political and economic context with reference to biopolitics (Agamben, 1998; Foucault, 1990, 2007)

Paper long abstract:

This paper situates the criminalization of duelling and prize fighting alongside the legitimation and rise of boxing in 19th Century England in the context of biopolitics (Agamben, 1998; Foucault, 1990, 2003, 2007, 2008). The criminalisation of some practices and the codification of others such as boxing via the introduction of the 1865 Queensberry Rules cannot simply be understood as a 'civilization process' through which the state acquired a monopoly on violence (Elias, 1937). Rather, there was an important intersection of medical and technical knowledge that legitimated the rise of new boxing techniques and technologies (gloves, time between rounds, and later weight divisions and compulsory medical examinations etc.). This medical and technical know-how was essential in shaping boxing's rationalisation as being in the 'public interest', without which boxing was likely to have continued to lose public and legal support based on its prior reputation as a blood sport. This legitimation from medical and technical experts helped carve a space for boxing to be excepted in the law in contrast to practices that were criminalized, outlined in the updated Offences Against the Person Act of 1861, which stated that individuals could not rationally consent to the harm of their person at the hands of another. Arguably this introduction of safety enhancing technologies alongside medical expertise and authority shaped boxing as a legitimate sport in which the practice could not be contested as that which 'intended' to harm or cause injury.

Panel T095
Sport, Technoscience, Medicine and Performance