Accepted paper:

Between states: boxing and the state in Accra, Ghana


Leo Hopkinson (The London School of Economics and Political Science)

Paper short abstract:

Boxing in Ghana is both nationalised and ethnicized, placing boxers at once beyond and within the nation state. The tensions inherent to Ghana's post-colonial state between ethnic distinctions and the unitary nation are manifest in the sport. This paper explores how the boxing community negotiate and embody these tensions in training and the ring.

Paper long abstract:

Boxing in Ghana is implicated in multiple state-making projects, at once both strongly associated with the Ga ethnic group of central Accra, and deployed in Ghanaian nationalist discourse. Accra is the political and economic hub of Ghana, fields recently dominated by ethnic groups from outside Accra. This has left Ga people feeling marginalised within a city which is notionally theirs. This marginality is manifest in the (often violent) contestation and disruption of "traditional" Ga practices across the city. Boxing, one such “traditional” Ga practice, is simultaneously deployed in articulations of the Ga state as distinct from the Ghanaian state, yet is also part of the Ghanaian state-making project. Building on ethnographic fieldwork with the Accra boxing community, I analyse how boxers and coaches simultaneously embody an association with Ga ethnicity, and actively perform narratives of the nation-state in a globally connected industry. I take the spectacle of public bouts, and boxers' regimented training regimes as different yet interconnected sites of state-subject formation. I argue that Ga identity both constitutes part of the Ghanaian state, and also articulates a sense of difference to that state. Bodily associations with Ga ethnicity in the city speak to enduring preoccupations with the immediacy of modes of living, and simultaneously constitute claims to inclusion in a life beyond the state, as part of a globally connected industry. This paper explores the complexly layered and dynamic nature of state-subject relationships by asking how the boxing community is reflexively involved in multiple, and often conflicting, state-making processes.

panel P55
States beyond states