Fighting for Recognition

Identity, Masculinity, and the Act of Violence in Professional Wrestling

Fighting for Recognition

Book Pages: 240 Illustrations: 27 illustrations Published: August 2014

Author: R. Tyson Smith

American Studies, Gender and Sexuality, Sociology

In Fighting for Recognition, R. Tyson Smith enters the world of independent professional wrestling, a community-based entertainment staged in community centers, high school gyms, and other modest venues. Like the big-name, televised pro wrestlers who originally inspired them, indie wrestlers engage in choreographed fights in character. Smith details the experiences, meanings, and motivations of the young men who wrestle as "Lethal" or "Southern Bad Boy," despite receiving little to no pay and risking the possibility of serious and sometimes permanent injury. Exploring intertwined issues of gender, class, violence, and the body, he sheds new light on the changing sources of identity in a postindustrial society that increasingly features low wages, insecure employment, and fragmented social support. Smith uncovers the tensions between strength and vulnerability, pain and solidarity, and homophobia and homoeroticism that play out both backstage and in the ring as the wrestlers seek recognition from fellow performers and devoted fans.


“Immensely readable and as vibrant in its energy as the subjects it seeks to present and understand, Fighting for Recognition focuses on young men who make their living in professional wrestling. . . . Highly recommended. All readers.”  — E. J. Staurowsky, Choice

“[A]n entertaining read that can be used in a sport or masculinities course, or any other context that explores the paradoxical aspects of identity construction.” — Brian Fair, Gender & Society

"Smith demonstrates the value of taking this subculture seriously; for a place where white, working-class men must always battle the fear of being seen as fake or soft offers us a truly powerful starting point for unpacking the tensions and internal contradictions of masculinity." — Kyle Green, Men and Masculinities

"Smith has produced a highly readable and useful ethnography on the performance of independent professional wrestling. The book is invaluable to those working on performance and wrestling and develops theories of masculinity, physicality, and the labor of performance, which should find an audience even among those who might be less familiar with professional wrestling and its performance." — Eero Laine, Theatre Journal

"This theoretically sophisticated, fine-grained study of the quotidian practices of the Indy wrestling circuit will be of interest to scholars of gender, sports, and U.S. culture. It is also accessibly written and an ideal length for use in undergraduate courses." — Heather Levi, American Journal of Sociology

"By examining the bizarre and paradoxical world of this marginalised, quasi-sporting subculture, Smith produces an insightful account of contemporary, working class masculinity as a complex construct.... Fighting for Recognition is therefore sure to rank highly on the reading lists of scholars interested in men, combat sports and masculinity, and also fans of wrestling with an interest in what takes place behind the spectacular veneer of on-stage ‘sports entertainment’." — Alex Channon, Gender & History

"In Fighting for Recognition, R. Tyson Smith crafts a sophisticated and readable ethnographic analysis of the experiences of the young men involved in independent ('indie') professional wrestling. . . . Researchers and instructors in sport studies, cultural studies, and performance studies will find significant value in Smith's analysis." — Stacy L. Lorenz, Canadian Journal of Sociology

"Tyson Smith's text is a useful tool for those interested in niche sports and subcultures. His book is a worthy addition to research on masculinity, pain and injury." — James Bowness, International Sociology

"Fighting for Recognition will be of particular interest for gender scholars and cultural sociologists. Intellectually challenging yet extremely accessible, this book would be a great option for both undergraduate and graduate courses." — Bryan Snyder, Contemporary Sociology

"Smith does an excellent job articulating the draw of pro wrestling to young men and why, through all the pain and sacrifice, they continue. Smith is superb at describing and setting up a scene. The book transports a reader into the ring, eliciting the sights, sounds and smells of the world of wrestling. . . . Fighting for Recognition is accessible, offering palatable and engaging discussion of wrestling. As pro wrestling and other combat sports lack critical study, this book represents a needed contribution to the literature of sport sociology." — Bruce Lee Hazelwood, International Review for the Sociology of Sport

"Behind the hypermacho performance of pro wrestling, R. Tyson Smith reveals a backstage where hard aggressive bodies are actually soft and yielding, hypersensitive as lovers so that they don't cripple each other. It is more akin to ballet than battle, except that all the effort goes into giving the opposite impression. This is one of the great ethnographies of the backstage of occupations, of athletes, of show business, of the bodily self—and of social performance itself."
— Randall Collins, author of Violence: A Micro-sociological Theory

"To know only the flamboyantly hypermasculine spectacle of WWE is like believing that a Broadway musical represents America's love of theater. R. Tyson Smith's carefully rendered empathic ethnography reveals the oft-hidden world of everyday guys who do it all—the exacting choreographed routines, the grandiose costumes—because they love it. Yet underneath the artifice of fake combat lie real dangers and constant injury. These guys are, as Smith says, 'fighting for recognition,' yes, but they are also playing for real." — Michael Kimmel, author of Angry White Men: American Masculinity at the End of an Era


Availability: In stock
Price: $25.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

R. Tyson Smith is Visiting Assistant Professor of Sociology at Brown University.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Prologue xiii

Introduction 1

1. The Indies 9

2. Fighting for a Pop: Wrestler Recognition 37

3. Passion Work: The Coordinated Production of Emotional Labor 62

4. "In Real Life I'm a Total Homophobe": Wrestlers Managing the Male Gaze 89

5. Pain in the Act 115

Conclusion 147

Appendix A. How It Began 155

Appendix B. Rage Wrestlers/Participants 167

Notes 171

References 197

Index 211
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing
Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5722-3 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5709-4
Publicity material