Regimes of intensity and techniques of the self: Ethnography of làmb training in Dakar

Francesco Fanoli


How to become a làmb (Senegalese wrestling with punches) wrestler in Dakar? Starting from an ethnography based on an “observant participation” method, this article analyzes wrestlers’ “techniques of the self” by focusing on the articulation between discourses and bodily practices. Describing some training situations, we will examine how to identify as a wrestler by embodying the socio-material environment of a écurie (wrestling gym) and in correlation with the current discourses of heroic honor and warrior masculinity in Senegal. Through these descriptions, we will show how the relationships between motility and materiality, at the base of the practitioners’ subjectivation, respond to different regimes of intensity, in which discourses of truth and power relations become more or less binding. We will then propose the hypothesis by which those intensity variations – loosening the effectiveness of self-control and surveillance, leaving space for ludic opportunities and more fluidity in the embodiment of warrior masculinity – can be considered as a flywheel to an active appropriation and a questioning of the wrestler’s normative identity, although more enacted through practice than verbalized.

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