Hard men, shop boys and others: embodying competence in a masculinist occupation

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Abstract

Emerging studies on private security work in Britain's night-time economy explore important sociological themes such as masculinities and violence. Contributing rich ethnography to this literature, and in furthering an embodied sociology, this paper describes the gendered construction of competency among ‘bouncers’ or door supervisors within the context of their potentially violent work. Centrally, it explores the door supervisors’ variable bodily capital (comprising body build and acquired techniques of the body) alongside normative limits to their violence. Here physicality is central to the practicalities of doorwork, risk management and the embodiment of dominant and subordinate masculinities. Within doorwork culture, embodied typifications such as ‘hard men’, ‘shop boys’ and others (eg,‘bullies’ and ‘nutters’) are related to assessments of possible violence against doorstaff, the delineation of (flexible) boundaries for their own (in)appropriate violence against ‘problematic’ customers and the construction of competent identity. Besides contributing empirical data to the literature this paper underscores the integrative potential of embodiment for social scientists and urges policy makers to appreciate the degree to which (potential) violence is embodied in the night-time economy.

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