Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

S. Elizabeth Bird, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Michael V Angrosino, Ph.D.

Committee Member

John A. Napora, Ph.D.


Embodiment, Practice, Trance, Mythology, Ethnography


Much of the scholarly work on professional wrestling is based on the assumption that beyond a simple mimicking of sporting combat, the wrestling show is a spectacle that constructs and interrelates socially situated, morally significant categories. In this thesis, I focus on wrestlers themselves, and treat wrestling as a traditional practice that guides how wrestlers relate to their bodies and how they interact with their audience. This project was carried out using ethnographic methods of observation and interviewing. While participant-observation of three independent wrestling promotions provided context, twelve semi-structured interviews carried out with wrestlers at the Florida Wrestleplex in St. Petersburg yielded a model of what wrestlers experience inside the ring. The model emphasizes shifts of consciousness, performer-crowd intersubjectivity, and anomalous experiences of resistance to pain. Respondents describe an in-ring shift in consciousness, alternately referring to it as an altered state, high, or trance. After interpreting these results with reference to anthropological discussions of ritual, embodiment and practice, I argue that hardcore wrestling and the phenomenon of backyard wrestling are best understood as bodily practices that elicit altered states of consciousness for participants. By understanding what it feels like to wrestle, and what the experience of wrestling means to wrestlers, we can re-interrogate the coded messages of wrestling with regard to the practice by which they are produced. This project is intended to contribute to greater anthropological understanding of altered states of consciousness such as channeling or possession trance, as well as broader issues such as how cultural life is variably mediated by the body and by transcendent social narratives. It is my hope that by describing how they relate to their craft, this paper will humanize wrestlers, and place firmly in context some of the aspects of the genre that lead critics to suggest that wrestling contributes to social problems of violence, misogyny, homophobia, or jingoism.