1:00-1:50: Crafting the Callous: Analysing the bumps and bruises of British independent wrestling

Claire Warden is Professor of Performance and Physical Culture at Loughborough University. Her research focuses on interdisciplinary modernism, performance practices, and the intersection of sport and the arts. She is the author of three monographs and editor (with Broderick Chow and Eero Laine) of Performance and Professional Wrestling (Routledge 2016). She is one of the founders of Arts Council-funded Wrestling Resurgence and Primary Investigator for the British Academy-funded Health and Well-being in Professional Wrestling project.

This keynote takes a singular image, that of a callous, an idea many wrestlers have used to describe the hardening of the body as they ‘fight the good fight’, to borrow from the title of this conference. Yet, behind this image lie numerous health and wellbeing challenges, illustrating that the body is not as resilient as this might suggest. High profile addiction issues, early deaths, debilitating muscular injury, shocking cases of exploitation and abuse all litter the history and, sadly, the contemporary world of professional wrestling. Even the most ardent wrestling fan, or indeed most committed wrestler, cannot deny that this popular culture form has particular issues.

This keynote seeks to query the responsibility of wrestling researchers and scholars by presenting some of the findings of the 2021/22 British Academy project Health and Well-being in Professional Wrestling. Using the lens of performance studies and sport science, this project takes a supportive health check of the scene for the first time, uncovering the stories of the wrestling community in the hope that the data might enable British professional wrestling to emerge from the pandemic safer and more inclusive. The keynote will share some of the key findings of the project and ask questions about future, collaborative interventions.

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