Edgework and Mixed Martial Arts: Risk, Reflexivity and Collaboration in an Ostensibly ‘Violent’ Sport

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In this paper I outline the ways in which Stephen Lyng’s concept of ‘edgework’ offers a valuable and unique vantage point for making sense of the contemporary practice of full-contact combat sports. With a specific focus on the sport of mixed martial arts (MMA), I propose that theorising this form of fighting as an example of edgework helps clarify the experiences and motivations of its participants within a social-psychological framework that is well-attuned to the extant research literature. In illustrating its potential utility, I focus on how the concept provides a means of addressing the paradoxical problem of ‘violence’ in MMA; that is, in understanding how and why people might engage in ostensibly ‘violent’ activities with those whom they simultaneously claim to respect and admire. I contend that edgework adds depth to our understanding in this domain by illuminating the nature of the relationship existing between competitive opponents in full-contact fighting, arguing ultimately that it can be used to reconceptualise the action of MMA as a form of mutually-constructed risk, instead of ‘violence’. Central to this discussion is the importance of collaboration between competitive opponents in MMA, whose purposeful attempts to beat one-another are necessary in order to sustain the activity’s appeal in offering opportunities to experience ‘authentic’ reflexivity, identity construction, and community formation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6-19
JournalMartial Arts Studies
Publication statusPublished - 23 Mar 2020


  • Collaboration
  • Edgework
  • Emotion
  • Mixed Martial Arts
  • Reflexivity
  • Risk
  • Violence
  • Sport
  • Sociology
  • Martial Arts

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