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The dissertation explores the cultural worlds of high school wrestlers at an inner-city school in the Mountain West region of the United States. The data upon which this dissertation is based come from a ten-month ethnography, where I conducted “observant participation” (Wacquant 2011) and semi-structured, open-ended interviews with members of this school’s wrestling team. I approached both my data collection and analysis through cultural-sociological frames. Although I intend to contribute to a number of areas of specialization, in this dissertation I use high school wrestling as a site to ask basic questions about key sociological themes such as meaning, identity, and masculinity. This dissertation, at its core, asks how high school wrestlers organize and make sense of their selves and their social worlds through shared cultural schemas, which to varying degrees are informed by larger discourses of masculinity. My findings suggest that wrestlers at Central share a common set of cultural schemas that they use to navigate their social worlds, construct masculine identities, and solve a number of problems, which range from their social marginality on campus to the common outsider accusation that “wrestling is gay.” To this end, I explore the ways that individuals and groups use cultural symbols to establish membership and identities, as well as to make sense of and, at times, defend their social space. I situate my findings in relation to existing literature on symbolic boundaries, sociology of bodies, and current debates on the relationship between masculinity, sexuality, and sport.
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