Exploring Engaged Spirituality through Martial Arts

Pedagogies of Engagement in Boxe Popolare and Odaka Yoga


  • Matteo Di Placido University of Turin
  • Lorenzo Pedrini University of Milan - Bicocca




engaged spirituality, hybrid field, martial activities, pedagogies of engagement, Boxe Popolare, Odaka Yoga


In this article, through a carnal and participant approach to ethnography, we consider the pedagogical repertoires of Boxe Popolare (a style of boxing codified by Italian leftist grassroots groups) and Odaka Yoga (an innovative type of postural yoga blended with martial arts elements). We provide a close reading of what we call the pedagogies of engagement cultivated by these two practices, appreciating how their underlying spiritual philosophies are internalized in self-reflective projects oriented towards societal transformation. Our analysis draws from Pierrre Bourdieu’s dispositional sociology and the concept of “body pedagogics”. With regards to this framework, we explore the physical-spiritual apprenticeship to Boxe Popolare and Odaka Yoga in relation to the rise of a series of engaged dispositions, which bring practitioners to conceive of their own transformation as a way to encourage social change and support social justice programmes. More specifically, we emphasize the ritual dimensions of these practices, their forms of commitment, and finally their ambivalences regarding contemporary neoliberal governmentality and societal transformation. We conclude by reflecting on how the neoliberal character of contemporary martial activities, too often simply assumed, is socially reproduced—in practice— via specific processes of knowledge transmission; and calling for more attention to the overlaps between different social fields.


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Author Biographies

Matteo Di Placido, University of Turin

Matteo Di Placido is a cultural sociologist and works as a research fellow for the University of Turin as part of the project “From Cure to Care”, co-funded by the Erasmus+ Programme of the European Commission. For his PhD in Sociology (University of Milan – Bicocca 2017–2020), dedicated to the study of the pedagogies of modern forms of yoga, Matteo was a Visiting Scholar at the Department of Political Science and the Center for Ideas and Society at the University of California Riverside (UCR) and an Academic Associate at the Cardiff School of Sport and Health Sciences at the Metropolitan University of Cardiff, Wales. Matteo’s current research interests are the pedagogies of modern forms of yoga, the discursive study and the politics of scholarly knowledge production, social theory, sociocultural theorizing and qualitative methodologies.

Lorenzo Pedrini, University of Milan - Bicocca

Lorenzo Pedrini obtained his PhD in Sociology at the University of Milan–Bicocca, Italy. His main research interests are the study of identity, collective movements, social practices and representations from an ethnographic perspective. He has conducted research on boxing, martial arts and football fandom, aiming at deconstructing the micropolitics of the everyday situated experience by focusing on pedagogies, power relations, the production of collective meanings, and self-transformation processes.


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How to Cite

Di Placido, M., & Pedrini, L. (2022). Exploring Engaged Spirituality through Martial Arts: Pedagogies of Engagement in Boxe Popolare and Odaka Yoga. Fieldwork in Religion, 17(2), 165–185. https://doi.org/10.1558/firn.23097