"Bodybuilding Does Not Need American Certifications": Global Fitness Culture in Contemporary Bengal

Jaita Talukdar, Loyola University of New Orleans

The city of Kolkata, which once enjoyed the reputation of being a bastion of nationalist physical institutions such as wrestling, bodybuilding, and yoga, now hosts American-styled gyms that aim to internationalize the experience of going to the gym. The impetus for pursuing a thin-fit body among urban Indians is typically attributed to an emerging neoliberal ethos in the country that individuals must consume themselves in body projects that maximize self-growth. Based on narrative analysis of interviews with fifty personal trainers, I however argue that a sociological study of physical culture in India requires an exploration of "important continuities" that exist between the endogenic physical culture of pre-globalized Bengal and the new contemporary culture of fitness. This continuity is most visible in the lives of personal trainers who invariably owe their knowledge not to certifications they have procured from American fitness associations, but from teachers and mentors they have encountered in old neighborhood gyms or local institutions. The scope for bodybuilding in India is limited, which is a reflection of the overall state of sports and athletics in the country, leaving the men struggling for recognition as bodybuilders. The opening of American-styled gyms, has catapulted them in the cultural worlds of the affluent and elite members of society. It has also created a subculture among personal trainers who choose to keep the bodybuilding tradition alive by maintaining their ties with their local neighborhood gyms and actively recruiting the younger generation of personal trainers working at American-styled gyms into the field of bodybuilding. Thus, globalization has not rendered old social ties surrounding fitness and physicality irrelevant, and neither have old, neighborhood gyms disappeared. Instead, American styled gyms have given life to the maintenance of fraternal bonds of learning and apprenticeship, and relationships of deference and care that characterized endogenic physical cultural institutions.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 62. Decolonizing Sociology From South Asia