Little Big Men

Bodybuilding Subculture and Gender Construction

By Alan M. Klein

Subjects: Men's Studies
Series: SUNY series on Sport, Culture, and Social Relations
Paperback : 9780791415603, 326 pages, August 1993
Hardcover : 9780791415597, 326 pages, September 1993

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Table of contents




1. Breaking and Entering: Presupposition and Faux Pas in the Gym

2. Caste and Class in a Western Gym

3. The Good, the Bad and the Indifferent

4. Muscle Moguls: The Political-Economy of Competitive Bodybuilding

5. Little Big Men of Olympic


6. Pumping Iron: Crisis and Contradiction in Bodybuilding

7. Sally's Corner: The Women of Olympic

8. The Hustler Complex: Narcissism, Homophobia, Hypermasculinity, and Authoritarianism

9. Comic-Book Masculinity and Cultural Fiction

Appendix A

Appendix B




Little Big Men is a study of competitive bodybuilders on the West Coast that examines the subculture from the perspective of bodybuilders' everyday activities. It offers fascinating descriptions and insightful analogies of an important and understudied subculture that has risen to widespread popularity in today's mass culture.

Alan Klein conducted his field study of bodybuilding in some of the world's best-known gyms. In studying the social and political relations of bodybuilding competitors, Klein explores not only gym dynamics but also the internal and external pressures bodybuilders face. Central to his examination is the critique of masculinity. Through his study of "hustling" among bodybuilders, Klein is able to construct a social-psychological male configuration that includes narcissism, homophobia, hypermasculinity, and fascism. Because they exist as exaggerations, these bodybuilder traits come to represent one end of the continuum of modern masculinity, what Klein terms comic-book masculinity. This study is a rare foray into the critique of contemporary American macho.

Alan M. Klein is Professor of Sociology and Anthropology at Northeastern University. He is the author of Sugarball: The American Game, The Dominican Dream.


"Alan Klein's splendid ethnography is a vivid description of the bodybuilding cult, but is far more as well. It gives us important lessons about masculinity and men's bodies, about tangles of identity and sexuality, and—above all—about the contradictory character of gender in the contemporary world. Fascinating reading and a notable contribution to knowledge. " — Bob Connell, University of California, Santa Cruz

"This is an important work that will make a significant contribution to sport sociology. I like its readability, its use of vivid, rich portraits, and its location within a scholarly body of literature on the body. In the best tradition of ethnography, we are provided a 'portrait of the people,' while at the same time adding to our theoretical knowledge about culture and society. " — Peter Adler, University of Denver