Blog: A Parkour Ph.D

20th June, 2011


For the past six years a group of select people who are now my friends have been putting up with me and my camera. We made films and I listened, learnt and did a lot of thinking. I spent around a year and a half writing about it all and coming to some conclusions. I’m very happy to say that the result of this is the world’s first parkour PhD! For the academics out there the title of the PhD is:
Ciné Parkour: a cinematic and theoretical contribution to the understanding of the practice of parkour.

Brunel University’s Screen Media Research Centre
Supervisors: Professor Michael Wayne, Dr. Alisa Lebow

The idea of a parkour themed PhD may sound a bit weird to some so let me explain. Firstly, I’m a filmmaker and researcher, not an athlete, none of this has been about me being good at parkour, (but for those curious to know, yes, I do parkour). What I needed to be good at has been researching, representing and understanding parkour. A big part of this has been the process of making films as well as what some of the films communicate in the end. It’s important to say though that the whole project consists of certain films and the writing, this is what makes it a ‘practice based’ PhD. I’ve written 54 000 words about parkour (230 pages) so yeah, there are things to say that the films dont. My full understanding of parkour isn’t present in the films, it’s only if you take the 2 things together (films and text) that you’ll then know what’s inside my head, and share my understanding of parkour; that is my PhD.

There are many different versions of parkour today and depending on a persons motivations, knowledge of the history, and who they meet on their way, some elements of parkour will speak to people more than others. Its a sign of how parkour has inspired, spread, is a lived culture and continues to evolve. The parkour I wanted to understand was the one practiced by those who created it and by a handful of people who followed in their footsteps. I had no idea at the start that wanting to understand the ‘everyday’ of the ‘original’ parkour would be such a mission or adventure, but hey that’s the point of original research and contributing to knowledge, you are discovering as you go along and widening the existing view or understanding. Hopefully the PhD will help people gain a wider understanding of what parkour is and isn’t, how it all began, and what are the shared values, ideas and what’s important to those in the parkour culture.

Not all of the films that are part of the PhD have been published online to date. However, the majority of them are available on my YouTube channel, Some of the early films I made about parkour haven’t been shared yet but I’m looking at different options for how to publish both the text and films. I like self-publishing so this will probably be the route I take.

The book of my thesis will have 4 main chapters as well as the standard academic introduction, conclusion and bibliography:
1- the history and origins of parkour (the who, what, when and why)
2- making films and documenting movement (different approaches to representation and documentary filmmaking)
3- theorising parkour (describing what it’s about in terms of the physical, social, emotional, spatial and political)
4- the ‘parkour paradox’ i.e. parkour as a ‘sport’ and as a ‘performance’.

Whilst the thesis is an academic text it’s not too dense and should hopefully be of interest to anyone who wants to know about physical cultures, filmmaking, performance, human geography, urban cultures and social theory – in addition to those who follow or do parkour.

For more information on the research and to follow my work, please sign up for regular updates on the link at the top.

Dr. Julie Angel