6th June, 2013.
A quick response to the academic article Parkour, Masculinity, and the City’ by Jeffrey L. Kidder, Sociology of Sport Journal, 2013, 30, 1-23
Firstly, I think it is a really good thing that researchers are looking at various aspects of the culture of parkour. Not all research produced will be the positive propoganda that some of the parkour community want, but that is not the most important issue and does not make it a bad thing. If it starts a debate and contributes knowledge, that is more important and it can raise interesting topics and debate for discussion. I may not want to go and train with some of the guys featured in the article but that is my small individual picture, not the larger one regarding the culture of parkour. Parkour is a culture that is lived and changing and not a homogenous mode of conduct. It would have been interesting to know how and where the informants gained their understanding of parkour from. For example, these 2 aspects are something I never came came across in my research:
“When Jaska and Sync say that they like parkour because other people cannot do it,”. 15
And “”performing dangerous stunts in view of strangers is even more important.” pg11-12
Yes, there are those performing for the glory of spectacle and cellebration of their achievments. Parkour in America in particular has many ‘competitions’ and although a polemic subject, the most influential voices are still held by those with the biggest jump and highest media profiles. The silent majority who are not motivated to train in this way are just that for the most part – silent. Non conflictual, playing the long end game of enduring whatever media commotion comes and goes whether it’s the MTV challenge or the latest round of the RedBull Art of Motion.
One issue that raises more questions than answers – as with most research – is that as he states “As numerous researchers in masculinity have argued, such risks are distinctly masculine. ” But are they asking the women? That risk remains in the domain of ‘masculinity’ asks the bigger question ; why?! However, he acknowledges that yes women do do parkour- “Regardless, parkour is a masculine social world (i.e., it is dominated by men doing activities culturally coded as manly” 15
“That is, traceurs—as they climb, run, and vault through places like Grant Park—are transforming the city (albeit only temporarily) into masculinized spaces—environments for taking physical risks as proof of their manhood.” This works on the premise of ‘risk’, bravery, danger, strength, speed and power being cutlural constructs of notions of masculinity. This is not fixed, there can be cultural shifts if women are seen, listened to and celebrated. The awareness or lack thereof of women being ‘seen’ doing these practices is in my opinion key to this.
“The public spaces used by traceurs are made meaningful through parkour because of the opportunities they allow for men to prove that they are men.” 15 – in that case what are women proving themselves to be? This is not addressed within the article and is perhaps what’s needed as an area for future research. At times I find that the article re-inforces conventional notions of masculinity that society continues to link to sport regardless of the activity being linked to fear and risk. Critically I found a loseness in the use of ‘danger’ and risk which I’m guessing is not fully understood by the author.
From my experience training, observing, participating in mixed and women only training parkour sessions in London I would challenge the conventional notion of fear, risk taking, acts of bravery and gaining control of the body being restricted to ‘manhood’. Women I have trained with are unaccustomed to being ‘brave’ but enjoy the risk and embrace the emotional challenge. This being the key attraction, the empowerment felt through the control and physical and emotional behaviour. However, as he states in his conclusion “”gender is a social construction” and sport in general, or parkour, does not exist in any sort of cultural vaccuum. To understand sport you have to understand what’s happening in society whether it is in regards to power, privaledge, capitalism, race relations, immigration etc. There is currently great inequality in womens participation in sport even though there has been some progress made in the last 150 years. There is no real equality of opportunity, there is no level playing field. For all of parkour culture’s ‘inclusiveness’ it is the celebration of achievement that provides ‘authenticity’ and influence and for the most part a man who has been training solidly for 6 years will most likely jump further than a woman who has been training for 6 years. Beyond polarised notions of gender, alternatives of sexuality are also not particularly well received in parkour and sport is behind society in this aspect. I have encountered more lesbian athletes who ‘come out’ to their fellow training partners than homosexual men and any refernce to transgendered individuals are stigmatised and mocked. Yet still we hear the mantra ‘it’s for everyone’.
A couple of other things in the article as this is my ‘quick response’…
I like the theories of structuration, that physical spaces influence the potential or not for social interaction -whether they “enable agency” or not. (pg7) The author’s main question is set out in “how does the city become a structural resource for traceurs and what do the traceurs’ uses of these resources tell us about masculinity and the physical world? pg6 All good.
A good point – “researchers have failed to analyze the ways in which parkour may marginalize certain people, even while offering transgressive potential to others (see Macdonald, 2001). pg4