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The Paradox of Parkour: An Exploration of the Deviant-Leisure Nexus in Late-Capitalist Urban Space

RAYMEN, THOMAS,WILLIAM (2017) The Paradox of Parkour: An Exploration of the Deviant-Leisure Nexus in Late-Capitalist Urban Space. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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The cultural lifestyle sport of parkour maintains an ambiguous position at the nexus between deviance and leisure. It conforms to consumer capitalism’s commodified norms of ‘cool individualism’, risk-taking, and the creation of ‘deviant’ identities, whilst remaining a spatially transgressive practice that is continuously excluded by the spatial guardians of the hyper-regulated city. Drawing upon ultra-realist criminological theory and a critical rethinking of leisure, consumerism and urban space, this thesis explains parkour’s ambiguous position by suggesting that there is a fundamental paradox at the heart of parkour’s spatial practice that is a product of late-capitalism’s own making.

As Post-Fordist Western societies shifted toward a consumer-oriented economy, consumer capitalism had to stoke the desire for cool and alternative identities such as parkour that tapped into subjectivities increasingly oriented to socio-symbolic competition and individualistic distinction. Simultaneously, deindustrialised cities were regenerated through the commodified urban leisure economy, prompting a renewed reliance upon hyper-regulated urban spaces to harness and direct desire and identities and consumption into these commodified spatial contexts. Consequently, this thesis argues that the paradox of parkour is a dual-product of late-capitalism’s cultivation of subjectivities geared to the pursuit of unique and culturally relevant identities, and a consumer economy that is reliant upon the hyper-regulated specificity of central consumer spaces. Consequently, consumer capitalism is caught in the double-bind of simultaneously promoting parkour whilst attempting to prohibitively direct it into approved and commodified spatial contexts. This is a paradox that has been entirely neglected in the academic literature on parkour, due in large part to the fetishisation of parkour as a form of ‘resistance’.

This thesis challenges this fundamental assumption, drawing upon 28-months of in-depth ethnography among a parkour community in the North East of England. It accesses the wider life-worlds of traceurs, following them not only through their illicit practice of parkour in the city, but through their attempts to ‘make it’ in the commodified and professional world of parkour, cultural lifestyle sports, and social media fame. It explores the desires and motivations at the heart of the traceurs’ practice and their attempts to preserve a sense of culturally-relevant identity while navigating the precarious waters of early adulthood in late-capitalism. Additionally, the thesis utilises walking interviews with security guards to supplement ethnographic observations around spatial governance, systemic spatial violence and the amoral economy of late-capitalist cities. As such, the thesis provides a critical rebuke to the romanticisation of parkour as a mode of proto-political resistance, and instead attempts to explain its ambiguous position in the deviant-leisure nexus through an in-depth analysis of urban change, consumer culture, and identity in late-capitalism.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:Parkour; Deviant Leisure; Urban Space; Ultra-Realism; Cultural Criminology
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Social Sciences and Health > Applied Social Sciences, School of
Thesis Date:2017
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:01 Aug 2017 09:18

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