The hegemony of neoliberal rhetoric in Western societies places an increasing emphasis on an individual’s ability to negotiate risk. The purpose of this chapter is to better understand how – within this cultural context – voluntary risk-takers think about the significance of their potentially dangerous practices. My specific focus is the Chicago parkour community. Parkour is a new lifestyle sport in which practitioners use features of the urban environment (e.g., stairwells and retaining walls) as obstacles on which to climb, jump, run and vault.
Data for this project were derived from four years of participant-observation within the Chicago parkour community and semi-structured interviews with 40 participants.
I argue that the dangers encountered while practicing parkour are given social significance through the interplay of what I call rites of risk and rituals of symbolic safety. These rites and rituals provide a meaningful framework for activities that represent a threat to the self (e.g., performing a jump in which a mistake could be fatal). Further, I contrast my findings with the notion of edgework (which highlights the death-defying aspects of an activity). Members of the Chicago parkour community often downplayed the physical perils involved in their sport to highlight safety protocols. In this sense, parkour practitioners are less like “edgeworkers” and more like “hedgeworkers” – symbolically demonstrating protections taken against uncertainly (i.e., hedging one’s bets).
Like all ethnographic studies of a single field site, there are limits to generalizability. Future research should explore the connections between hedgework and other voluntary risk-taking activities (in and outside of lifestyle sports).
Kidder, J. (2019), "Risk in Lifestyle Sports: The Case of Parkour", The Suffering Body in Sport (Research in the Sociology of Sport, Vol. 12), Emerald Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 39-53. https://doi.org/10.1108/S1476-285420190000012005
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