Parkour and Politics: An Introduction


For the next couple of months I will research Parkour as the topic of my political science bachelor thesis. This blog is part of the thesis.
There is a growing body of research in the social sciences on Parkour but besides Julie Angels work I feel like the Parkour community is not very aware of it. I will not try to change that but at least make an effort to not lock myself in the metaphorical ivory tower, but instead share my work as it progresses.  Please feel free to leave feedback or get in touch with suggestions and critique. For now I will give a short introduction into my project.
Parkour has always been there for me. I have been training since nine years, had my ups and downs, had other passions, but Parkour has always been a constant. It has kept me sane, strong and transformed myself and how I see the world around me. To me Parkour is a lot more than a sport [1]. It’s a way of reimagining your surroundings, whether urban or rural, and a method to train both the mind and the body. Through Parkour you are able to shed restrictions placed upon you. You develop a capable body to move through space in the way you want it to move. The traceur (the practitioner) uses objects and reimagines them. Obstacles become opportunities.
Politics is the study of power. Power is part of all of our everyday lives, both as an individual and as a member of a community and society. Power manifests itself most obviously in government and the rules they oppose on the people. Power is exerted also in more subtle and informal ways. What is relevant for the study of Parkour is how power is expressed in the body and the design of the spaces we inhabit. Gender stereotypes is the most obvious example how power relations are inscribed in everyday live and how that shapes our behaviour. In the city social norms govern a lot of our behaviour. People are expected to move a certain way and misusing objects beyond their intended use is usually frowned upon or actively regulated against.
Parkour can be tool to empower and liberate, it can be a way to go about your life freely. ASID, a second generation practitioner, states this poignantly in one of Julie Angels videos : "The discipline, it's a way of life, a way you can live your life happy and free from all the boundaries around you, all the obstacles that define you into small spaces. You break out from all the small spaces and you see beyond all the obstacles around you and you don't feel trapped within the city that you live in, and it just sets you free, sets your whole life free". This view of Parkour as something liberating and in some cases even a resistance to hegemonic discourses is echoed in the academic literature.
What I really learned during my studies was to be critical almost to a point a cynicism. As Neil Brenner states, whenever we encounter a narration of freedom, liberation or resistance we have to ask ourselves the question: is this really the case, and if so, how, where, underwhat conditions, via what methods, with what consequences, and for whom? [2]
That is the goal of my thesis.  I want to examine the notion of freedom associated with Parkour. The broad themes I will try to cover are Parkours gender politics, its commodification (the process of commercializing the practice through sponsors, media, charging for classes etc.) and to what extent Parkour can be understood as being political. It is a reflection on what it means to be political in general beyond what we usually associate with that. I have a couple of  future posts planned. The next one will be a review of the social science literature to asses what we already know. I hope to find time to write about Parkours potential inclusion in the Olympics, it’s gender dynamics, and what can be learned from other action sports like skateboarding and climbing. A special topic dear to my heart is Parkours potential in peace and development programs.
I’m exited for this journey and spend the next months thinking hard about Parkour.
So long.

[1] This is my personal definition and I acknowledge that there are multiple and competing understandings out there. For now I will not go in depth on them. 
[2] N Brenner (2015) Is “Tactical Urbanism” an Alternative to Neoliberal Urbanism?, available at:

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