"Parkour is a new sport based on athletically and artistically overcoming urban obstacles. In this paper, I argue that the real world practices of parkour are dialectically intertwined with the virtual worlds made possible by information and communication technologies. My analysis of parkour underscores how globalized ideas and images available through the Internet and other media can be put into practice within specific locales. Practitioners of parkour, therefore, engage their immediate, physical world at the same time that they draw upon an imagination enabled by their on-screen lives. As such, urban researchers need to consider the ways that virtual worlds can change and enhance how individuals understand and utilize the material spaces of the city." - Jeffrey L. Kidder
The above is an abstract from Parkour, The Affective Appropriation of Urban Space, and the Real/Virtual Dialectic. It's an interesting article written by a sociologist turned traceur from Chicago.
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With the increasing integration of information and communication technologies (ICTs) into our lives, more and more of our daily interactions take place “on screen” (Turkle 1995). Castells (1996) refers to this as a culture of real virtuality. In this process, the experiences of our physically situated, corporeal selves are becoming intertwined with the virtual presentation of our selves online (cf. Gottschalk 2010; Ito et al. 2010; Turkle 2011; Williams 2006). It is tempting, perhaps, to dichotomize on-screen and off-screen life. One is “real”—connected to the obdurate reality of time and space and hemmed in by biological limits and social inequalities (e.g., Robins 1995). The other is “virtual”—free-floating and filled with nearly limitless potential (e.g., Rheingold 1993). Over the last decade, however, numerous researchers have begun to emphasize the ways virtual worlds and the real world are actually interconnected (cf. Castells 2009; Haythornwaite and Wellman 2002; Wellman 2004). Instead of seeing a disconnect between time on-screen and time off-screen, researchers have shown that participation in virtual communities can facilitate participation in face-to-face interactions (e.g., Collins and Wellman 2010; Hampton and Wellman 2003; Matei and Ball-Rokeach 2001; Stern and Dillman 2006).
The focus of this paper is related to, but is also distinct from, these previous strands of literature. Instead of exploring the relationship between ICTs and community, my argument centers on ICTs and physical space. Specifically, how are the virtual worlds of on-screen life emplaced (cf. Gieryn 2000) in the real world? Such a question may appear misguided. After all, virtual worlds do not have a material existence—this is the very nature of their appeal. But, as long as there are humans inhabiting these virtual worlds, users must be emplaced somewhere (cf. Massey 2005). More importantly, as long as humans have lives off-screen, the real and the virtual will be interconnected. To this end, this paper reports on the practices of parkour as a specific example of the physical emplacement of a virtual world, and the concurrent virtual displacement of the real world.
Parkour is a new urban sport. However, most practitioners eschew the term “sport” and refer to it as a “discipline.” Parkour involves the athletic and artistic negotiation of ledges, railings, staircases, and walls—everyday structures that become “obstacles” to creatively move around, over, and through. As I will show, traceurs (the name for practitioners of parkour) have a very active and direct engagement with their material environment (also see Bavinton 2007; Gilchrist and Wheaton 2011). At the same time, however, parkour is a set of practices inseparable from their dissemination on the Internet. By analyzing parkour and the Internet, therefore, social researchers can better grasp the dialectical connection between the virtual and real world. We can see how diffuse, globalized interactions become realized in specific locales by unique local actors—in this case, Chicago and its surrounding suburbs—by young men and women training in parkour.
I argue that the relevance of physical space can actually be renewed through the inhabiting of virtual worlds. As the spatial barriers to socializing over vast distances are torn down, traceurs are still emplaced. Further, for those taking part in the practices of parkour, the spatial barriers of the city (i.e., the various physical forms that contour the environment) are transformed into playful obstacles to jump, run, and vault over. Concurrently, I will show that such off-screen practices are tethered to life on-screen.
Read the rest of the paper here.