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So Cal Parkour Culture: A Video Ethnography

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This is a documentary I shot for my Cultural Anthropology honors project. Sorry about how fast I am talking. Below is my 400 word abstract/summary which you can read for more info on my project, cultural anthropology, and so cal parkour.

400 Word Awards Abstract

Anthropological Analysis of the Parkour Culture: a Video Ethnography

Over the course of two months last semester, I conducted anthropological fieldwork on the Parkour and Freerunning Culture of southern California. This culture is centered on creative expression and physical discipline through the conditioning and movement of the human body to overcome physical obstacles in our everyday environments using vaults, jumps, wallruns, flips, and other movements. While parkour has been featured in the popular media it is not simply an extreme sport—it is a philosophy and way of life not shared by any other subculture.

This documentary presentation investigates parkour culture from an anthropological standpoint; examining its values, cultural norms, status producing mechanisms, induction rites, symbols, concept of the other, organization, regional diversity, passing of cultural knowledge, and the nature and personality of the culture.

I have been doing parkour for four years and as a result have a deep understanding of it, which saved me time in gaining the respect of the members of the culture. I was, in a sense, my own gatekeeper and had immediate access to and cooperation of six informants from all levels inside this culture. My experience also allowed me to ask the most effective questions in order to delve into the heart of the culture. This experience comes with biases, however, and, in order to maintain academic integrity, I made it a top priority to push any such prejudices out of my mind while I interviewed and observed my fellow athletes.

Parkour was intended to be noncompetitive, the only required motivation being the quest for mental and physical self betterment in order to serve oneself and others should the need arise. As parkour evolved, for many practitioners, freedom of expression and creativity became larger motivators than utility, but most still resisted the persistent push of commercialization in the form of x-game--esque competitions. I found that now, most accept that commercialization is inevitable and that we must make the best of it and attempt to steer it in the right direction. I also noticed that the better the practitioner, the less stock they put in status.

In this work I present no specific argument but instead attempted to capture as accurate a representation as I could of this culture of artists of motion, in the most fitting medium—motion picture. This film investigates a distinct sub-culture in our own backyard in the mode by which a research ethnographer would investigate a "tribe" anywhere in the world, and as a result, it provides a rich, visually stimulating, non-biased understanding of and insight into this fascinating and exhilarating culture.

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