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The University of Southampton
TAG 2016 Southampton

S32. What Can Archaeologists Learn from Skateboarders?

Session organizer:

Andrew Petersen (University of Wales Trinity Saint David,

Session abstract:

Although skateboarding and archaeology appear to have little in common there are a few areas where there is either an overlap or some common themes. The aim of this session is to look at those aspects of skateboarding which may relate to archaeology and heritage. Papers are invited on any aspect of this relationship; currently four themes have been identified although there may well be other areas of interaction which have yet to be considered.

  1. Issues of heritage. At its simplest this may concern the registration of an old skate park as a heritage asset as was the case in September 2014 when the Rom Skatepark in Essex was listed by Historic England. More complex cases are represented by the South Bank where an area that had been used by skateboarders for more than forty years was scheduled for redevelopment.
  2. Identity and Practice. There may be some level of connection between archaeology or excavation as a method and practice and skateboarding. For example both archaeologists and skateboarders have strong personal motivation to perfect techniques which are independent of career or financial considerations. Also there may be similarities of social organization between diggers and skateboarders including ideas of egalitarianism and a feeling of being apart from mainstream culture.
  3. Interpretation of Sites. Skateboarders operate in a variety of purpose built (authorised) and improvised (unofficial and unsanctioned) urban environments. Analysis of the locations and timing of skateboarder activity may help in the interpretation informal activity embedded in archaeological sites and landscapes.
  4. Recording and Dissemination. Can the recording techniques of skateboarders be adopted by archaeologists? Skateboarders use a variety of cameras, phones and other devices to record tricks whilst archaeologists often opt for more traditional static methods of recording which have long term value but often fail to engage wider audiences.

In addition to conventional papers other presentation formats are invited including performances, films and installations.

Contributor Abstracts:


Pathfinding and Pastfinding: a conversation between parkour and archaeology

Ophélie Lebrasseur (University of Oxford) and James Walker (University of Cambridge)

Since its emergence in the 1990s, parkour, i.e. moving freely and effectively across your urban environment, has become an increasingly widespread cultural movement and form of expression. Parkour is also a mindset, a style of training and way of thinking. Perception of parkour, both within the practicing community and among non-parkour enthusiasts, is inherently tied to the foundational basis of the movement itself as an art-form; something that parkour shares in common with skateboarding. In this presentation, we explore i) how parkour might be considered from a social-anthropology perspective; both as a pastime and as a community, and ii) how such reflection may suggest alternative inflections for archaeological inquiry and interpretation, ranging from considerations of mobility, past landscapes, and the structuration of cultural space, to exploration of the analogy between parkour and archaeology as embodied practices.

Gender and skateboarding: What can skateboarders learn from archaeologists?

Christina Collins (University of Exeter)

While gender equality in academia has not yet been fully achieved, most universities and academic departments are striving towards this goal. Many archaeology departments find that they have a relatively even gender-balance at undergraduate level, gradually becoming more male-dominated from masters to professorial level. There is clearly still work to be done but academia in general, and archaeology specifically, have made great inroads into equality. By contrast skateboarding in the UK remains heavily male dominated. The experience of walking into a skatepark as a female can be very intimidating, and especially off-putting to beginners; while street skating often culminates in altercations with security or police. Increasingly pay-in skateparks are introducing female-only sessions in an effort to encourage more women to enter skateparks, but in some cases these can cause resentment from male skatepark users, and also discourage women from attending ‘normal’ (male-dominated) sessions, unintentionally enforcing segregation not only within the session, but beyond. Here I will discuss what can be done to break-down the gender barrier and get more women skateboarding alongside men. We will look to the history of women in archaeology and academia, to see how equality can be achieved and whether skateboarding can learn anything from archaeology.

Thinking with Wheels: Skateboarding and the Interpretation of Space

Jill Marcum (Oxford University)

When we approach a site, ancient or modern, we bring with us notions of what that site, building, or landscape is—what it is for, how it is to be used, why it is there. Even our proprioception is culturally attuned; our bodies presuppose the actions to take in a space. How can we get around these predispositions that cannot help but bias interpretation?

Skateboarders approach sites differently—places are potentialities, hard surfaces and negative spaces; Heideggerian topoi of affordances to be reconstituted as ramps and rails. Here gravity, inertia, velocity act as external imperatives. Significance is not presupposed; a slang vocabulary is thrown into the spatial syntax. Cognition is displaced; thought is through wheels and the deck understands meanings that the mind need not; an indexical knowledge of how to move, situated outside ourselves and unbiased.

Skateboarding can help us unlock and question the notion of one phenomenological truth cited in buildings, materials, landscapes. Skateboarders remind archaeologists that spaces are not only frequently repurposed and redefined, but can have concurrent, layered uses. These may occur on different temporal scales, with different configurations of participants, in ways that may not only be subversive but positively taboo in wider society, while remaining tied to a community that has a strong code, unspoken yet unbroken rules and regulations—and rituals and identity—of its own. Moreover, the skater ethos can remind archaeologists that there is no need for one monolithic interpretation, only curiosity and the will to risk failure. 

Never Say Last Run: Skateboarders Challenging the Terrain and Becoming Involved in Archaeology

Robert Muckle (Capilano University, North Vancouver, Canada) and Bruce Emmett (Independent Skateboarder and Artist)

A collaborative project involving skateboarders, artists, educators, and an archaeologist is a unique undertaking in the realm of archaeology in North America. This is partly the story of a wide-eyed archaeologist becoming immersed in the culture of skateboarding and discovering a level of intellectual engagement in an activity often perceived to be reserved for punk and parking lots. Preeminent persons in the skateboard industry, skateboard park designers, professional skateboarders, and skateboard activists have been part of the collaboration.

Experiences of those involved indicate there is considerable interest in the project by many people, but there are naysayers as well, leading to challenges to excavating what is perhaps the oldest intact public skateboard park in world. This presentation provides a short history of the construction and early use of what is now this highly significant site in Canada. It describes the challenges to excavation, issues related to heritage designation and control, interpretation of sites, and identity and practice. Ultimately, the excavation of, and even the widespread recognition of the heritage significance of the site may never be realized. Challenges include being stymied by purported leaders in education, and issues related to members of a subculture attempting to work within a dominant system. It may be that this project may never break ground. The quest for significance and the creation of a collaborative space between persons of disparate disciplines and interests may in fact be the greater story.

Skate City: Film, Architecture and Urban Space

Iain Borden (UCL)

London has been part of the worldwide phenomenon of skateboarding, from the early 1970s right through to the present day. Important sites in the city include the highly contested ‘Undercroft’ area of the Southbank, early purpose-built skateparks such as ‘Skate City’, ‘Rolling Thunder’, ‘Maddog Bowl’ and ‘Rom’, public spaces such as Kensington Gardens and Crystal Palace, and appropriated street sites in locations as diverse as the Shell Centre, Bishopsgate and St Paul’s.

This paper charts the documentation of skateboarding in London as caught on film, showing how these various sites made up a vibrant skateboarding scene. In doing so, it also charts the dramatically changing technologies by which these film documentations occurred, from the earliest days of amateur movies and sporadic news coverage (capturing the relatively innocent arrival of skateboarding as a youthful pastime), through camcorder footage of the burgeoning street-skateboarding scene of the 1990s (raising issues of subculture, urban space and masculinity) through to todays scene, where a plethora of art-based films, documentaries, social media clips and guerrilla-style advertising have become an integral part of a rich and pluralistic skateboard scene. Film is thus shown to not only help record different spaces and sites, but also to express and give voice to a changing set of social meanings over the the last 40 years. In this way, film acts not only as a record of the built environment, but also as an active agent within its use and production.

The paper concludes with some reflections on how this might make us think differently about recording, interpreting

Skateboarding through the Generations

Andrew Petersen and Rowan Petersen

Skateboarding is perceived primarily as a contemporary activity which lives in the minds of the current practitioners yet it is now nearly half a century old with its own architectural oral and material legacy. This paper will address both the often imperceptible changes in skateboarding and consider whether it can tell us something about movements and groups activity based groups in earlier times or different cultures.


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