Detraditionalization and differentiation in UK rock climbing

Hardwell, Ashley George (2007) Detraditionalization and differentiation in UK rock climbing. Doctoral thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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The central theme of this study is detraditionalization and differentiation of rock climbing in the UK. The type of climbing in the UK known as traditional climbing is taken as the "pregiven or natural order of things" (Heelas, 1996: 2) and how more contemporary rock climbing types interact with traditional climbing is explored. In line with detraditionalization, the study's premise is a loss of the 'traditional approach' to climbing in favour of more contemporary practices. For the purposes of this study rock climbing in the UK is differentiated by five climbing types; traditional climbing, sport climbing, indoor climbing,
assortment climbing and bouldering. The study assumes the functioning of these climbing types to be underpinned by five cultural domains: ethics, practices, motivations, subcultural identity and lifestyle identity. Cultural domains are actions, behaviours and feelings associated with different types of rock climbing. The study explores the existence of the proposed cultural domains and hypothesises that different rock climbing types appeal to participants because within these more emphasis is placed on certain cultural domains.
The study has four important theoretical pillars. First, detraditionalization and differentiation are justified as important concepts. Both are associated strongly with superficial and deeper meanings within the study. Second, an historical perspective adds context to the study and affirms the differentiated nature of UK rock climbing at a number of levels. Here, the 'great divide' (Donnelly, 2003) between traditional climbing and sport climbing is scrutinised and a history of traditional climbing developed. An exploration of values in rock climbing as well as its wider societal context forms the third theme.
Subculture forms the final theoretical pillar where contemporary post-subcultural studies are explored and rock climbing differentiation aligned with a postmodern perspective.
The study has two research phases: the quantitative phase is positivist in paradigm and seeks to establish a baseline for the study through establishing cultural domain existence. The qualitative phase observes their manifestation. A Liked style questionnaire was designed in the first study phase based on the initially identified cultural domains with 639 responses received from rock climbers categorising themselves into one of five given climbing types. Factor analysis did not substantiate the proposed five cultural domains. A more complex domain structure was evidenced with all sub-groups
clearly showing differences in cultural domain priority.
The qualitative phase observed cultural domain manifestations of fifteen climbers, twelve of whom may be described as primary subculture members (Donnelly, 1981). Four qualitative tools were developed: participant observation; recorded discussion; snapshot camera work and visual diaries. The qualitative phase tells the participants' story. Their life worlds are reflected upon using the four tools and a strong narrative exists that is the participants' climbing lives.
Both research phases reveal complexity of cultural domain by climbing type and new taxonomies were offered as more accurate representations. Congruence between study phases was recorded developing three important cultural domain issues for future consideration.
First, cultural domains of traditional climbing are markedly different because of the difficulty of focusing on the physicality of climbing given the nature of ascent. In contrast, contemporary climbing types (bouldering, sport and indoor climbing) easily identify with physicality and concentrated on climber's technical ability to complete difficult rock climbing sequences in relative safety. Physicality represented an important reward for contemporary climbers, whereas for traditional climbers, being in the outdoors, and the holistic experience associated with this, was held in high regard. The outdoor experience
was less important in other types of climbing
Second, skills of traditional climbing developed through an 'outdoor apprenticeship' are attached to specific outcomes embedded in the natural environment. It forms an essential element of safe traditional climbing practice, particularly if mountain crags are preferred. For sport climbing, indoor climbing and bouldering many of these skills are no longer
necessities. This is linked strongly with a more utilitarian value base underpinning cultural domains in contemporary climbing.
Finally, the complexity of the 'great divide' (Donnelly, 2003) involving other rock climbing types as well as sport climbing and traditional climbing is recognised. Assortment climbers are seen as the conduit through which climbers with broad experience may regularly bridge the great divide given the necessary skills and inclination. Assortment climbers are underrepresented in this study and account for a growing number of climbers with a flexible approach to rock climbing.
Establishing cultural domains by climbing type in rock climbing remains complex. While there is a clear distinction of cultural domain manifestation in traditional rock climbing compared with contemporary rock climbing types, the common notion of what constitutes a legitimate ascent across all rock climbing types still rests within a traditional climbing interpretation. The study recommends further exploration of the interplay between identifiable rock climbing types in the UK.

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