Taking a linear run with Henri

Skateboarding, Space and the City
November 1, 2002

In an age when publishers seem to be interested only in standard-type textbooks guaranteed to shift copies, this book of a thesis on skateboarding seems to have slipped through the net - luckily for its author and potential readership. It boasts the claim that it is "the first detailed study of the subject".

So who are the potential readers? Iain Borden's institutional home is in an architecture faculty, although his study is far removed from building regulations.

His design/architectural background does reveal itself at times. The book's layout is aesthetically pleasing: interspersed in the 288-page text are some 75 illustrations - most of them black-and-white photos. There is a cross-sectional diagram of a wheel, complete "with conical back edge and radial front edge". Some skate-park drawings and aerial photos featuring "individual linear runs" also make an appearance. However, the main thrust of the book is to apply a socio-spatial approach to skateboarding, veering into geography, sociology and cultural studies, among other terrains.

Would skateboarders themselves think the book worthy of investment? Probably not, as Borden himself hints. The Criminal Justice Act of 1994, seen as a general object of hate by ravers for its crackdown on their lifestyles, gets a mention for also having "rendered skateboarding (criminal) through the most petty-minded of laws" and provoked something of a resistance campaign. But as one skater declares in the text, "Skateboarding has survived on minimal intellect for years. Yeah!"

For Borden, "in the absence of codified sociopolitical awareness, many skaters use a commonsense shutdown" to divert attention away from matters of the "rational intellect".

While recent years have witnessed something of an upsurge in youth-culture ethnographic research and publishing, this is a largely theoretical work. The French philosopher Henri Lefebvre is much referenced. Borden's main methodology appears to be secondary textual analysis.

The copious bibliography is subdivided into general and skateboarding-specific items and, in a Zeitgeisty touch, it includes numerous URLs and details of more than 50 skateboarding fanzines worldwide.

Whether the average skateboarder would go along with all Borden's claims is debatable. Consider his assertion that: "Skateboarding is an untheorised element of praxis, focusing on the sensuous enjoyment of the object (immediate sensing of cities, objects of common use, relationships), on the recognition of particular needs (activity, muscular extension, direct engagement) and on the spatially immediate (the local and nearby)." Yeah?

Still, the book is generally illuminating and thorough.

Rupa Huq is lecturer in leisure management, School of Education, University of Manchester.

Skateboarding, Space and the City: Architecture and the Body

Author - Iain Borden
ISBN - 1 85973 488 X and 493 6
Publisher - Berg
Price - £42.99 and £14.99
Pages - 318

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