Parkour and the link Between Competition and Depression

Dear parkour friends,

I tend to favor novelty, so I’m not a huge fan of turning everything into sport. And my concerns and findings were often expressed in my comics. But as I dig deeper, I am finding some disturbing links between competition and depression that parkour practitioners might be interested in.


But first, let me introduce myself. I’m doing some research on the book that is to come out of my PhD. I’ve recently completed a study about parkour and the people who practice it with samples from Australia, America, Canada, England, France, Denmark, Russia and Ukraine (with some brief visits and glimpses into other places). One of the things I wrote and drew about – I’m the guy who is behind the Parkour Panels – is how parkour can be practiced by those who are strictly against competition, as well as those who think that competition is good and, even, inevitable. Many of you will have met me. For those who haven’t: Hi!

Panel from all the way back 2011….

Now that my PhD is in the bag I’m looking to expand on some of those ideas. While reading has been great, I’m currently going through a book which is central to this topic. It’s called The Happiness Industry, and written by Dr. William Davies, an American sociologist. This book summarizes much of the more academic research I found on the topic of adding competition to all kinds of activities: from parkour to running entire nations. As I took notes I realized that the content is really important for those in parkour communities – particular in America, Canada, Australia and the UK where the sportification of parkour is well under way. I thought I’d share some of my notes with you…

Having done a great deal of research on the subject, here is what Dr. Davies has to say.

” … It transpires that competition and competitive culture, including that of sport, is ultimately related to a disorder that was scantly discussed in 1977 but which has become a major policy concern by the end of the century. As the 1970s drew to a close, Western capitalist countries stood on the cusp of a whole new era of psychological management. The disorder at the heart was depression. ”

Davies points out that the competitive societies inherently rate greater levels of social inequality. Where competition is limited in the social sphere (like Scandinavia) rates of depression are much lower. In America and the UK, where competition is promoted as a social virtue, rates of depression are epidemic.

“Yet there is more to this than just a statistical correlation. Behind the numbers, there is troubling evidence that depression can be triggered by the competitive ethos itself, afflicting not only the ‘losers’ but also the ‘winners’… That competition makes many people ‘seem inferior’, has been proved far more valid than even left-wing 1970s school teachers could have imagined; it also tells them that they are inferior.”

What follows are a number of case studies that have surfaced over the last few years that show that elite athletes are highly prone to mental illness, particularly depression. I won’t type out this long section, instead I’ll just give you these links – directly related to his examples.

“A study conducted by Georgetown University found that college footballers are twice as likely to experience depression as non-footballers. Another study discovered that professional female athletes display similar personality traits as those with eating disorders, both linked to obsessive perfectionism. And a series of experiments and surveys conducted by the American psychologist Tim Kasser has revealed that ‘aspirational’ values, oriented around money, status and power, are linked to higher risk of depression and lower sense of ‘self-actualization’. Whenever we measure our self-worth relative to others, as all competitions force us to, we risk losing our sense of self-worth all together. One of the sad ironies here is that the effect of this dissuade people, including schoolchildren, from engaging in physical exercise all together” (studies cited).


“Perhaps it is no surprise, then, that society such as America’s, which privileges a competitive individual mindset at every moment in life, has been thoroughly permeated by depressive disorders and demand for anti-depressives. Today, a third of adults in the United States and close to half in the UK believe that they occasionally suffer from depression…”

In the process of working on my PhD I found many people who unquestioningly pushed towards competition in practice. I’ve also heard a lot of slander for those who chose to practice on their own terms – that they weren’t serious or that their scene was not as evolved.

I hope that this can broach the divide a little. Give us all cause to pause and consider: If parkour is practiced for self-improvement, what role do competitions play in this process. And, if competitions are about business, how far are we willing to go in marketing our practice… particularly if it hurts the students we are trying to inspire and makes it inaccessible to others.

For more about the connection between depression and competition, click on the links in this sentence.


– Pava


A Reply to Lauren Southern’s “Why I’m Not a Feminist”

If you have an opinion on feminism, you need to know this.

Wonderful and rare space where an academic meets popular misconception.

Everyday Geopolitics Houston

Dear Lauren,

In the last couple days, I have seen your video “Why I’m Not a Feminist” pop up a few times. In the video, you describe why you are not a feminist. At the heart of your message is the assertion, “I am not a feminist because I believe both genders should be treated equally.” Setting aside for a moment the problems with your assumption that gender can be reduced to a binary of male/female (here’s a decent introduction to that if you want), I want to talk about the misinformation you offer in your video: misinformation about feminist activism and scholarship, and misinformation about domestic violence and rape. I don’t often find engaging in these types debates online to be the most fruitful use of my energies, since people that produce anti-feminist content generally are not very open to meaningful engagement with feminist thought, however I’ve been stewing over your…

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Arguing online and cognative closure

Why do you waste your time and energy arguing with people on social media? You’re not learning anything from that echo chamber!


If you’ve been subjected this argument/accusation because of your tendency to engage online here is some good news. A quantitative study published in the Journal of Social Media Studies suggests that the opposite is true. Those who engage in discussion are exposed to a broader spectrum of views than those who simply read a preferred source of traditional media. Those who engage in two sided conversation are also more likely to change their minds on an existing issue.

The key is engagement. If the social media user is broadcasting opinion or ideas from a news source (like many organized trolls – I’m looking at you, 4chan) with no interest in deeper understanding, or simply insulting or deflecting opposition, they’re not really learning much.


But if you question, listen and argue (even with somebody who doesn’t change their mind) YOU are likely to be looking to broaden your horizons. While those who think it’s a waste of time might just not be keen to challenge their own worldview.
Notably, information-seeking motivations was a positive predictor of cross-cutting discussion, but a negative predictor of cross-cutting exposure. This finding indicates that those who utilize SNS for political information are actually less exposed to diverse views. The most plausible psychological mechanism to explain this counter-intuitive finding may be selective exposure; it might be that those who closely follow political news via SNS tend to seek consonant information by friending or following like- minded people or news sources they prefer. This suggests the possibility of SNS functions as homogeneous “echo chambers” where diverse views are hard to find as a result of political fragmentation. However, even for these consonant information-seekers, engaging in cross-cutting political discussion has a strong deliberation effect such that they are significantly more likely to change their original views and get more involved in the issue of discussion than those who are not engaged in cross-cutting discussion.

Cause and effect would be difficult to establish. Does arguing on the internet make you more inquisitive? Or are the arguments symptom of your inquisitive tendencies? Don’t know. The the answer is likely to be, as always, a little bit of both.


What comics can do (for ethnography)

In 2009 I submitted my honors thesis in the field of anthropology. The central argument of that thesis was that medium of comics (as in, the format of comic-books) can (and should) be used to tell ethnographic and scientific stories. I did my best to make a good argument. I think I did OK because my University department decided to call my bluff. The following year I started fieldwork and research for a PhD. A large part of this new thesis was to be told through the unique combination of words and image that make up comic(s).

The topic of research turned out to be way, way deeper and more immersive than I had anticipated. My experiment with format had to take a back seat to the presentation and analysis of parkour culture, community and practice. It was an incredible experience for which I am super grateful. I learned so much and made so many friends! About two months ago I submitted that thesis. And, as planned, it had comics in it! Though, not as many as I initially hoped.

While I wait for my results I find the time to look around to discover that there are quite a few others who are experimenting with format. There are exciting things going on and I’m really delighted to see the work of others who share my passion for illustration and comics in Anthropology.

So, I want to fly a flag and put my stuff out there. If this is the kinda stuff you’re into (comics or visual anthropology) I’d love to hear from you!

Below are a few pages from the conclusion of my honors thesis. They’re about the capabilities of the medium of comics.


– Pava

P.S. Sorry! This file is en early draft! I can’t find the finals. Excuse the expressive gremlins… But hopefully it will be enough to give you an idea!






There was more text… but I don’t want to bore you.

What do you think?

Check out some ethnographic comics from my PhD:
Ilja in Copenhagen
Ruz and EZ

Body Shame, Neoliberalism and Rhetoric

I’ve been reading about how bodies (as in, your body) and neo-liberal politics (like those of your government) interweave. I think its really important. Governments convince us of their plans and ideas by telling us stories with very specific language. Sometimes these tricks are transparent and silly, other times they are hidden and subliminal. When they work, we get the message without even realizing that we got it. In politics, these are called social narratives. There are tonnes of examples in how language is used to change the message. Kinda like economic and political refugees became ‘boat people’ and then ‘queue jumpers’, then, in the language of folks like Donald Trump ‘rapists’ and ‘terrorists’. This is where things get really scary and insidious.

One really clever trick of neo-liberal policy is shame. This is stolen from the Advertising industry. Advertising gives us images of beauty that most of us physically can’t meet then shames us into consuming stuff with the promise of reaching that impossible ideal (like surgery, gym memberships, cosmetics, shampoos, etc). This is the idea of ‘body shame’ and the advertising industry uses the language of ‘health’ and personal responsibility to sell their product. The neo-liberals use it to sell their agenda. We can all agree that most of us can do things to be more healthy. We can’t control everything, but generally, we can eat well, exercise, meditate or do a whole bunch of other things to make ourselves healthier and fitter. There is a level of personal responsibility involved. Like advertisers, the neo-liberal system uses the language of health to push aside real reasons behind peoples economic difficulties. It promotes the idea of discipline and merit as the only reason that a member of the public might be in economic strife.

Obviously, this isn’t true. I’m a migrant, and I saw from the experience friends and family how substantial an obstacle an accent can be when a person is looking for work. Or how difficult it can be to get that gig if you can’t afford a suit for that interview or the fare for the bus to get to the job. Countless studies show that class, race and sex play into economic success in major ways. This is a truth that is so well documented it is impossible to deny. It is very inconvenient to the neo-liberal world view. Since denial is impossible, the task becomes to silence the complaint. To get people to not talk about the real issues that challenge the neo-liberal ideal. The solution that is used is shame. If personal responsibility is drawn in, people can’t help but feel that their failures are their fault. Talking about it directly is bad, because if the neo-liberal establishment comes out and directly accuses everyone of their failure people will talk back about circumstance… an argument that wouldn’t play out well. So, instead the analogies begin. The reasoning goes, most people already have body shame, lets move this shame into the political realm:

“Neo-liberalism is a political rationality that tries to render the social domain economic and to link a reduction in (welfare) state services and security systems to the increasing call for ‘personal responsibility’ and ‘self-care’. In this way, we can decipher the neoliberal harmony in which not only the individual body, but also collective bodies and institutions (public administrations, universities, etc.), corporations and states have to be ‘lean’, ‘fit’, ‘flexible’ and ‘autonomous’: it is a technique of power.”

The genius of this is that it implicitly turns people into fat. If you get messed over by an unjust social or political system, clearly the system is to blame. If that system is ‘fit’, ‘lean’ and ‘healthy’ the whole thing turns on you – you are the waste, fat and decay. A trick of language that effects our thinking.


While there is always a level of personal responsibility for health AND ones place on the ladder of economic success, this tactic is designed to swing that balance into the realm of impossible ideals. In reality we know not elements of health can be controlled. Illness is conditional and inherent as much as it is controllable. So is economic success. We can’t all be Steve Jobs, because we don’t have his specific skills, networks and privilege, just like we can’t all look like Scarlett Johansson because we don’t have her bone structure. Nor can we all swim like Ian Thrope because we don’t have his body type and his big feet. We need to understand the rhetorical weapons used to sell dangerous ideas. Otherwise, we reach the increasingly common reality: people start to fall by the wayside because of their circumstance and we are all too ashamed to talk about the true nature of their, and our, social troubles.


The quote is from: ‘The birth of biopolitics’: Michel Foucault’s lecture at the Collège de France on neo-liberal governmentality Translated by Thomas Lemke

Us and them: australian politics and the rhetoric of ‘lifters and leaners’

Words matter. As an anthropologist, it is my job to derive meaning from the words and actions of human beings. Today I realized that through his countless verbal gaffs our bumbling Prime Minister is offering us a direct pathway into his worldview.

Like our primate cousins, humans are inherently tribalistic mammals. It is instinct to divide ourselves into groups based on empathy and similarity – ‘us’ versus ‘them’. We have difficulty relating to ‘them’. We tend to think of ourselves as inherently good and not think of the others at all. ‘They’ are less human to ‘us’ – in anthropology this is called ethnocentrism. Fortunately, unlike our primate cousins, we have a uniquely developed frontal cortex that gives us the capacity for abstract thinking. Abstraction allows humans to override our biological ‘monkey’ nature. We can break our tribalistic ethnocentrism. This takes energy, empathy and focus.

A little while ago Tony Abbot (Australian current conservative head of state) used the word ‘Holocaust’ to punctuate his political rhetoric. When confronted with the fact that this trivialised a horrific incident for a large section of the Australian public, his government went on the defensive – ‘we were not using the word the way the Jews do’. Makes sense, Tony isn’t Jewish. But his use of the word showed a lack of connection to that segment of the population, a lack of empathy with ‘them’. The current Liberal government has a history of this kind of ethnocentrism. The rhetoric of ‘lifters and leaners’ also divides the world into ‘us’ and ‘them’. ‘Us’ being the economically well off and ‘them’ being anyone who isn’t. This is something that becomes clear when one has to consider that some highly productive vocations take time to develop. Time that is hard to put in when you have no economic support network.

When Tony was asked what he had done for women (as minister for women) he demonstrated his ethnocentrism once again, telling the public that his economic policy was his gift to a group whom he clearly fails to empathise with and understand.
There are two ways in which humanity evolves. One is a slow physiological adaptation, a process we share with all other biological entities on this planet, the other is an evolution of knowledge. This second process is the unique capacity to build and expand on the inventions and ideas of other members of our species. Our ability to internalise the thinking of our predecessors lead us away from our primate nature and allowed us to achieve technological and philosophical feats that are truly beautiful and staggering. In earlier times this made us feel ordained by god – no other creature can do what we can. We thought ourselves above the other apes, we saw ourselves as angels. This evolution is the outcome of our ability to internalise the perspectives of others, particularly others who think in radically different ways to ourselves. We built on ideas we ourselves could never have, and what we achieved is the outcome of our abstract reasoning capacity coupled with our empathy. Yet, this evolution is a fragile process. Isolate a human from the achievements of our fellow humans and we begin anew. A blank slate: naked, illiterate and ‘savage’. Our animal natures are still here, but they are counteracted by the collective intelligence of human society. We benefit from the unity of human diversity on the material, the moral, the intellectual level.
In Australia we saw a budget that delineates society into ‘lifters’ and ‘leaners’. Take a moment to look behind the ideological rhetoric. The idea of putting pressure on the ‘leaners’ to ‘lift’ themselves up is a mask for simple intolerance: you don’t aspire to the same things as me? There’s something wrong with you! It is a demonisation of difference. This kind of thinking strips us of our mutual intelligence and reveals the animal inside. It makes us selfish, myopic and territorial. One of the reasons we have an amazing country is that we recognised the value of difference. We though it was worthwhile to pay a little extra to make sure a member of our community didn’t die in the street, even if her/his circumstances and outlook was different from ours. We practiced empathy. We benefitted from the resultant diversity. Politically, we took a step in a different direction. We replaced the idea of empathy based on national unity with the idea of empathy for outlook uniformity. This government is devolving Australian society. It is appealing to our primate nature. I hope you will not let yourself become an ape, I hope that you will choose to remain an angel.
The Liberal Party views are not based on malice. They are based on a lack of connection with anyone who doesn’t fit a very narrow band of ‘us’. Our Prime Minister is demonstrating his own human limitations, which would be fine if he wasn’t elected to represent the entirety of the Australian public. Here lies the problem. Doesn’t matter how much this government will promise to change or listen to ‘the people’, they will never be able to surpass their ethnocentrism. They are disconnected from anyone who isn’t like them. I have no doubt that this government will do its best to serve the Australian people. But to Tony ‘Australians’ will always be Anglo, Male, Wealthy and Christian.
Refugees? Forget about it. This government can’t relate to the majority of the Australian public, let alone people from different nations and different cultures.

Why we all lost and Julien Blanc Won…


Recently, a pickup artist visited Australia. He wanted to run a workshop on ‘the art of seduction’ and he promoted his techniques among those who wanted to learn them. Somebody looked into the ideas he was promoting and was appalled. They wrote an article and told their friends and social media went into frenzy. The reaction was justified. His ideas were appalling. He had figured out that women in certain societies were uncomfortable saying ‘no’ to a man. His method was to treat the absence of a ‘no’ as a ‘yes’. He would push, pressure and convince vulnerable women into compliance. His outraged critics pointed out that this amounted to a form of coercion, something akin to rape. He was enforcing rape culture. People organized. His name was pasted all over social media and the news. A protest was called for and venues were pressured and, eventually, buckled. He came, but had no-where to speak. There was a social media cheer. He was a vile human being who spouted terrible ideas. We won! As a feminist there was a part of me that was satisfied with this outcome. But it troubled me. The more I thought about it, the more troubled I became. I think in the long run, this wasn’t a win. We all lost.

This event got me thinking about the way we deal with censorship. Once upon a time, not so long ago, we used to have a powerful sense of morality. We told people what to do and how to be. We ‘knew’ what made a good society, a good woman, a good man or a good child: the moral things. We censored things that challenged those ideas: the immoral things. Certain behaviours and materials that encouraged those behaviours were deemed dangerous – as if by challenging our existing moral ideals, society would fall apart.

How silly we were. Looking back, all of that seems quaint. The popularization of psychology and the dismantling of the traditional colonial structure showed us that what we thought of as essentially moral was only a construction. One of many, and not any more right than any other. So, we don’t do that (as much) any more. But that doesn’t mean that we’ve stopped censoring. Now, we have a different approach.

Today we live in a world of competing ideas. We are more networked and connected than ever before. Go online and you’ll find a million ideas, a million identities and a million ways that you can behave. The logic goes: as long as we don’t hurt people, it’s all fair go. But some ideas aren’t as good as others. And some of those ideas scare us with their utter badness; racist rants, vilifying stereotypes, misguided, ignorant or malicious calls to violence towards people, property and the state. That is the target of our new censorship. Having learned that telling people what to do is not effective, we are increasingly afraid that people will be exposed to the wrong idea and it will stick. This brings us back to that pickup artist.

The pickup artist found a glitch in the system. There’s a series of expectations about men, about women and they way the two interact. It is based on a history and it is based on culture and it is based on ideas we see in film, music and other media. The man is meant to be ‘hard’ and assertive. The woman is mean to be ‘soft’ and submissive. Historically, the man is also meant to be respectful and protective and the woman is meant to be… aside from pretty, not very much at all. These are Victorian society ideas. They’re out-dated, sexist and generally wrong, but they still operate today. The pickup artist figured out that if you drop the protective and respectful bit and enact the ‘hard’ and assertive bit, women would not speak up. Women send hints, and they will resist but only within the out-dated framework. Women are often still uncomfortable saying “no”. Women are enacting the old ideal and they expect the man to do the same. Press them enough and, eventually, they will comply. That is the logic of his ‘game’.

He has pointed out a serious social issue. But instead of focusing on that, we focused on him. He is exploitative, opportunistic, misogynistic and generally repugnant – it is easy to hate him. But he isn’t the problem. Our attitudes and ideals of men and women are. As social media posts and the calls to ban him mounted, I realized that hardly anyone was looking at the issue he had pointed out. We saw him as a glitch and an opportunist, someone taking advantage of women and the rules of society. But is he the only one to figure out these rules? Does kicking him out or shutting him up deal with the problem?

By focusing on him we have done two things. 1. We glossed over the obvious social problem behind it all, allowing maladaptive norms to roll on unscathed, as he took the brunt of our outrage. 2. We have given credibility to his outrageous ideas by not engaging with their underlying principles. We chose to talk about him, not his ideas, in the process we learned nothing. We got together as a community and we censored him and his ideas. We could have taken them apart. A public discussion could have served as a lesson, to be aware of this kind of exploitation of societal loopholes. In becoming aware of his trick, we would have ruined his ‘game’ and his business. In the process, we all would have learned something about ourselves and about the societal rules that we follow. He would have lost and we would have won.

He had to cancel his workshop and he lost money. But the amount of publicity that he received is worth millions. The men who worshipped him have not been exposed to a counter-argument. By censoring him we have added to his ‘mystique’: “look at the outrage he caused, there must be a secret he knows that society doesn’t want us to know!” I’m sure that his career is far from over. His method works because we never took the time to address all that it implies. In censoring him, we failed to engage his ideas. We empowered them and we missed a chance to empower ourselves. In the end, we all lost. In the future, I hope we do better.