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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Hybridity, Anthropology, Comics and Pop-Culture

I’m presenting a lecture for students of anthropology of popular culture. These are the lecture ‘slides’. This one is a bit of a comics lecture – you need both audio and video to understand what’s going on.

Maybe I’ll make a video once the audio is recorded.






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.