sports development

sport & physical activity academic resources

  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

‘But you didn’t think what you were doing was risky’: The Role of Risk in Mediating the Identities and Practices of Rock Climbers

E-mail Print

This thesis examines the multiple meanings attached to risk by a small group of climbers based in the North of England. The study is anchored, empirically in sustained observational fieldwork, and in-depth interviews with adult subjects (9 females aged 22-77, 14 males aged 20-70).

In completing this thesis, I believe I have made an original contribution to knowledge in three areas. In re-imagining risk in climbing, I argue that climbers do not participate in climbing because of a desire to take risks, rather, they make every effort to assess, manage and control risks when climbing.

In reconceptualising risk in climbing, I present a conceptual model derived from the interviewees’ accounts of risk. This model situates risk in climbing with risk in everyday life. The basis of my third original contribution to knowledge lies in the relationship between risk and identity.

The interviewees differentiated between safe and unsafe climbers through reference to embodied climbing practices. The way a climber in this study assessed and managed risk marked them as a safe climber or conversely an unsafe climber. Furthermore, the data revealed both a gendered and an age-related dimension to the relationship between risk and identity.
The desire to retain the identity of a climber over time was so strong that older climbers reported modifying their practices to sustain their status as a member of the insider group.

In addition, the female interviewees described how perceived family responsibilities mediated membership of the insider group, and their identity as a safe and qualified climber. The female climbers in this study described how such responsibilities led them, like older climbers, to draw back from the edge.

These findings have implications beyond the sport of rock climbing and its participants. This research has the potential to inform and enhance our appreciation of risk in other lifestyle sports and moreover, whilst there is a tendency to distinguish between lifestyle and traditional sports, there may be some application of the account of risk presented here to an exploration of risk in traditional sports.

The arguments presented in this study also contribute to an understanding or risk more generally.

A key conclusion from this study is that risk is best understood where the meanings attached to it are derived from individuals’ everyday lived experience and relatedly where risk is situated within the broadest context of their lives.

Finally, the data reported here suggests that risk activities and risk-taking should be explored in relation to an individual’s perceived identity and crucially, the significance of risk for the construction of that identity.



editors comments

Editor's comments -  [ The above is the abstract from an original PhD thesis; the final publication in the study for the author in pursuit of a doctorate; such works result in the author being awarded a PhD and the title of Dr. by an appropriately accedited University. PhD's are the culmination of a number of years work by the author supervised by two (normally PhD or MPhil qualified) academics and, with the addition of a further appropriately qualified academic (not normally from the same University) as part of a viva-voce examination team. Successful research work at PhD level is designed to add to the body of knowledge in the study area at some level.

A PhD thesis often forms the foundation for journal articles for the author and leads to further enquiry in the form of what is called post-doctoral research. These works are characterised by comprehensive literature reviews, sometimes traditional yet multiple (and often mixed) methods, interesting if not ground breaking discussions and always directional signs toward further research; they provide for undergraduates not only a model for the possibilities for further study but a gift in terms of references in any given subject areas.

To reference an eThesis the convention in the text is the same as a book; author (date), in the reference list there is some debate; theses are more often than not, unpublished works, yet when listed on databases at Universities or elsewhere it could be argued that they are published.

Well after a couple of reads of this thesis we are convinced that the author is Professorial material, the work is layered and personal and the grasp of both the subject and the nuances of the methods employed indicates a top drawer academic. We rather enjoyed this and hope it becomes a book.

Our best advice is to reference list internet sourced theses as ‘published’…. ie.; Author, (date). Title (emphasised). Place of publication and (university) publisher. Available from: URL reference. See our example reference below. ]


APA reference for this document


Reference :   West, A.J. (2012). ‘But you didn’t think what you were doing was risky’: The Role of Risk in Mediating the Identities and Practices of Rock Climbers. Manchester: University of Manchester


The above reference is in the APA style: See why this is important in our [how to reference] us guide.
PhD publications are normally published under Creative Commons Licence conditions in that you must attribute the work appropriately (use the reference above), must not distribute for commercial means and must not alter the work in any way. For a full copy of the CCL please see here. [Use of this document may be limited by © copyright ; by downloading you consent to our terms and conditions ]


Download this file (amandawest.pdf)amandawest.pdfWest, A.J. (2012). ‘But you didn’t think what you were doing was risky’: The Role of Risk in Mediating the Identities and Practices of Rock Climbers. Manchester: University of Manchester
Last Updated on Sunday, 24 March 2013 14:19