A phenomenology of skateboarding in Seoul, South Korea: Experiential and filmic observations

Research output: ThesisThesis fully external

Abstract

My PhD thesis offers the first ethnography of skateboarding in South Korea, an in/formal network of everyday mobility. Drawing upon over six years of experience in the region and twenty months of fieldwork, I explore how skaters negotiate their presence in the city of Seoul through precise spatial expertise, minute bodily gestures, mixed-media praxes, and intimate social relations. Contrary to what much of the earlier research on European and Northern American skateboarding suggests, I argue that skateboarding in Seoul primarily dwells in the skatepark, as though it is an urban extension of the home. I propose phenomenology and sensory ethnography as frameworks to gauge the extent to which these well-outlined architectural spaces condition how Seoulites acquire everyday coping skills, and how this affects their perceptual experience of the built environment. Significantly, these skateparks tend to be spaces of stillness, closeness, and tranquility, providing a serene and placid alternative to the notion of skateboarding as a fundamentally spectacular and trick-driven practice. Within the contours of these formalised skateparks, Seoul-based skaters also give meaning to their everyday life and social position by verbally and non-verbally relating to and distancing themselves from the notion of Hell-Joseon (“South Korea as a hell-like society for younger generations”). I approximate the myriad of lived experiences and rhythms moving through these skateparks in my research film Reverberations. Although skateparks are the sine qua non to acquire bodily skills, the typology of found urban space (called begyon) is the preferred spatial backdrop for forms of audiovisual representation of the self and the city. In this thesis, I gesture towards the mimetic dimensions of this performative and emphatic exploration of found urban space, as well as suggest that this course of action tends to take place in the presence of a video or photo camera, affecting the techniques and routines of the acute and palpable encounters between body, skateboard, and architecture. The representational taxonomy of the choreography of such bodily skills and tricks is at the heart of my second research film, called VCR. It is through an emphasis on site-specificity and the everyday—established via a written ethnography, a contemplative film (Reverberations), and an essay film (VCR)—that my study explores the sensory experience of architectural and urban space, as well as filmmaking as a gentle tool to sense and approximate the local and embodied practice that we call skateboarding.

Original languageEnglish
Publisher
Publication statusPublished - 2018
Externally publishedYes

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