COACT19: Hofstetter – What goes up

Hofstetter will present at the 2019 COACT, Apr.24-26, Oulu.

What goes up must come down: Shifting in and out of falls in rock climbing

In this paper, I will examine how rock climbers manage falling events or ‘falls’: instances where a climber falls off the climbing wall, and are ‘caught’ by their partners. Via these instances, climbers must sequentially switch between the three activities that constitute any given climb: active climbing, falling, and resting. Climbing falls are thus useful events through which to examine flux because they involve ongoing potential for sudden shifts in activity for both the climber and their partner. Furthermore, due to their sudden nature, falls provide a contrast to past studies of institutional settings, where preparation and projection have different timing and stake (1).

Climbing has rarely been examined in the EMCA literature (2). The climber ascends a wall using hand and footholds that are spaced so as to provide a challenge, while the partner manages the rope. Falls (up to 20m indoors) have consequences, including losing hard-earned progress and potential injury. Falls are not always projectable; feet can slip, and holds can have unexpected properties. Projectability is improved through communication (warnings), and making difficulties publicly available with the body (shaking, breathing and other non-lexical vocalizations). The behaviours that occur during falls are a result of being ready for danger at any moment, and long-rehearsed procedures that make safe ‘catching’ an almost automatic response. In this way, I will show how climbers use their bodies to respond to and anticipate continually possible sudden changes.

This study uses a growing corpus of video recordings of climbing in Canada (3.5 hours, 10 climbers), alongside participant observation.

1: Hajurnpää, K. et al. (2018). The coordinated entry into service encounters in food shops. ROLSI, 51(3), 271-291.

2: Jenkings, K.N. (2017). Rock climbers’ communicative and sensory practices. In C. Meyer & U.v.Wedelstaedt (eds). Moving bodies in interaction. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.