Inside Professional Street Skateboarding
New York University Press 2017
New Books in American StudiesNew Books in AnthropologyNew Books in Arts & LettersNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in Popular CultureNew Books in SociologyNew Books in SportsNew Books Network May 14, 2018 Keith Rathbone
Today we are joined by Gregory Snyder, an Associate Professor of Sociology at Baruch College, City University of New York (CUNY), and author of Skateboarding LA: Inside Professional Street Skateboarding (New York University Press, 2017). In Skateboarding LA, Snyder explores the world of professional street skateboarding in order to explain how the skate subculture produce a rich urban community and significant profits for professional skaters in spite of the widespread illegality of the sport.
Based on almost a decade of ethnographic interviews with skateboarders, videographers, and promoters, Snyder de-centers notions of skateboarders as criminals and vandals. Instead he describes skaters as creative forces in the city: impromptu repair crews, street architects, amateur historians, urban explorers, and public space activists. He shows how skaters see public spaces differently: stairs, benches, handrails, and fountains become potential obstacles for tricks. They produce their own language to describe new maneuvers and produce the history of these unique sports spaces online in videos and in magazines. And when those spaces are threatened, skateboarders organize publicly to save them as they did in the case of the West LA Library.
You do not need to be interested in extreme or lifestyle sports to enjoy Snyder’s work because his larger conclusions concern the abilities of subcultures to preserve and grow in spite of public opprobrium. Anthropologists and ethnographers in the Birmingham School studied the way subcultures used pastiches of styles as a form of symbolic resistance to “win space.” Previous histories of skateboarding adopted this theoretical model to investigate skateboarders as a resistance subculture. Snyder rejects this view because it paints subcultural groups as ultimately futile, destined to become commodified by outside forces. Snyder shows how the commodification of street skateboarding occurred largely on its own terms and generally through the efforts of professional and former professional skateboarders working in subcultural careers.