The Ascendancy of Rock Climbers: Habitus, Normativity, Figurative Language


Within rock climbing circles, hardcore “dirtbag” groups revere the sport’s forefathers—Royal Robbins, Yvon Chouinard, and Jim Bridwell as an example—who laid groundwork for its development. The language and ideological disposition of climbers derive from these masters. My paper, using Pierre Bourdieu’s theories of capital and habitus, examines the inheritance of figurative language and standards of practice down generations of climbers. Consulting climber-oriented nonfiction like Robbins’ Advanced Rockcraft (1973) and documentaries like Valley Uprising (2014) and Wide Boyz (2012), I trace the accumulation of symbolic capital as well as habitus, a structured field of “durable, transposable dispositions” (Bourdieu, 1980) irreducible to a mechanical schema of ideology or merely subjective will. Habitus conditions practice and the uptake of language. Dean Potter of the 2000s, for example, echoes language from Robbins of the 1970s, notably direct metaphors equating that climbing is art. In climbing communities, this entails experienced athletes imposing normative language and style of practice on newcomers and, thus, enclosing a group identity. A case of an exclusionary disposition is the belief in Wide Boyz that an initial ascent of the Century Crack in Utah was “not true” due to the climbers diverging from established norms. To redress this, the climbers were ultimately pressured into an inclusionary disposition by ascending the normative way. Altogether, my paper investigates historic norms that climbers inherit from previous generations and the habitus that structures figurative language upheld by climbing communities today.


Jackson Seeberg
Student, Master's, Oklahoma State University, Oklahoma, United States


Presentation Type

Poster Session


Media Marketing and Identity


Rock Climbing, Bourdieu, Capital, Habitus, Ideology, Metaphor

Digital Media

This presenter hasn’t added media.
Request media and follow this presentation.