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

Amand Jayne West

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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ABSTRACTThis thesis examines the multiple meanings attached to risk by a small group of climbers based in the North of England. 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.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Manchester
Publication statusPublished - 9 Jan 2012


  • Rock climbing, Identity, Risk, Gender, Ageing


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