Bourdieu and alpine mountaineering

The distinction of high peaks, clean lines and pure style

Authored by: John Telford , Simon Beames

Routledge International Handbook of Outdoor Studies

Print publication date:  November  2015
Online publication date:  November  2015

Print ISBN: 9781138782884
eBook ISBN: 9781315768465
Adobe ISBN: 9781317666523


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If one were asked to call to mind the world’s iconic mountain, it is likely that an image of Everest, the Matterhorn, the Eiger or similar would be projected into our imagination. More than likely the image projected would have a composition that suggested grandeur, enticement, graceful immensity and wistful foreboding. Illuminated in soft moonlight, it might seem spectral, floating dreamily in the distance. Light and shadow, snow and rock, contrast to convey the nuanced complexity of a place that stands above and removed from the day-to-day banalities of humanity. Mystery, questfulness, exploration, revelation, transcendence, catharsis, perspective, clarity, endeavour, heroic tragedy, ecstasy, spirituality and discovery are but a few of the emotions and ideals that such images tend to provoke. This is not, however, the relationship that human beings, in Western Europe at least, have always experienced with regard to the Earth’s most prominently protruding landscape features. This chapter uses Bourdieu’s theory of social practice to explore the changing cultural interpretations of mountains, the effect of this on the practice of mountaineering, and participation in mountaineering as an act of social distinction (Bourdieu, 2010). By exploring mountaineering as a field of cultural production, and the notion of tastes and aesthetics within that field, the authors aim to deepen collective understandings of dominant human–mountain cultural relations.

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