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Michela J. Stinson and Bryan S. R. Grimwood Title : On the affective capacities of rock climbing

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10:30 AM, Tuesday 22 Jun 2021 (30 minutes)
  Virtual session
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On the affective capacities of rock climbing


Michela J. Stinson


Bryan S. R. Grimwood

Rock climbing is frequently constructed as a tourism practice that exemplifies the rational, masculine, and colonial quest to conquer the chaotic, natural world (Nettlefold & Stratford, 1999). Climbing, in effect, is permeated with discourses that hold nature and culture forever apart. But rock climbing is also a negotiation between many affected bodies—those human and nonhuman—that are constituted in relation to one another. As a personal, embodied practice, rock climbing is unbounded: a negotiated, non-representational experience that contributes to the production of tourismscapes. According to van der Duim (2007), a tourismscape is a materially-heterogenous ordering that positions tourism as a becoming—a generative, emergent practice with unexpected consequences. Conceiving and enacting rock climbing in this way reveals it as an inherently destructive force, rife with material, social, and environmental defacings ‘necessary’ to its earthy practice (Rossiter, 2007). Rock climbing's unavoidable degradation means that access to climbing spaces is increasingly contested as land managers, access coalitions, and climbers work to engender various sustainable practice initiatives. Ultimately, control over the conservation of and access to climbing spaces frequently reiterates discourses of a subservient and non-agentic feminine nature (Nettlefold & Stratford, 1999). In this context, conversations around area access and ‘ethical’ climbing practice frequently focus on ensuring the ongoing availability of vertical worlds—rock faces, cliffs, boulders, etc.—for the explicit purpose of human climbing. This presentation considers the tourismscape of Southern Ontario’s Niagara Escarpment (Canada) as a climbing destination. Drawing on actor-network theory, our aim is to illuminate the drifts, emergences, and dissolutions of affect through the narrative capacities of climbing, and in turn, attempt to rework climbing’s inherent defacings as productive. Through descriptive orderings of various defaced climbs, we show how a climber’s relation to bolt hangers (i.e. permanently-fixed protective gear), limestone, and other nonhuman actors blurs the path of a climb—and the assemblage of climbing—in material-discursive ways. These defacings also reconfigure the affective emergence of the climb, and ultimately alter climbers’ relationships to ‘natural’ spaces, jarring climbing’s traditional (yet contested) separation of nature and culture (Rossiter, 2007), and making space for situated knowledges (Haraway, 1988)—alternative ways of knowing and being. In the context of welcoming creative solutions for promoting sustainable tourismscapes, we illustrate how attending to the affective, more-than-human capacities of climbing can foster ecologically vibrant, lively, and hopeful possibilities for many diverse actors (Cunningham, 2018; Evers, 2019; Rossiter, 2007). By attending to the defacings of affects through the many interferences of bolt hangers, we rework the ways in which climbing on Southern Ontario’s Niagara Escarpment might become (or already may be) sustainable.

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