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Appears in Collections:Literature and Languages Journal Articles
Peer Review Status: Refereed
Title: Running across the Rooves of Empire: Parkour and the Postcolonial City
Author(s): Marshall, Bill
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Keywords: Quebec
United States Civilization French influences
New France Civilization
Issue Date: May-2010
Date Deposited: 7-Apr-2011
Citation: Marshall B (2010) Running across the Rooves of Empire: Parkour and the Postcolonial City. Modern and Contemporary France, 18 (2), pp. 157-173.
Abstract: This article takes a common strand of space and power, mediated by comparative notions of empire and its memory. It focuses initially on Quebec City, discussing the relations there between topography and power, in the socio-spatial, including imagined, arrangements that pertain to the division between upper and lower towns, tourist/administrative core and banlieue, as well as the original tension between the administrated city and the vast North American – and native - hinterland. These relations have persisted and adapted in the contexts of the first French empire and its replacement by the British, and in the contemporary city, which in some ways can be seen as on the periphery of the American empire. The central text discussed is a 1998 novel by Pierre Gobeil, Sur le toit des maisons, in which two disaffected young men journey from the lower town to the river by climbing across the rooves of the city. The second half of the article links this to the phenomenon of parkour, in which 'free-runners' trace alternative pathways through urban space and which originated in the Paris banlieue. Discussion of parkour centres on Michel de Certeau's alternative mappings of the city, but the argument here also invokes embedded, imagined histories and memories of colonial space, and the problem of narrative representation and its ideological resolutions, emphasising the ambivalent tensions in the phenomenon, and in de Certeau, between order and resistance. The colonial dimension is manifest not only in the parallels of policing and social apartheid which persist in the French banlieues, but even in official recuperation of the parkour phenomenon in, the action films Yamakasi and Banlieue 13, which dramatise these contradictions and memories. The article thus alludes to both the first and second French empires, as well as to the role of differently lived francophone histories in the formation of youth narratives and subcultures.
DOI Link: 10.1080/09639481003714872
Rights: Published in Modern & Contemporary France by Taylor & Francis (Routledge).; This is an electronic version of an article published in Modern & Contemporary France, Volume 18, Issue 2, May 2010, pp. 157 - 173. Modern & Contemporary France is available online at:; Courtesy Parcs Canada. © McCord Museum; Image of The Lower City of Quebec, from the parapet of the Upper City, 1833 James Pattison Cockburn (1779-1847) is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 Canada (CC BY-NC-ND 2.5):
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