Media and Communication Ph.D. Dissertations


Tracing the Path of Power through the Fluidity of Freedom: The Art of Parkour in Challenging the Relationship of Architecture and the Body and Rethinking the Discursive Limits of the City

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Communication Studies

First Advisor

Lara Martin Lengel (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Alberto Gonzalez (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Radhika Gajjala (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Kevin Schempf (Committee Member)


This study explores the production of urban architectural space and investigates how the art of parkour attempts to (re)appropriate the spaces of the city. It interrogates the reflexive and continuously (re)negotiated relationship of power and freedom, as defined by Foucault, in and through the corporeal link of the traceur body, the practitioners of parkour, and urban architecture. Parkour forefronts the relations of power through a corporeal connection with architecture. This connection functions to offer more emancipated alternatives both to and within the hegemonic discourses disciplining the space of the city. Traceurs exercise agency as the discourse of the city creates limitations through regulatory norms; however, these limitations create the conditions for action. As a technology and technique of power, architecture’s participation in (re)producing regulatory norms is seen in the ways in which it informs individuals’ interpretations of everyday practices. Architecture embodies particular ideologies which communicate to a body of urban inhabitants. This embodiment communicates as a reflection and reinscription of the social actor’s position within social relations. In being formed by power even as one reworks it, traceurs continuously challenge the reiterative chains of discourse by inscribing their own truth or counter discourse. Parkour functions ontologically as it is a performance, and functions epistemologically as a performance. This study demonstrates how parkour offers insight into the intersections of the body and architectural space to bring to the fore the emancipatory potentialities therein.

To understand the emancipatory power of parkour, epistemology of doing as a critical ethnography is employed as the method for investigation. Epistemology of doing centers on a learning-by-doing approach positioning the researcher as participant in the production of knowledge and experience, in the case of this study, immersed in a community of traceurs during a parkour training seminar at B.A.S.E. Fitness in Noblesville, Indiana. The ethnographic experience allowed for empirical insight into parkour’s relationship in the discursive formation of power and freedom. The experience, and the broader study, reveals insights about the practice of parkour and draws attention to how a traceur’s personal journey elicits emancipatory potential in and through ostensibly freer movement within architectural space.