In recent years there has been an increased interest within the social sciences for the study of extreme locations and behaviors. Dangerous games and adventure tourism has gone from being marginal, exotic or crazy events, to become more than just acceptable they are now exemplary, even conventional. There is a host of new adventures practices, more and more people perform them and they have been integrated into an increasing number of contexts. In his book Extreme Landscapes of Leisure: Not a Hap-Hazardous Sports (Ashgate), anthropologist Patrick Laviolette investigates high-risk sports and adventure tourism with ethnographic methods. Halvdan Haugsbakken have read Extreme Landscapes of Leisure, and he points to the author's fertile fusion of the analysis of the importance of the landscape and the study of contemporary high-risk recreational activities.
An anthropological scrapbook
Norwegian University of Science and Technology
Extreme Landscapes of Leisure: Not a Hap-Hazardous Sport
204 pages, hardc., ill.
Aldershot, Hamps.: Ashgate Publishing 2011
Extreme Landscapes of Leisure: Not a Hap-Hazardous Sport is a book by the anthropologist Patrick Laviolette, who currently holds a position as Associate Professor in Anthropology. He works at the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology at Tallinn University in the Baltic Republic of Estonia. Over the years, Laviolette has researched various aspects of material culture, which has centred on themes such as landscape, material metaphor, installation arts, maps, performance, documentary films, and co-operative organisations. He has carried out fieldwork at specific locations in the UK and New Zealand. The results of these interests are clearly present in Extreme Landscapes of Leisure. The book is published by Ashgate Publishing, and is divided into seven chapters. It covers about 200 pages, and includes pictures, tables, figures, references and index. All in all, this makes Laviolette’s work easily readable; it is not a concentrated academic text with a beginning and an end. As reader, you are not tempted to put it aside after just browsing the first pages. In a sense, one could consider Extreme Landscapes of Leisure as a sort of an anthropological scrapbook it contains illustrations and employs a rich visual language. The reader follows Laviolette’s personal voice, as the book is narrated in first person. Laviolette has used autobiography as main method, meaning that we hear and meet humans from the anthropologist’s perspective.
Laviolette’s writing project is two-folded, as I see it. On the one hand he is concerned with the diverse meaning of landscape, while on the other he addresses the main issue, various leisure activities. Considering landscape first, this is a subject that the anthropological community has taken great interest in over the last 15 years or so. The study of landscape is a difficult one, but, in short, copes with theorising on various meaning that landscape can take. While many disciplines in the humanities and the social sciences focus on theoretical constructs such as “organisation”, the “social” and “society”, they very often tends to forget, and perhaps, ignore, that humans interact with and shape their material surroundings. Humans live and cultivate the environment they live in, especially the landscape, which they are increasingly pursuing for leisure activities. Anthropologists have pointed out that landscape does not constitute one theoretical concept, but can be part of a cultural process and constitute different ideas, depending on who is framing the analytical perspective at hand. But Laviolette takes this one step further. He presents an interesting approach; inspired by a mix of theoretical flows consisting of, among others, existentialism, phenomenology, freudism and studies of religious practices, Laviolette is interested in the meaning of “active imagination”. Laviolette states that his book “explores the conceptual links between a prospective anthropology of the imagination and a reflexively based existential phenomenology of our bodily senses, movements, as they experience danger, fear and euphoria in these conceptual areas”.
© Halvdan Haugsbakken 2011.
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