Call for Papers: The Quest for the Sky – Human techniques, creativity, organization and territoriality in aerial activities, September 2014

18th to the 20th of September 2014, Saint Hilaire du Touvet, France, during the Coupe Icare 2014

coupe-icareThe conference will take place on three days (with plenary and parallel sessions). Led by a chairman, each session lasts one hour thirty (three papers of 30 minutes maximum followed by 10 minutes for discussion. Conferences are invited to 40 minutes. The conference will take place on the site of the Coupe Icare in Saint Hilaire du Touvet, Thursday morning at 18 am Saturday September 20, 2014.

At the end of the eighteenth century, the invention of aerostats enabled mankind to face the third dimension. By the early nineteenth century, aerobatics and parachuting have already seized the attention of the grand public with fascinating spectacles of risk-taking, control and outstanding performances. The development of air sports was largely stimulated later by the invention of the airplane. Driven by scientific and technological advances, the idea of a fixed-wing hovering craft emerged in the nineteenth century. However, the first human flights were performed with engineless aircrafts. From 1891 to 1896, the German engineer Otto Lilienthal performs more than 2,000 hovers, taking off on foot with a couple of gliders design by himself. From 1901, the Wright brothers realized several hundred glides in the United States before adding an engine and thus achieving the first airplane flight on the 17th of December, 1903. Nevertheless, hovering continues to be practiced with gliders, rapidly advancing in speed and to record distances. The renaissance era of gliding flight through take-off run begins in California in the late 60s. Some enthusiastic handymen experimented by taking off on foot with wings they have built by themselves. The “standard” delta wing was thus invented and then spread all over the world. In France, hang gliding was renamed “vol libre [free flight]”.

For a long time, the myth of Icarus has been used to suggest mankind’s inability to lift itself from the ground and reach for the sky. In ancient mythology, flight remained the prerogative of gods and some gifted mortals with supernatural abilities. Today man explores the skies through many activities. From the first plane to the passing of the sound barrier in free fall by Felix Baumgartner, man’s aerial odyssey covers also speed-riding, hang gliding, paragliding, skydiving, BASE jumping, gliding, aviation, ultralight aviation, paramotors, hot air balloons and airships. We can also mention more fun-based activities as kite-flying, kite-surfing, snow-kiting and other forms of traction. The range of flying vehicles and associated activities is very large.

In a purifying burst, man dreams of flight, free from his earthly shackles, his material and social constraints. As Bachelard further continues (1943) “with air, motion surpasses the material. Therefore, there is no substance without movement”. If ascension is, in essence, the core of the Promethean dream, then vertical motion itself stands as a symbol for mankind severing his umbilical cord with Mother-Earth and reaching for the sky. In air sports practices, the disappearance and rebirth of paragliding through takeoff foot-runs revives debates concerning the body’s involvement in the flight. The history of human flight is also a history of the human body in flight. The study of air sport techniques cannot elude a cultural approach to the manufacturing of machines and their use. The meanings of these different cultures of aerial practices are present in their emergence.

Though monographs exist for certain air practices (Loirand 1989; Robène 1998; Jorand, 2000), reviews and collective works are lacking. Various disciplines are concerned: history, sociology, geography, anthropology, ethnography, psychology, economics, law… but also other scientific fields that make use of aerostatics as a research tool (for example the “raft of the summits” technique). To fill this gap, the SENS laboratory of the Universiy of Grenoble-Alpes organizes the first European conference on “The Quest for the Sky : Human techniques, creativity, organization and territoriality in aerial activities” during the Coupe Icare 2014 on the European hang gliding and paragliding historical site.

Read full Call for Papers here!

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