/ ARTICLE: Climbing and Class - How Economic Privilege Underpins Our Experience
For reasons not clear even to myself, I found myself reading this critically to the point of actively seeking things to object to. I think I've read enough poorly thought out pieces in the past that cover related ground that I was more than a little sceptical that this would be any different.
But apart from a few relatively minor quibbles I found myself with little ammunition for my ire, which to me suggests that it's a very creditable piece that doesn't fall into the usual stereotyping traps I was expecting.
Well done Inigo.
> For reasons not clear even to myself, I found myself reading this critically to the point of actively seeking things to object to.
Me too. My big shoulder chip was ready to launch, but yesterday at my local wall it was Fresher's week and the wall was packed with bright new students sharing space with us old codgers and group of secondary school pupils who were canny kids but perhaps somewhere down the pecking order of life. (I'm uncomfortable with this apparently judgemental comment - don't know how to put it sensitively). I was thinking which of the many players yesterday would be most likely to continue climbing and without getting too simplistic, the cultural and economic influences were pretty well in line with Inigo's article.
Coel linked to an article yesterday or the day before in the Guardian from an American academic. Coel linked to it to make the point about a all-pervading political correctness supposedly taking over British as well as American universities. I'm not sure if it really did that but it was an interesting read and whoever the author was seem to be the person who had perhaps first used or at least popularized the concept of white fragility. Basically when someone's privilege is pointed out, as part of the system not on any individual level, they tend to see it as a personal attack on themselves as being morally bad. She at least said that wasn't what she was trying to say, but rather point to the structures of power that gives some of us more privileged than others in our society. I suspect there's quite a lot of truth in it, especially for middle-aged and middle class white men such as myself (and perhaps you?), So reactions to articles like this before we've even read them may well be "oh no, what am I going to be accused of doing this time to oppress others?" That's the fragility, but I guess by accepting the unfairness around us and realising our own privilege, we can understand that actually this isn't a criticism of us on a personal moral level!
I was taught to climb by a joiner.
In my teens I climbed with a couple of medical students and a couple of miners.
In my twenties I climbed with a joiner and a pipe fitter.
My longest term climbing partner served his time as a turner and fitter in Clydebridge Steelworks.
I'm not sure that being a member of the working class is necessarily a barrier to climbing.
I really struggled with this article (and it may well be that I haven't understood it at all).
When I was in my teens, I just went out and made it happen. I had nothing - no money, no maturity, no confidence, no skill, no climbing partners (only 30 active climbers in the entire country and I didn't know any of them), no access to climbing areas (apart from hitching and walking). But I still went out and made it happen.
At first, out of necessity, I climbed alone (as a beginner!) Then, when I found others, I believed in them. Turned out they were well nigh useless. Took me years to realise this. Wasted years. So be it. Did I learn nothing from those wasted years? Of course not. You always learn something.
If you get far enough into climbing, the day may well come when you commit, knowing that you've passed the point of no return and failure will result in serious injury, if not death. For some, these are the golden moments. Certainly such experiences prove memorable. But will privilege - or remedies to privilege - help then? I doubt it. If anything, all the suffering that went before will have forged the steel in the soul that's necessary to prevail.
Rant over - well, for now!
It's very hard for someone young to pick up something , be it climbing, playing a musical instrument , applying to university in times past if it was something you had no experience of or access to, and for a lot of people that reason is class in so.e shape or form
This got me thinking as my initial though was that there are lots of ways to get involved but then....
If you have little money the wall is not an option.
If you got the bus to caley or raven tor or wherever with interest but no idea would you see people you could approach, or would you see lots of people with 'expensive kit' focusing on their project. I would love the answer to be the former, but I suspect to all but a very confident individual we would look an unapproachable group.
There are obviously courses, but again they need money.
Clubs should be the answer but again that costs money with membership fees and you still need kit. Plus clubs meet at walls and pubs, again you need money.
Could/Should the BMC do more? Well maybe but the question is how? Would members see it as a good use of the membership fees? Some might see it at odds with the participation statement.
So no answers then but it certainly left me feeling that 'we' should do more.
An interesting and long-running debate - how does class shape climbing and mountaineering?
The term 'privilege' is something of a blunt tool, unfortunately. But, yes, the politics of class, gender and race can be felt throughout society, including at the climbing wall, on the crag, and in the dank pit of UKC forums.
One thing I dislike profoundly about the term 'privilege' is that is posits a well-heeled universal white man as the norm, when in fact most people are women, working-class, and people of colour. I feel this is important because it means that an article like this can come across as a bit patronising - one middle-class person addressing their community of other middle-class people, saying: "now, now chaps, let's consider what we should do about all these poor people". Whilst the climbing community is not truly representative of social demographics, I feel that even the UKC community is reasonably more diverse than this.
I think one important thing that 'privilege' elides is the extent to which class dynamics have changed even over the last 10 years, and certainly over the last 50. With austerity and economic stagnation we are experiencing a real class disorientation. Far from arguing that "we are all middle-class now", my sense is that many people feel "we're all proletarians now". There are 'professionals' with nothing but debt, who cannot afford cars or houses and eke out a precarious existence between temporary and part-time contracts (like myself). There are 'traditionally' working-class people who feel affluent as they walk past the increasing numbers of homeless people to buy their groceries. There is an increasing subaltern who have had all opportunities and all safety nets denied to them, and are subject to absolute neglect by the state.
Moreover, I suspect many of the older climbers on here will have grown up in working-class families, but will have seen opportunities (e.g. education and... employment!) open before them that no longer open up in the same way for working-class kids in these days of austerity and contraction. Whereas, in the 1960s, the tendency was for wealth inequality to decrease, now wealth inequality is rapidly increasing. Progressive policies have been scrapped and social regression is the order of the day, avidly defended by the Eton boys currently in charge.
In this situation, talk of the need of a 'middle-class' to check its privilege only serves the wealthy and powerful. What we need is solidarity and a mutual anger based on the fact that all of us who live off welfare or wage rather than off property are being shafted by those who earn money precisely by owning money, and by the fact that the game is being ever more rigged in their favour. Whether its gig-economy climbing instructors, precariously-employed postgrad boulderers, Lancashire plumbers, teachers, postal workers or NHS nurses, we're all being screwed.
This is something not seriously addressed by the article, which blathers about equipment and entry fees, as though these were a luxury. £10 for a night at the bouldering wall should not be a luxury. It is not normal that it seems so to many people. And this is not due to our failure to check our privilege, but to the incredibly and deliberately destructive policies of the Tory government since 2008, which have created vast abject poverty in the midst of a society of astounding wealth. The problem is not simply that of being working-class: it's the problem of the rights of the working class being rolled back and the wealth of ordinary tax payers being redistributed to banks, financiers and hedge-fund managers. It's the problem of ordinary people experiencing less and less freedom and well-being.
I find climbing an escape for the imagination - and I'm sure many others do, too - from the brutality of the reality principle; from the ego-crushing search for a job. From the status economy of consumer culture; from the boredom of work and from the tediousness of exploitation; as well as from the anxiety of our current political, economic and climate crises. My climbing came about almost directly as a result of finding myself unemployed, aimless and depressed. I don't think I, nor most climbers, are actually "universal middle-class, straight, white men", nor that there is a simple story to be told of the relation between class and climbing. Yes, class shapes how, why and where we climb - but climbing is not a privilege any more than the fells, crags and lakes are a privilege; it rightly belongs to us all.
I perceive clubs to be a thing of the past which is a pity. They allowed those on low income to get climbing by sharing transport costs. Think of Creaghdubh, Red Rope and Rock and ice.
Perhaps as travel becomes more of an issue, communal transport will become the norm again allowing those on low incomes to easily get a weekend's climbing in.
Interesting article though doesn't really fit with my experience, I come from a very working class background; though I went to poly in the early 90's where I started climbing, previous to that I was in scouts where I hiked and backpacked.
I do agree though that those with lower incomes would find it more difficult to access climbing due to the costs, which are high compared to playing football for example. Climbing is also still a none mainstream sport.
I have similar experience. In Communist Czechoslovakia, almost no equipment was available except for the black market and it was unreachably expensive for student. My first rope was hemp (torn with me finally) and my first climbing shoes were football shoes with spikes cut away and house shoes with soft sole for sandstone.
Hitchhiking was almost the only way of transport and taking discarded food at the supermarket ramp was common way of eating for Eastern climber on their first trips to Alps in the early 1990s
We were a little envious of rich western climbers, of course but I don´t know anyone to whom poverty and lack of equipment would make impossible to climb if he really wanted to
I identify with your prejudices and agree with your reluctant conclusion!
I guess I tend to resist the deprived/privileged working class/middle class dichotomy since I see myself as starting from arguably the former whilst having certainly arrived at the latter. I starting climbing fairly early partly, attracted, if I’m honest, by its middle class image.
That, and the girls!
> For reasons not clear even to myself, I found myself reading this critically to the point of actively seeking things to object to. I think I've read enough poorly thought out pieces in the past that cover related ground that I was more than a little sceptical that this would be any different.
I've noticed myself doing the same recently, for the same reasons, and not just with with UKC, but agree this piece was pretty good.
Most recently I’ve climbed with a window fitter* and a privately educated member of the ‘elite’. I’m somewhere in between. I was delighted to find on first meeting we all got on like a house on fire, united by a passion for the pointless. *albeit one that can spring for the tenner for a wall visit. I’m not quite sure of the point I’m making, other than that climbing is great and that people find a way when it touches something deep inside.
> Basically when someone's privilege is pointed out, as part of the system not on any individual level, they tend to see it as a personal attack on themselves as being morally bad. ... this isn't a criticism of us on a personal moral level!
Yes, excellent point Toby. As I've followed this stuff over recent years I've seen so many people reply indignantly that they 'did it tough', had no privileges, aren't rich, worked their way up, don't see colour etc and take it as a personal attack, rather than just recognition that there are systemic issues at play. I think articles like this, which was a good one, need to make that point better.
Of course, individuals need to change, at least to some extent, for the systems to be changed, if only because governments are empowered by votes, which, even in the face of corporate lobbying and secret funding, are individual.
This line made me chuckle though:
"...as I am doing with a portion of my fee for this piece."
I very briefly touched on the issue of privilege in a piece I wrote earlier this year for ExWeb, on Antarctic crossings, and for that piece I asked that my whopping $100 fee be donated (to the Khumbu Climbing Centre built by the ALCF). In the Facebook post on my page where I shared the article a very angry young American woman, with a track record of these things, accused me of only being able to afford to do so because of my white privilege. No good deed, etc
I don't think I had it tough. I took the usual middle class route via my dad then Scouts then Poly which meant I usually had access to lots of equipment and cheap trips in the 70's. That was pretty privileged as far as I was concerned. The trips at that time tended to exclude women as some of the huts didn't take them and we didn't always make the effort to be inclusive. This considerably improved in the 80's and 90's in terms of women's access and the increasing numbers of women using walls now is a result of this. The privilege, now, is about access to climbing walls and access to the qualifications which comes down to class/money. The local walls in Bristol run schools competitions very much dominated by the private schools and those from the very leafy suburbs surrounding Bristol. The cost of climbing training is not cheap and is passed directly to the parent. My eldest son was lucky enough to have a very dedicated teacher to inspire him at his inner city state secondary, but I think he is another outlier. There was money in state primary schools for after school climbing, but it is decreasing and doesn't exist for secondary age. I signed up for urban uprising just now so am feeling a bit of a smug basterd, but we will see how that goes.
Few would argue that nowadays (and for well over the last 2/3 decades) climbing is / has been a middle class sport. I'm not sure the author is correct that it was always thus. My impression was that in the 30s for example a large proportion of climbers were working class, e.g. the Creag Dhu operating out of Glasgow, usually by hitching up saturday afternoon for a day climbing on the sunday before returning sunday night, back to the grindstone. Of course there were affluent climbers around also (e.g. within the SMC), but did these really make up the vast majority?
Climbing must be one of the cheapest activities going.
Turn up at a crag and climb.
How you go about this is when you can make it become really expensive.
While there are many people who don’t access climbing when was it ever supposed to be a main stream or mass participation activity?
Fantastic article. Thank you for highlighting. Agree with everything you say.
A very worthwhile article. I'm just old enough to have experienced the tradition of working people getting out to the hills on non working days. The YHA seemed to typify a kind of egalitarianism, where it wasn't possible to pay extra to get out of doing chores.
I am a collier's and mill girl's lad from a council estate. OK I went to university, but I, with a lot of other people, was always doing something outdoors. Activities that didn't cost anything and which, now, would be dignified with the title of "wild swimming", climbing, off-road cycling, coasteering, trail running or parkour; no special equipment!
My reaction to seeing my first bouldering mat is not printable, nor my initial scorn for walking poles. (Not now...)
My point is that so much of the expensive paraphernalia is utterly unnecessary, it's just "got to have". (It's always been the case, of course; when I got some tweed breeches I believed I'd finally made it as a climber.)
Essentially climbing makes you "privileged" because it's a mind expanding activity. In the same way that street dance makes you a dancer and parkour makes you an athlete. You can't go back to a bleak horizonless existence once you have passed through the door. And it needn't cost a penny.
Very interesting article which I found myself agreeing with. In my experience, the majority of climbers seem to be from a middle class background. I am myself, and I started climbing when went to Manchester University in '74, so I fit into that pattern. There were certainly exceptions amoung the climbers who caught the Friday night bus to Stoney Middleton at the time, but with the exception of the Sids, everyone was white male.
The up and coming competition climbers at the moment are, probably without exception, from a relatively well off background. My youngest son was part of that group, competing in the YCS and other open youth competitions and at one time was a memberof the GB development squad. To reach that level required a lot of effort on his part, but also a significant amount of input both financial and time from me and his mum. Coaching is not cheap, even when our local wall offered us a very good deal to support him, then there's travelling to comps etc. It all adds up. The result - the development squad is made up almost entirely of kids from similar backgrounds with supportive parents who are at least financialy fairly secure.
The article suffers from a logical fallacy. The difficulties the author highlights are issues of poverty, not class. Whilst poverty and deprivation overwhelmingly affect people of working-class backgrounds, class itself is not the issue. Of course, deprivation affects people's access to climbing as it does to everything else, and I am not suggesting that should not be a concern. However most working class people are not deprived and affordability should not be an obstacle.
The article refers to "poverty of opportunity". However historically the outdoors provided that opportunity, at least for working class people in the North and Scotland who lived close to the hills. The Kinder Trespass was a largely working-class movement driven by people for whom access to the hills was one of the few affordable recreational outlets available to them. Whillans and Brown were 'outliers' only the the sense that climbing was much more of a niche activity than it is today. They are just the best-known names from a time when largely working-class clubs like the Rock and Ice, Black and Tans and Creagh Dhu were at the forefront of climbing progress. Even if they couldn't afford cars, they used public transport, hitchhikeded or rode motorbikes, and for them the outdoors was affordable and accessible.
Nowadays climbing walls are found throughout the country, often in urban areas and easily accessible. The general improvement in safety has made climbing much more socially acceptable, and means that schools and youth groups are far more willing to take their charges climbing. so kids are now far more likely to be exposed to it. All this greatly increases the opportunity for people from all backgrounds to discover climbing. Of course this costs money, and I accept that cost is an obstacle to people from deprived backgrounds becoming involved. However it is wrong to extrapolate from this that there is a class problem, it is a poverty problem.
My middle-class parents were just as concerned that climbing is dangerous as the working-class parents quoted in the article. Growing up in a middle-class family in the south-east of England I was arguably less "privileged" in terms of being able to go climbing than a working-class youngster from Manchester or Sheffield living only a bus or train ride away from the hills and crags. There were no climbing walls in those days, and I certainly suffered from "poverty of opportunity".
II now climb with people from all backgrounds, to whom class is irrelevant. I don't actually see a class issue, but if there is an obstacle for working class people I wonder whether it is cultural rather than economic? Climbing is no longer on the edge of society, but it is still not mainstream and most people don't understand it. To be a climber is still to be a bit non-conformist. Middle class children are brought up to be individualists, whereas I wonder whether working class culture is more conformist and people from that background are less willing to step outside what is normal for their community? This may also explain why there are so few BEM climbers, something the author doesn't touch on.
My f***ed knees and ankles are testament to the fact that I wish I had used a bouldering mat back in the late 70s when I started climbing and bouldering 😀
i started out with a borrowed harness, and trainers, and we used to get the bus out from Nottingham to Black Rocks and High Tor. I bought a second hand rucksack and some rudimentary gear off Steve Bancroft, and started leading. Later, 4 of us used to share one car and sleep in Stoney every weekend with occasional trips to Wales or the Lakes. I’ve hitched a number of times to Font and Cham. Climbing only got more expensive for me as my income rose and I spent more on it.
Thanks John! Appreciate that
I was about to say much the same thing. Everyone had less money and fewer had cars in the past. However every weekend you'd see teenagers standing at the roundabout at Balloch hitching up to Glencoe. There's no reason why people couldn't still do that but for some reason as we have become richer hitch hiking has fallen out of favour. It's probably something that doesn't even occur to a 20 year old these days.
We have chosen, for reasons of comfort and convenience to pursue our pastime in an expensive manner but if you're keen enough I don't think there's much to stop most of us.
Why don't more working class people climb? I think it's a culture thing. I'd say having a season ticket for a Premier League club and going to their away matches is very much a working class thing but probably more expensive than climbing.
Andy - I definitely have some ideas for 'answers', although clearly they are very much ideas. For me, the crux of increasing opportunity (at least from a perspective of climbers acting 'alone') is around building a system for introduction to the sport, and mentorship through its early stages, that doesn't rely purely on charitable goodwill or walls 'sponsoring' promising kids.
The ways of delivering something like that are rather complex...!
I think we are more on the same page than you realise! I was hesitant to point directly at austerity policy as a simple cause of some of the problems I raised, because clearly the issues go beyond the last decade (and because this is not a political treatise), but I am in no doubt that the evisceration of public services since 2010 has made all of these problems worse.
> I was about to say much the same thing. Everyone had less money and fewer had cars in the past. However every weekend you'd see teenagers standing at the roundabout at Balloch hitching up to Glencoe. There's no reason why people couldn't still do that but for some reason as we have become richer hitch hiking has fallen out of favour. It's probably something that doesn't even occur to a 20 year old these days.
People are a lot less trusting these days, so not many stop to pick up hitchhikers, so it's fallen out of favour.
Thanks for the very interesting take on the article. Although I fully appreciate your point about class and poverty being distinct, I think if you examine the article critically you'll see that I've made quite an effort to keep these things distinct (although I admit that the title may be slightly misleading in that context). I'm not quite sure that amounts to a 'logical fallacy'!
I do think affordability is an issue for communities that would traditionally have been 'working class' - if there was no distinction in income along these old class lines, then it would be true to state that "we are all middle class now" - but I think most readers would accept this as intellectually bankrupt now, if it was ever true.
Likewise around issues of opportunity - I'm not sure that it's right to say that simply having the outdoors 'on your doorstep' outweighs many of the tendencies highlighted in the text around unwillingness to be involved, fear of the unknown etc that you mention in your final paragraph. The crucial point I attempted to get across in the article is not that 'some can overcome (and are therefore worthy/impressive)' but rather 'the majority will not overcome (because they don't know how, and no-one is helping them)'.
Finally, you note that I don't touch on race - I hope this, and other types of privilege, will be dealt with in further articles in the next few months.
> People are a lot less trusting these days, so not many stop to pick up hitchhikers, so it's fallen out of favour.
The bus stop south of Hunters Bar roundabout used to be the spot to hitch out of Sheffield to the Peak, rucksack with a rope on top usually guaranteed a quick pick up. In the early and mid eighties a fairly orderly little queue of hitchers formed there regularly. Easy to get back too, by cadging a lift from one of the pub car parks or paying a few pence on the bus.
Same could be done in Snells Field to get back from the Alps.
So ... I think the article is fundamentally wrong ... but the underlying message is absolutely correct and one which we should be discussing.
Go easy on me. I know this is a bear pit.
Re: Does class impact our ability to climb?
Categorically it does not. I accept 100% that the yoofs get marketing rammed down their throat from dusk to dawn to make them believe that you cannot be a climber without first: becoming a member of a wall, buying brightly coloured tshirts and e9 pants, owning performance down turned shoes, a baggy cap, a massive chalk bag and filling it with a bespoke blend of chalk, a rack renewed yearly, a rockfax subscription (sorry UKC), the latest iphone to review your rockfax app on, a helmet, this years 7.6mm mega skinny set of half ropes that are dry treated for winter, mono points, a <1kg tent, a VM van to road side camp, an arcteryx hardshell with a hydrostatic head of 4,000,000,000mm etc etc etc ... The outdoor industry will tell you that you cannot possibly consider going out climbing without at least £2,000 investment in kit and, if it goes like other countries have gone, one day they'll tell you need private insurance too.
But none of that is necessary and none of it existed 50 years ago. Scotland has almost unlimited access rights. You can scramble in your gutties, you don't need a rope. You can make a woody and screw home made holds above your door to dead hang. Even if you buy the worlds greatest waterproof - you'll still be wet hiking about in Scotland in it - fact.
The high cost of entry to climbing is a product of the last 20 years of an industry growing up around the sport and selling the illusion of "stuff" you need to own and things you need to do in order to be a "climber". It's not a climbing thing though. Every sport out there now looks from outside in like it needs specialist kit and clothing to take part in because the outdoor industry needs to keep selling us stuff.
As our drug infested friend Mr Armstrong told us all: It's not about the bike. The gear, the wall membership and car doesn't make you a climber or stop you climbing. If you want to climb ... you go out and you climb and you don't need wealthy parents to do that.
Re: Does class impact our ability to want to succeed in life.
I think that is a good question to have asked and is the underlying message of the article.
Both my parents were high school teachers. I recall once hearing their response to the question "what is the most important thing you can teach a child?" ... to which they both answered with: aspiration. ABC's, 123's, physics, computing and music can all be taught but if the kid come from a home where low aspiration is the norm ... then they are predisposed not to go on and succeed in life. The elite have it in spades that their kids will be brought up with an expectation of success, experiences to grow their mind and support to lift them up in life. Their kids are taught from day #1 to aspire. Asking how we can lift our kids that started at the lower end to have the same opportunities as those that started life at the higher end (NOT the other way around!) is the question we should be asking ourselves.
There aren't barriers to climbing. You can basically do it anywhere with a bit of rock.
I thought your article was good Inigo - thanks for taking the time to write it.
Whether or not "we are all middle class now", the economic differences between the classes are much less clearly defined than they used to be. This table shows average salaries across a wide range of professions, and shows that some skilled working-class occupations pay as well as, if not better, than many occupations which would be regarded as "middle class":
There are many working class people who are well able to afford to go climbing, but don't. However the same can be said for most middle class people. Climbing is a very strange thing to do and most people just don't get it. For them it's not a question of affordability or accessibility, they don't have that spark that makes them want to climb, even when given the opportunity.
I guess what makes the difference is the opportunities someone has to trigger that spark in the first place. For me it was family holidays to North Wales when I was a kid, so perhaps that shows my middle-class privilege. On the other hand, I know people from northern working class backgrounds who were exposed to it by their school, the scouts or youth clubs, or by climbing neighbours, which I never had the opportunity to do simply because of geography, For others it was a chance meeting with someone who climbed. I recognise that some of those opportunities may have diminished in recent years, my point is that they do not simply depend on class or affluence.
But having triggered that spark, are working class people any less likely to follow it up than middle class people. Despite what I said about middle-class children being brought up as individualists, they are also subject to peer pressure. I think most people who climb have that individualistic streak which transcends their background. People who want to climb usually find a way.
Of course if you can't afford something that will always be an obstacle, and this is a concern for all sports not just climbing. Climbing is not a cheap sport compared with some, but neither is it all that expensive and there are lots of ways to mitigate the cost. A lot of gear can be shared, and accumulated over time.
Whilst the costs for new kit quoted in the article are perfectly realistic (and probably underestimated costs at the upper end), it's perfectly possible to get decent second-hand gear at a fraction of the cost. I've got friends who have given up climbing and sold their entire racks for £200-300 to teenagers keen to get outside, and far more who have bought harnesses and shoes that have proved to be uncomfortable for them and have sold them for peanuts, or even given them away free.
There are plenty of ads on here and on the Outdoor Gear Exchange selling decent hardware cheaply - there just isn't a need to spend a grand on kit if you can't afford to or don't want to - as long as you aren't fussy. Whilst I can't possibly claim to be from a deprived working-class background, when I started climbing (and whilst I was a teenager and student) I was happen to take any gear offered free or cheap.
Indoor climbing isn't cheap, even though you need less kit, but it's perfectly possible to go bouldering outside with nothing but some cheap shoes - and to find someone to go climbing with who has a rack and ropes already.
I think you touch on an important point, and that this is perhaps more to do with opportunity and perception rather than just cost and affordability. Inigo does allude to this in his original article.
I used to freelance in outdoor education, and one client was a charity running alternative curriculum for 12-16 year old pupils from Rotherham and Sheffield. I can still recall my shock, bearing in mind I myself grew up in relative poverty, when my first group (of mostly lads) looked at me with total blankness when I told them we were going out in the Peak District. Not one of them had heard of it, knew what was on offer there, or anything about it.
Their life experience was so narrow that teaching them about clothing to wear outdoors, basic nutrition, weather and things like not dropping litter needed addressing. Hard work but worthwhile the first time you saw one of them "get it". I don't think any of them became climbers, perhaps a few walkers, but that wasn't really the point. It was to show them there was something else, more than the confines of their narrow, parochial experience.
Really good piece. A couple of quick thoughts:
- the reason this piece is good, and some other stuff about 'privilege' and climbing recently (here and elsewhere) isn't, is that this piece is explicitly about class and economic advantage/disadvantage. Class is still the number 1 determining factor in life outcomes in the UK (as well as the USA). The current identity politics movement, however, doesn't want to talk about class anymore, in favour of categories like race, gender, and any identity that doesn't 'privilege' white men. There are sometimes good reasons for this - racism is real; sexism is real; discrimination against trans people is real - but unfortunately the bog standard manifestation of identity politics is to pay lip service to 'intersectionality' whilst actually refusing to acknowledge the biggest intersection of all: class. We can speculate as to why that is (I have some theories) but what it often ends up creating is a cock-eyed view of 'privilege' which is all about social 'power relations' and hurt feelings, yet with almost nothing to say about how poverty is the most damaging factor of all. So that, I think, is why a lot of people who hated the recent piece about (for example) 'decolonising' climbing, have nothing but praise for this one. And FWIW, I think they are right to respond this way around.
- Which leads me to think that the above article would be even better if it ditched the language of 'privilege' entirely, with all its now unhelpful connotations, and just used the older but more transparent language of 'advantaged' versus 'disadvantaged'.
- Indeed, wouldn't the left as a whole be better off doing that...and in the process, returning to its older and more solid root as a politics organised around the concerns of economic injustice and inequality?
> I think you touch on an important point, and that this is perhaps more to do with opportunity and perception rather than just cost and affordability. Inigo does allude to this in his original article.
This reminds me of one of our PhD students. His family is wealthy and he has never lacked for money, but his life experience is also incredibly narrow in many ways and he is very naive about a lot of things. We had a day out on the Cobbler recently. He hadn't bought lunch because he assumed he would be able to buy something. The concept of being more than half an hours easy walk from a shop or cafe was completely alien to him, he just had no idea that he wouldn't just be able to pick something up. It was incredible to watch his face when we were taking in the views though. He said afterwards that he had no idea that any part of the UK had that much open space.
Of course, that is also not the norm. But, I agree that opportunity and perception are also forms of privilege and they don't necessarily go hand in hand with class.
how would you objectively define social class here, without reference to wealth or economic status?
Is the author familiar with Joe Brown and Don Whillans?
In fact the broad trajectory of climbing shifted from being broadly upper class pre war (give or take) when it was practice for expeditions to bigger stuff abroad (Mallory et al.) to a working class escape on the crags for its own sake. (Brown, Whillans, through to those on the 'climbers wage' in the 80s dossing in Stoney Middleton bus shelter (or wherever it was).)
I think the author must be slightly blinkered and a product of their time, paying to climb indoors is only a small part of 'climbing', and climbing itself is broadly classless, although there has been an influx of urban trendies over the last 5-10years.
Edit: I see they are (I admit I skim read it from about half way down). I would strongly argue they aren't outliers but beat at the heart of climbing.
> Is the author familiar with Joe Brown and Don Whillans?
She mentions both, which suggests you haven't bothered to read it.
You can see my edit.
I would add that however it is argued I won't agree with it. Climbing is a 'sport' that has very low barriers to entry beyond that of geography. Golf, yachting, power boat racing, horse racing etc etc are sports that are for those of privilege.
This is set out in paras 3-6. It's very clear that that the article isn't saying there are no working class people climbing, but it demonstrates with linked data that there are less people from working class background engaged in the broader categories of activities/of sports which climbing could come under. As for what the barriers are, thats the rest of the article from para 4 onwards, but ultimately financial and social restrictions.
I'm from a working class background but was the first from the family to go to university & I guess I'm now middle class. One of my cousins (same background) was mad about horses & became a jockey (although he had to change career after a couple of years as he struggled to keep his weight down). I also know working class kids who got into sailing via the Scouts or other youth groups. So working class kids can get into some of these sports considered expensive if they have the motivation & opportunity. But clearly its much easier for someone from a well off family.
There is a significant difference to the post-war era. Yes, the rocks are still pretty much the same if you can get to them, and you can still have just as much fun on them by yourself as ever. BUT, if you were to do so nowadays you would soon run into plenty of climbers with specialist shoes, ropes, crash pads and all manner of fairly expensive toys. These toys inevitably help define the modern activity, whether that be bouldering, trad, sport or anything else; and to a degree that simply didn't exist in the post-war years. It's certainly not inevitable that such a keen individual with none of these toys would feel confident in integrating with a set of people he or she may feel they have little in common with.
> There is a significant difference to the post-war era. Yes, the rocks are still pretty much the same if you can get to them, and you can still have just as much fun on them by yourself as ever. BUT, if you were to do so nowadays you would soon run into plenty of climbers with specialist shoes, ropes, crash pads and all manner of fairly expensive toys. These toys inevitably help define the modern activity, whether that be bouldering, trad, sport or anything else; and to a degree that simply didn't exist in the post-war years. It's certainly not inevitable that such a keen individual with none of these toys would feel confident in integrating with a set of people he or she may feel they have little in common with.
Yes, that is a very fair point.
Like a couple of others have said, I felt much more on board with this article by the time I finished it than I expected to from the title and introduction.
The goal of promoting opportunities for disadvantaged people to access the benefits that climbing offers, as Urban Uprising does - that's great and totally laudable. Who could argue?
I do however have a couple of problems with the article. Firstly it doesn't need to place 'checking your privilege' up front the way it does. The emphasis seems misplaced - the title implies the article is all about 'our' experience, that of the assumed (privileged) reader, and the introduction reinforces that. I don't disagree that having an awareness of one's own privileges is important - it's a necessary grounding for being a compassionate and fair-minded person - but I think the article could have focused less on this and more on the ways we can encourage participation and why.
I also think the economic argument is a bit confused. No question, some people have little or no disposable income, but someone's point about season football tickets is a good one. In this sense the article's elision of class and income is problematic - however you define it, there are plenty of 'working class' people who are doing fine, and there are people living in serious poverty.
Far more intriguing I think is the 'knowledge base and breadth of experience' aspect. I think if you can start to overcome that, the economic issue quickly looks less of a problem, for the reasons various people have pointed out - if you want to go climbing, it really doesn't have to cost much. It is certainly a lot easier to go climbing without a car than this article makes out - a car is obviously more convenient and opens up options, but there are loads of crags located close to cities that can be, and are, easily accessed by train or bus or bike.
'climbing, like so many walks of life, is dominated by the abundant structural norms that restrain and depress whole swathes of the population'.
What do you mean here by 'climbing'? The activity of climbing itself? The imagined community of climbers around the country? How do you get from the claim that climbing is done predominantly by middle-class people to the assertion that climbing is dominated by the norms of class structure? Is this anything more than a tautology?
Well yes, it states that poor people excercise less although I'm not sure whether this is limited to exercise during leisure time and then goes on to make a number of assertions as to why this is the case.
I'm not sure that the assertions are entirely accurate or tell the whole story.
It would be nice to see if there is a correlation between the cost of a pastime and level of participation based on disposable income. If not the article is not much more than a conversation piece really.
Of course climbing is middle class, just count the number of cafetieres you find in a club hut!
Sensibly though, when I started climbing, I climbed mainly with dolites and students. Public transport was much better then and hitching was the norm rather than the taboo it is today.
The last 10 individuals I have climbed with are:
Youth support worker
A fair spread of work/class, if anything erring towards the working. No lords, ladies, ceos or fund managers in there.
It's posible to buy new climbing shoes for adults for £30. Kids under £20. At least do your research instead of assuming. I've seen plenty of posts on here over the years asking for old shoes for clubs. I've also seen kids climbing in trainers quite happily.
Climbing is far from an experience only for those with "privilege".
What with this and the gender fluid dyno thing it's all getting a bit tiresome and "woke" in here.
Excellent article so thanks.
In classless USSR there were climbing clubs anyone could join and if you were good at it or dedicated then you would be sent to learn with the experts on trade union paid holidays in winter mountains or summer. They were strict on safety and routine but good places to be and one is written about by Hamish MacInnes in one his travels to Communist USSR's Mount Elbrus in the 60s.
Personally I come from a council scheme where when people would see Bonington or others on Blue Peter they seen posh folk doing posh things like climbing that were as far away and on a different planet to us as yachting or playing Polo. I have met only 2 outdoor climbers who were working and not middle class in 20 years of climbing.
Just a thought, but saying “there were loads of working class climbers in the 80s who lived on the dole” rather leaves out the fact that the benefits system is now far less generous than it was under Thatcher, such that it is now simply impossible to do what Jerry Moffat etc did. (And before anyone says that life on benefits is an easy ride: no, it isn’t, we have one of the meanest welfare systems in Western Europe, and nobody living on the dole today will be able to afford much more than to stay alive.)
As for those who keep pointing out that class and income are not always correlated: yes FINE, that is true, so just use your imagination and substitute “class” for “having more of less money” (which, by the way, are two things that are usually highly correlated) in the above and thereby focus on the actual points the author is making
Hmmmm, the Dynos piece (which was awful) wasn’t published by UKC, and if you read the above it is really a very different article, they just both happen to use the dreaded P word.
Here’s an example of how it wasn’t easier to live on the dole back in the 1980’s
But I've never felt uncomfortable climbing. I've met people from all kinds of backgrounds climbing. Compared with when I tried snowsports for example I felt quite out of place even though I guess I count as middle class now due to my job and education.
That isn't how I read it.
But what that document doesn’t cover is that in the 1980s - according to the recent Statement of Youth documentary - the climbers simply had to hitch hike back to Sheffield from North Wales once a fortnight to sign on, no further questions asked. To say the system has changed in terms of how benefits are paid out and to who, and what they have to do to get them, would be a large understatement.
“.......only 30 active climbers in the entire country...” Really??!!
Good Grief.......I've just read the article all as well as the thread attached to it.
As a general rule, people with less money have less opportunities (made worse if they are lazy) or need to get resourceful and take advantage of opportunities (if they can be bothered). This is a simple fact and has nothing to do with climbing!
It is easier to get into climbing now than it ever has been and just look at how many people actually leave the climbing wall and climb outside these days, never mind climbing things like the brown-patey route 60+ years ago, because it is too much like hard work, too dangerous and too much hassle.
You can spend a thousand pound on a single fishing rod, a golf club, the same in tennis lessons and even more in beer and fags sat on the local council estate club sofa watching league football or the rugby world cup.
In my professional life I see the class system on a daily basis. It exists, it is powerful and it is alive and kicking in the world today and some of the things that go on are incredibly immoral, bordering on the illegal, but it has nothing to do with climbing.
I've climbed with steelworkers and surgeons. The steel workers were better because they were more reliable and less inclined to having a self absorbed superiority complex..
The problem is that if you only ever climb with and socialise with like minded individuals you start to believe your own bullshit.
> But what that document doesn’t cover is that in the 1980s - according to the recent Statement of Youth documentary - the climbers simply had to hitch hike back to Sheffield from North Wales once a fortnight to sign on, no further questions asked. To say the system has changed in terms of how benefits are paid out and to who, and what they have to do to get them, would be a large understatement.
Well given that there were millions of unemployed people, almost no jobs and very limited technology it was indeed possible to turn up at your allotted time, answer yes to the ‘have you been looking for work’ question, sign on and then be free to do whatever you wanted for a fortnight.
There wasn’t any point in making the system any more draconian as there weren’t many/any jobs to apply for.
This was great for those of us who were single, had no commitments and didn’t mind living in squalor.
It was pretty shit for everybody else.
> “.......only 30 active climbers in the entire country...” Really??!!
> Is the author familiar with Joe Brown and Don Whillans?
> In fact the broad trajectory of climbing shifted from being broadly upper class pre war (give or take) when it was practice for expeditions to bigger stuff abroad (Mallory et al.) to a working class escape on the crags for its own sake. (Brown, Whillans, through to those on the 'climbers wage' in the 80s dossing in Stoney Middleton bus shelter (or wherever it was).)
I was going to post on this, and saw your post. A large chunk of the dole sponsored climbers were from very posh backgrounds even though they were living in a woodshed etc. Think Ben, Jerry, Johnny et al.
i shared a house back then with some well known and even famous climbers. Their nickname for me was ‘alien subculture’ because I was a working class kid from Birmingham. No disrespect, I was just from a very different background.
Yeah, fair point.
> Yeah, fair point.
I wasn’t trying to make out that people on benefits today have it easy and certainly not when it comes to the hoops they have to jump through.
Lot of the comments seem to suggest joiners and builders as underprivileged. They often earn good money these days! My underprivileged friends normally work 6days a week to just provide food and a roof for family, so no chance of having time to get good at any sport nevermind climbing which is very labour intensive. Plus taking up a sport which could see your family on street with one bad move wouldn't seem logical. So definitely having a financial buffer helps you get into climbing, no Matter where that buffer comes from....
As someone said earlier class and financial security aren't always the same thing.
People on benefits do have time.
Not everyone has a family to worry about.
It's more complicated than just money I think.
The emphasis on class is a mistake. The author puts forward no evidence to support the claim that climbing is overwhelmingly middle-class, which flies in the face of the experience of many of us. Perhaps the decline of clubs means that more people climb in small groups of people just like themselves, but like many others on this thread I have climbed with people from all backgrounds. I don't know what class they consider themselves to be, because it is not important and we don't discuss it.
It is a mistake because it distracts from the real message of this thread, which is that there are disadvantaged people in our society who could be helped by climbing. Of course the character-building possibilities of the outdoors have been recognised for decades, and there are many organisations which help to give people opportunities to expand their horizons and discover themselves.
The other question is how easy is it for disadvantaged people to become involved with climbing long-term, rather than as a one-off experience? Whilst the cost bar for climbing is not as high as has been claimed, it is undoubtedly the case that you do need some disposable income to do it. Apart from the cost of gear, to climb you must either use artificial facilities, which have to be paid for, or travel to natural crags. There isn't much we can do about that. Clubs used to be the way into the sport for people from all backgrounds, but they are now out of fashion. Clubs also cost money to run, and a large proportion of their subscription is accounted for by the BMC contribution so their ability to offer concessionary rates is limited.
We have to face the fact that climbing can't be for everyone. What Urban Uprising is doing is great, but it and similar organisations can't reach everyone, and older people in particular are often excluded from initiatives aimed at kids and young people. However we have to remind ourselves that climbing isn't unique. We like to think it is special, because to us it is, but the things we we get out of it can also be found in other activities, and for those whose affordable income is simply too low to be able to climb there are alternative activities such as running or cycling which can be equally beneficial and which can be more easily carried out within their communities and at a lower cost.
Honest people on benefits are probably more interested in working out were the next 5 quid for the electric meter is coming from than how to get into the middle of nowhere to climb a rock. You only have to look at how many people in 3rd world countries climb to see the importance wealth and free time (which often go hand in hand) play. You right about family changing circumstances, but does that mean poor people have to choose between Hobies and family..?
Ps - claiming the dole so you can climb whilst others work hard to prop you up isn't actually that cool...
Good article, made me think about alot of the things i take for granted that facilitate me being able to go climbing.
The more I think about the article the I feel that the author formulated a conclusion based on their preconceptions and prejudices and then framed an argument to support it without any real objective evidence.
Why for example is climbing in the UK dominated by white people? If you consider the ethnic make up of the UK, Europe and the US there should be some top class climbers that aren't white. I can't think of any.
Those of us who do climb have not been granted a special right, the definition of privilege, but it is true to say that some who are disadvantaged are prevented from climbing.
It's more complicated and perhaps less sinister than the author suggests.
That's a better read than the article itself. Well said.
> Why for example is climbing in the UK dominated by white people?
because the UK is dominated by white people?
>If you consider the ethnic make up of the UK, Europe and the US there should be some top class climbers that aren't white. I can't think of any.
off the top of my head, and looking across the last 30 years: Molly Thompson-Smith, Dalvinder Sodhi, Tracy Harrison, Debbie Birch, Trevor Massiah...
The article works as a clickbait discussion point, but not as a rigorous analysis
I've paid more tax into the pot than I've taken out myself. I'm not being propped up.
Getting out of the house to do anything even just walking means you don't need to put as much money on the meter for watching TV or heating the house.It's also extremely good for mental health.
Seriously flawed with prepositions to suite his agenda and a distinct lack of climbing history knowledge and demographics.
I was taught to climb by a fitter. I had a clapped out car and spent many hours working on it in the rain after work so we could climb every weekend. I became vegetarian in the 70’s (because I couldn’t afford meat - not because it was fashionable). Climbing isn’t about class, privilege, upbringing, status … it’s about attitude. If you are hungry for something you go get it. If you are not, academics write about you telling you how unfair your life is.
Don't you realise how elitist that is ;-).
The less people of any class who get into climbing the better. Too many people cluttering up the hills. The mountains are poetry, the masses prose.
> Climbing isn’t about class, privilege, upbringing, status … it’s about attitude. If you are hungry for something you go get it.
Beautifully put! Couldn't agree more.
Is that entirely separate? I don't think so.
I also agree with Mick.
I've found that a lot of outdoor climbers in Yorkshire are working class, although most working trades such as plumbers etc so not many of the most disadvantaged. Climbing at indoor centres I've found the vast majority to be middle class though, especially when I've visited walls down south when I've been working there.
Sure a lot of kids like myself went scrambling on rocks at places like Baildon, Shipley Glen and otley chevin in trainers and then wanted to take it a bit further when they got a job. Of course if you live no where near any rocks that's not likely to happen.
A lot of climbers seem to have started climbing with university climbing clubs and there's very little opportunity for other young people to join similar clubs. This is despite many working class 18-21 year olds who've gone into work having more money than people who've gone to uni.
> A lot of climbers seem to have started climbing with university climbing clubs ...
Probably over half the climbers I've met, especially amongst climbers under 40, even though that's not how I got into climbing.
Obviously that's only my experience though.
I spent much of the 80s as a student or working in universities & it was very common for most of the first year members of the uni climbing clubs to be either complete beginners (often with some hill walking experience) or to have had just the odd outing with the Scouts, school or a youth club/group. And of those I've climbed with outside university clubs I'd guess at least a third, maybe half either started at university or went from very occassional to frequent climbers.
Of course that may have changed since.
Thanks Pete. Sleepy ramblings; not sure I made my point very well, but thanks all the same.
I didn't say we were on a different page altogether, but my framework would be class struggle, not privilege.
My original comment was a bit rambling, but I disagree with your comment that Joe Brown, etc., where outliers. I think they emerged in a postwar period in which working-class people advanced everywhere across society and re-created culture in their image (including climbing culture). What we have seen since Thatcher, on the other hand, is concerted attacks on the working class and their power (including cultural power). At the same time, certain things instituted under Thatcher (e.g. the financialisation of housing) confused our understanding of class for a brief period, as social mobility was maintained not by rising wages and workers' power but by cheap credit and rapidly rising land prices. That bubble burst in the 2008, and now many people who made the journey in their life time from being "working-class" to being "middle-class" (whatever those terms even mean by now) are watching their own grown up children struggle... even as young people are probably more mobile and better educated, and with access to all this gadgetry that projects the spectacle of "the future" onto the paucity of contemporary life.
How climbing fits into this is a really complex question, but I would say that climbing is not the possession of the elite now, as it was at the start of the C20th. It has been made and remade by working-class people and it belongs to us as much as anyone.
That's not to say, as you point out in your interesting article, that there are not challenges - particularly for those who come from families and from areas of the country that have been particularly ravaged by austerity over the last decade, and by deindustrialisation over the last 40 years.
Connected this... Various people above made points about welfare, and 1980s climbers on the dole. Since the 1970s, we've developed an economy that will never allow full employment. Despite that, in the last 10 years we've developed an extremely sadistic and punitive system that punishes people for not getting jobs that don't exist and starves them off of welfare payments, making people leap through hoops for less than you need to feed yourself. This is a major blow to working class power. When you need a job to avoid abject poverty, your boss can screw you anyhow they want and you'll take it. When you're blamed and shamed for being unemployed, the bosses are empowered. But, beyond that, dole money used to be a way that working-class people could find space to create - to become artists, musicians, climbers. Now, no longer - and with that, apart from instituting misery, we see a serious blow to the cultural life of the UK.
I do see and meet a lot of working-class people in climbing though - especially in Lancashire. People are still getting out and still finding in climbing an escape from the generalised misery. To my mind, the gender gap is perhaps more significant - though perhaps worse where class and gender overlap? And perhaps worse than both of these, my impression is that climbing is quite a white sport. It might be a mistaken impression, or one specific to Cumbria/Lancashire, but I wonder if this has a lot to do with, e.g., the whiteness of our constructions of "the British countryside", "the Great Outdoors" and of "mountaineering", with all of its colonial history and connotations. Although, it may also relate to the fact that black and ethnic minority populations tend to be more urban in the UK - which again relates us back to class, amongst other things.
Anyway - it remains to say, thanks for raising the debate on UKC.
If you search out the original article's author's profile ...
I'm struggling to find any evidence of him having any knowledge of any other kind of upbringing than that of being a 'privileged' middle class wealthyish kind of guy.
Experiencing poverty for him would probably be like a sledge hammer in the face.
> How climbing fits into this is a really complex question, but I would say that climbing is not the possession of the elite now, as it was at the start of the C20th. It has been made and remade by working-class people and it belongs to us as much as anyone.
> That's not to say, as you point out in your interesting article, that there are not challenges - particularly for those who come from families and from areas of the country that have been particularly ravaged by austerity over the last decade, and by deindustrialisation over the last 40 years.
Thank you (I think?!) - really interesting and valuable input that I will take forward. I particularly like your comment about climbing being "made and remade by working-class people".
I think you are absolutely right - but I think there'll need to be a bit of 'agree to disagree' over the outliers thing. Nothing I've seen on this thread so far, despite the incisive views of lots of people (such as Mick), convinces me that 'attitude' (as someone termed it) does anything other than create a small number of exceptionally driven individuals - a point that I think I preempted by addressing it directly in the article. The purpose of what I wrote was to highlight how few (note emphasis) people are able to overcome the abundant barriers that still exist when you look at income inequality, cost of living, stagnant wages etc... I hope that makes sense.
As I think I mentioned before, I entirely agree re: austerity...
"I feel that the author formulated a conclusion based on their preconceptions and prejudices and then framed an argument to support it without any real objective evidence."
Eric, did you follow the hyperlinks that were dotted through the text? Fair enough if you didn't, it does break up the flow of the article. But they contain useful (scholarly) evidence that backs up many of the points I was making - particularly around relationship between average income and exercise, access to appropriate environments etc.
Hmm, I've been following this very interesting debate for a few days now.
I'm not sure that the debate about "outliers" is actually helpful. It's only in the past 10 years (probably 5) that climbing walls have experienced a huge surge in popularity, and indoor climbing has really become a "thing" in its own right. Before then, indoor climbing was only ever a substitute or training for climbing outdoors.
Why is this important: because until then everyone who climbed was an outlier. People defined themselves as climbers, whether they were unemployed Glaswegian shipyard workers, Manchester plumbers, escaped Home Counties middle-managers, London tax-men or Sheffield dolies.
Climbing set you apart from everyone else. It gave you purpose, made you different. Overcoming adversity and danger on the rocks was the whole purpose. Economic and class-based obstacles were a lesser concern.
Class was sometimes held as a badge of honour. Ask any middle-class English student at a Scottish university, discovering the highlands about meeting the Creag Dubh for the first time!
> "I feel that the author formulated a conclusion based on their preconceptions and prejudices and then framed an argument to support it without any real objective evidence."
> Eric, did you follow the hyperlinks that were dotted through the text? Fair enough if you didn't, it does break up the flow of the article. But they contain useful (scholarly) evidence that backs up many of the points I was making - particularly around relationship between average income and exercise, access to appropriate environments etc.
You make some good points.
It occur to me that climbing walls could could charge less for the unemployed. It wouldn't make real climbing any cheaper but it would make urban based training more accessible.
> It occur to me that climbing walls could could charge less for the unemployed. It wouldn't make real climbing any cheaper but it would make urban based training more accessible.
I’d be on board with that!
Re: unsubstantiated points/evidence- fair enough. I think I’ve laid out appropriate evidence for what is, at the end of the day, an opinion piece but it’s good to know where the bar is...🙂
Somewhere in there with being a creepy troll, you’ve actually managed to make a point! Well done 🙂
You’re right (ish) about my background, but I think anyone can see that the discussion here is a useful one - why my own circumstances should have any bearing on whether or not I highlight those issues is entirely unclear to me.
Totally agree. You've a perfect right to raise these issues and I thank you for doing so.
Part of the problem, if indeed it is a problem, is that back in the days when I started climbing it was a very, very minority activity. This was due to poorer communications and travel facilities. Indeed I would go so far as to say that amongst the working class people I was brought up with many were not even aware that such activities took place. I only got to know about it because I did a lot of hiking in the Peak District and came across it almost by chance. The majority of boys, if not all, had been brought up on a diet of cricket and football and by the time they got to an age where they were more independent their habits were already formed. At that time, the 60's, most groups I encountered were University students and seemed more middle class than my small group of friends. Climbing back then, if you lived near by as I did, was relatively cheap gear wise and it was I think the time when climbing was opening up to a much wider spectrum of the population.
Rock climbing maybe but in the 60s and 70s large numbers of kids in the countryside where I lived climbed trees. In the cities if there was no rock and trees were too public they climbed on playground climbing frames and buildings. In the late 40s some climbed on bombed landscapes. The riskiest climbs I've ever done, were probably back then on diseased elms. Climbing is instinctive for many kids but we are more sensible these days about the risks.
Absolutely but I was talking about climbing in the context of a "sport" not a verb.
I'd say that the author made the mistake of using THAT word: 'privilege', which although great as click-bate, is just lazy at this point in time, and unhelpful, as it makes 50% of readers hostile from the start (if you want to piss people off, keep the punchline till the end). If they want to move onto the issue of race in UK climbing, try and write something that pulls people together, and doesn't sets out to divide (men vs women, rich vs poor, white vs black etc), otherwise, it's just more toxic, unhelpful click-bate no one needs to read.
> You make some good points.
> It occur to me that climbing walls could could charge less for the unemployed. It wouldn't make real climbing any cheaper but it would make urban based training more accessible.
This used to happen. 30 ish years ago when I was unemployed, I had a card which entitled me to free use of local authority leisure facilities. This included a good climbing wall. The politics of local government and the movement of leisure facilities into the private sector do not bode well for its return.
In fairness some private walls offer pensioner rates, student discounts and the like. The provision of discounts for the unemployed has fallen off my radar, it may or may not exist.
I just found it was stating the obvious, that people who can't afford to go to climbing walls, buy gear or travel to the outdoors are less likely to go and take up climbing. It's hard to argue with that and I guess it applies to many other sports too. You can introduce people to these sports but in most cases is it not just showing the poor kids what they are missing out on? If a kid gets taken to the wall a few times via one of these charities and loves it, as well as shows some natural talent what happens at the end of the course? He's still poor, still can't afford any climbing gear and can't get to any crags/walls. I guess if it maybe plants a seed and gives him something to aim for, a reason to try and get themselves out of poverty then it's a good thing but does that happen much?
You have hit the nail on the head there. Inclusion issues, be they class, gender, race or other are frequently presented as climbing specific when they are not.
And separately, I still don't quite get the privilege idea, if anyone can fill me in it would be handy.
For example, I'm a white male, who lives a broadly middle-class lifestyle, so I'm privileged apparently. So what is the tipping point? at what stage does one go from privileged to disadvantaged, what's the "average".
Is a rich, able-bodied, black, gay woman more or less privileged than a poor, disabled, straight white man? Is there like a scoring system?
They could presumably both be considered advantaged in some ways and disadvantaged in others depending on the exact scenario they are in on a given day. I think most people could argue they have some disadvantages in some areas of their lives, I know I could. Or is it basically all down to money, "no one cares that you got beat up for being gay because hey, you're loaded"?
I don't think anyone is questioning the basic premise of the article, which is that some people are excluded from climbing because they don't have enough money. The article is well-written and at least in part evidence-based, but that doesn't stop it being a statement of the obvious. Undoubtedly it does the rest of us no harm to be reminded, but there can be few to whom this comes as a surprise. If you don't have money, you are excluded from a lot of things, many of them higher up the hierarchy of needs than climbing or other forms of recreation. Also, lacking money can also damage confidence and self-esteem and make it more difficult to engage in activities.
The part of the article I have most difficulty with is the conclusion, where it says "If we ... also accept that the sport is still in many places dominated by a prototypical 'middle-class' group, then we have to arrive at the conclusion that climbing, like so many walks of life, is dominated by the abundant structural norms that restrain and depress whole swathes of the population (groups of people who in my experience have huge amounts to give not just to climbing, but to society at large)."
Firstly, I don't accept the claim that climbing is dominated by a "prototypical 'middle-class' group" and the author has shown us nothing but his own assumptions and an erroneous historical analysis to support this. The second part of the statement I simply don't understand, and seems to be just sociological jargon What are these depressing "structures"? Climbing doesn't have the social cachet or intimidating social trappings of, say, golf or tennis. If you are a climber you share an affinity with other climbers regardless of background or income, and whilst it would be naive to pretend that social differences don't ever matter, we are united by climbing.
None of this is to say that the problem of disadvantaged people being excluded doesn't exist. However the solution to this goes way beyond climbing and is for society at large to deal with (at which, currently, it seems to be failing). Most of the costs of climbing are on things outside climbers' control.
> And separately, I still don't quite get the privilege idea,
It's a term I really dislike. Unfortunately, all too often it is used to shut down debate, or to devalue someone's opinion because they don't have direct personal experience of the issue. Sometimes its use can be really nasty, such as the Guardian's comment about David Cameron's loss of his young son. It also suggests that you are particularly advantaged, to a greater extent than most people, with the added implication that this is undeserved. Most people are capable of recognising those areas of life where they are fortunate and better off than others without considering themselves to be "privileged", which in normal usage is confined to a small number of people who through wealth or other advantages are separated from the rest of us. Besides, as you point out, advantages in some areas may be offset by difficulties in others. It is a toxic word, and although the author doesn't use it this way and explains what he means by it, it would have been better left out, in my opinion.
In my recent experience, “privilege” is a word that my more close-minded and dogmatic students use to accuse me of being some sort of far right reactionary in response to my suggestion that they might need to read a book before deciding that what it says is wrong. It is in turn an excuse to not have to consider anything that might - shock, horror - offer a different perspective on the world.
More generally it’s a way to disqualify somebody from having a right to be considered, by suggesting that whether they know it or not, mean it or not, everything that they say and believe is necessarily compromised because probably bigoted (or as the current lingo puts it, “problematic”).
See also “man-splaining”, whose function isn’t simply to identify a phenomenon in a dispassionate way but in fact to accuse the speaker of being an unreconstructed sexist who had better now shut up and back down Or Else.
> In my recent experience, “privilege” is a word that my more close-minded and dogmatic students use to accuse me of being some sort of far right reactionary in response to my suggestion that they might need to read a book before deciding that what it says is wrong.
What do you teach? Have you actually been called directly a "far right reactionary" by a student?!
> See also “man-splaining”, whose function isn’t simply to identify a phenomenon in a dispassionate way but in fact to accuse the speaker of being an unreconstructed sexist who had better now shut up and back down Or Else.
Do you think women don't have things, that they already fully understand, regularly re-explained to them then? And if so, could it not be a description of people's lived experiences, rather than an attack on the personal morality of the mansplainer?
> Climbing doesn't have the social cachet or intimidating social trappings of, say, golf or tennis.
That's something that would be interesting to study, but if you look at the after dinner speaking circuit there seem to be lots of people who seem to think mountaineering in particular has a lot of cachet. Isn't an expensive roadbike as much a status symbol these days as fancy gold clubs?
> If you are a climber you share an affinity with other climbers regardless of background or income,
I think that is ultimately possible, but actually rather hard - the people we meet through climbing we still see meet through the lenses of our socialisation - with all the potential class, gender, sexuality and other prejudices we have. The majority of people I climb with are rather like me in many ways. "Other climbers" is already a somewhat limited set (I've taken a Kenyan friend, who I met via a language course, ice climbing and he really enjoyed it but I've never met anyone who is black through climbing). Secondly of the "other climbers" who I have met, it's not a strange idea that you tend to get on well with the ones who have things in common with. I think it's not as simple as you make out.
> and whilst it would be naive to pretend that social differences don't ever matter, we are united by climbing.
But you could be united by some other common factor in other situations (language, gender, nationality etc.). I don't think climbing is necessarily more powerful in overcoming those other differences than any other shared common identity.
Actual mansplaning is really quite irritating.
Not as irritating as you suggesting it's not real and just a way of shutting up men.
I'm a white women. Although my family background is made up of immigrants from many places, because I'm white it's really not obvious and so I don't get abused for it. That is privilege. I pass as one of them.
Although I'm from a working class background, my family value education as the route to a better life. I was expected to and did get a degree. I didn't suffer the from the poverty of aspirations I see so much now. I was able to go to University as it was funded then.
I've never had to be uncomfortable at a social event or at work when the small talk turns to husbands. As a straight person it's not something I've had to deal with, deciding who to tell about my relationship and worrying about homophobic attitudes. Less of a problem now, but even so many Gay teachers aren't comfortable being out. Not having to worry about it is a privilege.
I hope this helps explain.
I don't think it's about deserving or not.
I am white. This makes my life easier in some situations. It's a fact. I didn't choose to be white and I didn't earn it. It's about acknowledging that those who aren't white have more to put up with sometimes and they don't deserve to be abused for something they have no control of.
> I'd say that the author made the mistake of using THAT word: 'privilege', which although great as click-bate, is just lazy at this point in time, and unhelpful
I think the lazy, click-bait expression of the moment is 'liberal elite' rather than 'privilege'. Privilege is real and always has been; 'liberal elite' is a modern construct that is designed to divide the population and incite feelings of bitterness. It actually refers to people who are 'successful and open-minded'. Not such a bad thing!
The most astonishing thing in UK/US politics today is that the most privileged people are managing to use 'liberal elite' to demonise a sector of the population and further their right-wing agenda.
> The most astonishing thing in UK/US politics today is that the most privileged people are managing to use 'liberal elite' to demonise a sector of the population and further their right-wing agenda.
The most astonishing thing in UK/US politics today is that the most liberal elite people are managing to use 'white privilege' to demonise a sector of the population and further their left wing agenda.
Both statements are equally valid IMO.
> The most astonishing thing in UK/US politics today is that the most liberal elite people are managing to use 'white privilege' to demonise a sector of the population and further their left wing agenda.
Well they're not making a very good job of it!
Whereas Trump, Farage, Bojo and Mog are making a killing...
Here's the thing though, men mansplain to men, too:
I'm not denying that (some) men talk down to women, and that it must be infuriating. But we already had a perfectly serviceable word for that: "patronising" (literally: to speak to somebody as though you were their father).
Do men patronise women - absolutely.
So what is added by using the word "mansplaining"? In theory, it could simply be pointing out that men tend to patronise women. I'd be fine with that - it's true. However, *in practice* the term has evolved and now it is (at least in the world I live in) used not to pick out a phenomenon of patronisation, but to lob an accusation that cannot be safely dealt with other than simply backing away quietly.
> But you could be united by some other common factor in other situations (language, gender, nationality etc.). I don't think climbing is necessarily more powerful in overcoming those other differences than any other shared common identity.
I think climbing is different - and often more powerful - than many other forms of social interaction, for one simple reason: when you climb with others, your life is in their hands and vice versa. If you get into scary trad (or mountaineering), you can share extremely intense experiences (e.g. where a fall by either person will result in death for both of you). I'm guessing - don't know - that shared combat experience would be similar, especially where some survived and others didn't. And the same is true of climbing - some survive, others sadly don't. You can never go back to being the person you were before. What you share with others is... what you share with them. Even unspoken, it will still always be there.
I guess what I'm trying to suggest, in a rather clumsy manner, is that climbing is different from most other things. It's certainly different from anything else I've experienced.
I teach political philosophy. See above re 'mansplaining' as opposed to 'patronising'
as an example: I once witnessed with my own eyes a friend - who is a medical doctor - trying to explain to two women (who are not medical doctors) that it is not true that it would be easier to make a male contraceptive pill than a female one, and that the lack of the former is not due to a medical sexist conspiracy.
He was promptly accused of ‘mansplaining’.
perhaps the term once had some neutral and useful use; I don’t think it any longer can have.
The article (and all ukc articles) are intended as click bait. Judging by the size of the discussion, this article is proving to be successful, a large number of reads and responses keeps the traffic up. Flawed and or contentious articles encourage this.
Mick Ward recently wrote an article on sport climbing where he neglected to mention knotting the dead end of the rope. Cue loads of traffic. Mick tells me this was down to his own error, which I accept at face value.
If the measure of success of your writing is based on traffic, it may be worth adding these strategies to your tool kit.
Hi Mick, hope you're well!
<I guess what I'm trying to suggest, in a rather clumsy manner, is that climbing is different from most other things. It's certainly different from anything else I've experienced.>
Im afraid I've got to question this a bit. I think your experience is an outlier, similarly I lived in a house in Shef in the '80s with people pushing the climbing envelope, but that wasn't reprepresentative of the common climbing experience. I'd been production racing motorbikes for a while before getting bitten by the climbing bug. Climbing was certainly the safer option, even pushing the boat out. Similarly, my son and his mates swapped from Parcours to climbing as the safer option. As most commonly practiced, its like any other sport, a good craic and the opportunity for communal breakfasts and lots of beers, and is brilliant for all that. I think it's easy to self-mythologise the sports we love. I'm not sure climbing is all that different. Really interested to hear what you think....
Privilege: A special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group. (Oxford Dictionary)
Recently it has changed, perhaps not in its meaning but in its context. Until recently it usually referred to the advantages enjoyed by a few small groups of people, who were exceptional because of wealth, birth or other advantages which put them apart from the rest of us. Now it seems to be used for any advantage, no matter how widely shared. For example, I am well aware that being white I escape the racism which my BEM friends tell me for them is routine. However to call this a "privilege" when it applies to 86% of the population seems to me a misuse of language. When it is used to suggest a white person should not be permitted to comment on racism it is pernicious.
The "privilege" referred to in the article amounts to no more than having sufficient disposable income and sufficient spare time to enjoy a hobby. Whilst it is good to be reminded that there are some who don't, and to be prompted to think what might be done about that, it is the normal condition for most people of all classes and is neither remarkable nor something to feel guilty about.
I was just about to say much the same!
I also think that the use of the word suggests that there is something to be taken away. I like to think the opposite that everyone should be afforded the opportunities that I have had.
> If you search out the original article's author's profile ...
> I'm struggling to find any evidence of him having any knowledge of any other kind of upbringing than that of being a 'privileged' middle class wealthyish kind of guy.
> Experiencing poverty for him would probably be like a sledge hammer in the face.
> Internet drivel
There's no need for snooping around trying to pick on people.
If your students have the confidence to suggest you are a far-right reactionary and an unreconstructed sexist... That's quite... surprising. I don't think it's got much to do with the existence of those terms, because none of my students have ever suggested the same of me, even when I've had to berate them for not reading the set texts...
In some 53 years of climbing, I've known about 60 people who died at it. What other activity would have such an attrition rate? I don't want to analyse the figures but certainly soloing and super-alpinism took more than a few people. The former is now markedly out of vogue (despite the deserved success of 'Free Solo'). With better weather forecasts, improved communications (e.g. mobile phones) and a generally greater chance of a rescue, maybe even the latter has become safer - though it will never be safe.
When I started climbing in the 1960s, it was very much an alternative activity. Most climbers you met were outsiders; even if they had respectable jobs, they fitted somewhat uneasily into normal society. Obviously nowadays climbing's become more mainstream. But I would dispute that climbing is a sport. Sports are defined by rules. Although we certainly have consensual norms (e.g. no chipping), even these may change (e.g. Clarion Call, in respect of bolting).
Last winter, after putting it off for years, I sat down and wrote a piece about my (hopefully needless) concerns regarding the future of climbing, essentially that it may lose its soul and become akin to just another sport. At the time, I was helping Gary to edit his book and both of us were permanently knackered (though it was worth it!) Then, when I came back to the UK, there was a summer of new routing. But now that's come to an end. Maybe I'm just putting stuff off?
Maybe I've always been an outlier - the desperately risky start, then the soloing, now new routing. But are people like me qualitatively different from most climbers or do we just feel things more intensely? I've always assumed it was the latter and that we all share common visions - at least for each major 'game' in climbing (a la Tejada-Flores). But maybe I'm wrong and have always been wrong (wouldn't be the first time!)
No answers, I'm afraid, Paul. Sorry.
Bloody hell Mick I thought I was exceptional in knowing 24 who have been killed. I would lay money on my 24 being part of your 60. Scary.
I think you are (and I say this with love) just an incorrigible old romantic Mick! ;-) At least when it comes to climbing.
I do know exactly what you mean - I've often thought that particularly water ice climbing (but I'd give it to Scottish winter climbing from about IV up as well, and maybe sustained crack climbing) clearly is just a replacement-activity for hand to hand combat for those of us blessed to have never been required to fight in a war.
On Saturday my best friend and main climbing partner from uni (over 20 years ago now) made a last minute visit after he found himself having to drive unexpectedly from Edinburgh back home to London, and we're halfway-ish. In that general way of things we only get to see each other every couple of years nowadays, so it wonderful to see him and have a few beers and whiskey. He's still my 'brother', I love him dearly and I remember with huge fondness those climbs on big Scottish winter routes that tested us, as well as the ones that went smoothly, when we were both just into our twenties. I truly love that about climbing and it seems to be what is turning me, at least, into a climbing 'lifer'.
But, putting my sociology hat back on, I suspect climbing isn't unique in that way. I'm sure friends made in other adventure sports feel very similarly, and who knows - maybe people who conduct joint criminal enterprises feel the same way?! Or even people who make it through the misery and indignity of addiction together? I do love climbing, but I still think we experience it with our social-conditioning in place, as much as we do anything else in life.
Well, it was done through anonymous evaluation forms. And it was only a tiny minority, with last year being the first time it happened (a sign of the times I think).
I should also say that 99% of my students are fantastic. It’s a small minority of ideologically extreme ones that cause a nuisance.
Life's easier if you have a bit of brass? I'm stunned. I never saw that one coming
I had a student accuse me of racism. (I put his friend on detention for tw*tish behaviour. His skin colour was not the issue)
The correct reaction to such things is not to deny that racism is a problem and to assume that everyone is pulling the race card.
A a small minority of students will always blame anything and anyone but themselves. Call them out and move on. Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater.
To make a living as a writer, to make it your full-time job, I'd advise against click bate, as it's just digital chip paper.
The 'liberal elite' is a fitting title, just like 'old white men'. It represents the global 1%, the bureaucratic class - middle management – comfortable – but never to be rich – protected in the Capital, writing a piece for their fencing clubs newsletter, asking why they have no working-class members. We often mistake the liberal elite as the middle class, but really it's just the complacent class.
Agreed but judicious use of it maintains traffic which keeps the employers revenue rolling in and the writer in work.
Too many articles of this nature however and the site fails. As I suggested, it is one tool in a kit.
If your payment is based on the number of readers or the number of comments, then it's a great strategy, but generally, it isn't; you end up as just another talented writer, trying to get their foot in the door, used as click-bate cannon fodder, and for less than minimum wage.
> Hi Paul,
> In some 53 years of climbing, I've known about 60 people who died at it.
I'm extremely glad that in my 44 years at it, as far as I know, I haven't yet lost anyone I've climbed with as a result of an accident, and only a couple of people I've even met.
There have been a couple of close calls. I'm not sure whether I'm the outlier or you - maybe we both are.
I think it may be because both Mick and I hung around with a lot of people who were pushing the boundaries and were at the top of their game. It was quite a small community back in the 60's and 70's. If you went to North Wales regularly you were constantly rubbing shoulders, sharing drinks or playing darts with the "stars". I mention North Wales because 99% of climbing social activity was in the Padarn and the area was more geographically focused than other areas. Nearly everyone I met was on the crag, in the Padarn or in the Moon in Stoney. I sensed that things became a little less intensely focused in the 80's and 90's and travel abroad became far more common.
Of friends I've shared a rope with four have died climbing, mix of Scottish winter & the Alps. I don't want to try & count the N° of people I knew through climbing wo have died in the hills but suspect it'll be >10
Thankfully things seem to have calmed down now. Of course, as the baby boomers hit their seventies (we never thought that was gonna happen!), we're dying of natural causes instead.
I suppose our generation simply thought that if we climbed hard enough and were hard enough (to endure whatever suffering was thrown at us), we could get up anything. I certainly thought that. Now I'm appalled at my naivete. We didn't realise that people like Messner and Habeler had grown up in the mountains, had a huge amount of relevant experience which we lacked.
It may be that greatly improved weather forecasts have made a huge difference (and improved ice climbing gear?) People used to go on big, serious routes, not knowing whether the weather would hold up. Sometimes it did; sometimes it didn't.
I envy Dave not having lost mates. Am glad for him. Maybe I hung out with crazy people (bless 'em!)
> Of friends I've shared a rope with four have died climbing, mix of Scottish winter & the Alps. I don't want to try & count the N° of people I knew through climbing wo have died in the hills but suspect it'll be >10
Now I think about it, of people I met through climbing it's more like half a dozen than a couple...
> I'm a white women. Although my family background is made up of immigrants from many places, because I'm white it's really not obvious and so I don't get abused for it. That is privilege. I pass as one of them.
Yet you are a woman, therefore it's likely at some point you've had to deal with sexism, or unwanted male attention at work or out in bars, you maybe haven't been paid as much at work, possibly you're hesitate walking past a building site in case of cat calling, or felt concerned for your safety when walking home alone etc. (Sorry for all the stereotypes but you get the idea).
Where as a black man who is otherwise equal in social and economic status to you won't have had to deal with any of that due to being male. Yet he'll have he own set of issues around racism etc.
So are you privileged compared to him or is he privileged over you?
I understand recognising difficulties individuals can face due to there race, sex, sexualities, background,, education wealth etc. But the idea of saying one person is privileged compared to another doesn't really work for me. Granted I'm sure there are a minority or people who tick all the acceptance boxes who you could compare to a minority of people who tick almost none where you could use the term privilege but for the vast majority of cases you end up trying to compare problems (is my sexism worst than your racism etc) and that just seems stupid. For one it's different for everyone, maybe you have experienced heavy sexism and our black has experience hardly any racism for example.
To simply point at a white person and they are privileged be default is in my view racist as it's simply attributing traits to someone based on nothing but skin colour.
I can't fault your argument at all. Rationally climbing is no more or less meaningful than anything else. We can find meaning, gain a flow state in so many activities. I do feel though that climbing has an added frisson because of the danger, the 'your life in my hands' aspect and the attrition rate (thankfully less now). But that's as may be.
William James came up with a good quote which might be relevant. 'If this life be not a real fight, in which something is eternally gained for the universe, it is no better than a game of private theatricals from which one may withdraw at will. But it feels like a real fight.'
Because I blindly propelled myself into climbing at 13, 14, 15, with next to no guidance, at a time when climbing was still a very serious affair (crap protection), and I had few boundaries, the experience was blindingly intense. So, for me, it's emphatically not a game of private theatricals. I'll always be in thrall to my first love.
For whatever reason, climbing resonated deeply with me. I loved being in mountains. I loved moving on rock. And, looking back, the encounters with so many people are what matter most.
But that's just me. We're all different. Everybody's good at something. For everyone, there's something which resonates deeply with them. It may be climbing; it may be something else entirely. I can't help feeling that the more they pursue it, while also finding balance in their lives (can be tricky!) the more fulfilled they're likely to be. And if they can find ways to give back to society, then so much better.
I'm still amused, decades on, finding myself in this box called 'liberal elite' (as a published author some would say you are there too), and your post reminded me of my poor but loving childhood where some of my pals dads took up fencing and sadly abandoned hedging.............. ( stone and brick was reserved for the border of the 'posh estate' who of course owned most of the farms where my pals dads were tenants). Another thing that has changed alongside my social categorisation is an ebb and flow of public voicing of such designations (often politically motivated). We have always been too stuck on defining others via 'pigeon holes', when we should be trying to see people (many of whom are way better, more interesting and complex than any simplistic label we might apply would indicate), yet, when huge numbers of angry people march on that in public, waving popularist labels, it's usually indicative of bad times ahead. The old folk who had to fight taught me that: it can become necessary to act but think about people first and beware of labels hiding political dishonesty.
I think a lot of this is very UK-centric, caused perhaps by people (who let us not forget - are all spoilt and privileged, even the food bank poor), living one-on-top of the other, meaning they fight over scraps like, pronouns, silly words, and get bogged down in smears and gossip, when it's in their capacity to do great things (but then the UK is a very small pond, with a hell of a lot of fish in it). The fact that in just about any country on the planet, to be labelled as the 'liberal elite' would be taken as the utmost compliment, and to be poor would be shameful (but not a badge of purity), especially in a country with such a wealth of possibility, shows the truth of it (Orwell's description of the middle class in 'The Lion and the Unicorn' and Wigan Pier still hold true).
I guess at least this view shows I'm not liberal anyway!
"Setting aside for another time the fact that this legacy is almost entirely based on the exploits of white men"
Here in Scotland, 96% of the population is white so that's a factor. I'm not sure that Brown & Whillans were 'outliers', I've climbed with a few guys in their 70s/80s and it sounds like a working class background was never a barrier - camping, hillwalking and climbing were normal. The article has a lot of clickbaity phrases (privilege, white men, Alex Honnold etc) but it's good to see Urban Uprising promoted.
> It's posible to buy new climbing shoes for adults for £30. Kids under £20. At least do your research instead of assuming. I've seen plenty of posts on here over the years asking for old shoes for clubs. I've also seen kids climbing in trainers quite happily.
> Climbing is far from an experience only for those with "privilege".
> What with this and the gender fluid dyno thing it's all getting a bit tiresome and "woke" in here.
Well said, ma'am, well said.
To expand on your point slightly, the author also ignores cost sharing. I was pretty skint when I started, so we shared the costs on everything - the cheapest rope, nuts acquired a few at a time, fuel. This is normal. There aren't many who take up climbing on Monday and go swanning off the the gear shop with £300 (to use the author's lowest figure) in their back pocket on Tuesday.
Re the class thing, I suspect we're all in self-reflecting bubbles. Those with middle class backgrounds looking at their climbing peers and seeing more middle class folk, those with working class backgrounds looking at their peers and seeing more working class folk, because those are the circles we move in. The overall picture is probably a fairly even distribution.
The article is just tedious tosh, hardly deserving of a rebuttal. 'Structural' blah, 'privilege' blah, 'problematic' blah, 'empower' blah. An undergrad essay, trying to glean marks by using a bunch of right-on buzzwords.
The "privileges" you describe are actually rights. Most if not all are described in the UN declaration of Human Rights.
We should do our best to ensure that everyone on this planet has these rights, not feel guilty because we have them.
I never saw any clear uniformity in those calling themselves liberal, let alone those being labelled as one (as an author that label will be sticky).
No disagreement from me. It's not my concept I was just explaining how it works.
I agree. And no stereotypes, I've dealt with all those things and worse.
I have no idea if that makes me more or less privileged than a black male. It's a funny way of looking at it, but it is probably better than ignoring the problem and hoping it goes away.
I'm white, middle class, university educated and get my news from the Guardian.
> "I feel that the author formulated a conclusion based on their preconceptions and prejudices and then framed an argument to support it without any real objective evidence."
> Eric, did you follow the hyperlinks that were dotted through the text? Fair enough if you didn't, it does break up the flow of the article. But they contain useful (scholarly) evidence that backs up many of the points I was making - particularly around relationship between average income and exercise, access to appropriate environments etc.
I think you've seized on "Researchers found that despite having an average monthly income of £1,812, the average Brit is left with just £276 for luxuries after covering their essential bills."
However those "essentials bills" include phone and other media £61 a month. If you choose to spend that much a month, you've gone well past "essential bills".
It also includes "credit card (£84) and loan repayments". So people have already spent money on "luxuries" and are now paying for them. Hard to see that as "essential bills".
I'm not convinced a tenner for a climbing wall visit is as much a stretch for the average person as you are attempting to argue.
> You’re right (ish) about my background, but I think anyone can see that the discussion here is a useful one - why my own circumstances should have any bearing on whether or not I highlight those issues is entirely unclear to me.
Because I find being hectored about "privilege" by someone with a background that is manifestly more privileged than mine a little hard to swallow. And sorry, your piece does have a hectoring tone.
> I'd say that the author made the mistake of using THAT word: 'privilege', which although great as click-bate, is just lazy at this point in time, and unhelpful, as it makes 50% of readers hostile from the start (if you want to piss people off, keep the punchline till the end). If they want to move onto the issue of race in UK climbing, try and write something that pulls people together, and doesn't sets out to divide (men vs women, rich vs poor, white vs black etc), otherwise, it's just more toxic, unhelpful click-bate no one needs to read.
Wow, that's exactly what I wanted to say, but I couldn't get my words together. I think you are spot on with your analysis.
> Because I find being hectored about "privilege" by someone with a background that is manifestly more privileged than mine a little hard to swallow.
Who is exactly is that manifestly clear to? How do we know you don't just have a big chip on your shoulder?
> Who is exactly is that manifestly clear to? How do we know you don't just have a big chip on your shoulder?
Having never previously come across Inigo, I checked out who he is. If I read something, I'm generally interested in who wrote it. LinkedIn. It's easy, Inigo has put the information out there. So it is manifestly clear to anyone who can be bothered to check.
"Chip on my shoulder". No you are reading far too much in there. Some of my friends are properly posh and we get on fine. But I think someone who is more "privileged" than the vast majority of the population might demonstrate some intellectual honesty in being upfront about that if authoring a piece about "privilege". It is a point I only made because Inigo was pushing back on its relevance in a response to someone else.
I agree with you. If someone wants something enough they will find a way. It's quite patronising for someone who has never struggled to write a pity piece.
A difficulty arises in the definition of economic privilege. I would class myself as lower middle class having worked in an occupation which would not be described as working class, but, and it’s a big but, I have climbed with and associate with people who would definitely define themselves as working class, brickie, joiner and electrician who earn double my salary. I used to knock around with an oil rig worker who earned more in a week than I did in a month.
I don’t think it has to always be economics that influence activity levels but more along the lines of ( prepares to be shot down in flames) intelligence. To be working class means you have chosen a more manual type of trade, it doesn’t mean you lack the intelligence for a more academically inclined occupation, ask a sparky to calculate electrical equations requiring good mathematical skills and they’ll probably do it in a couple of seconds.
Indoor climbing walls are a modern (relatively) phenomenon and not accessible to all due to cost but as has been said class doesn’t equate to disposable income. If you want to climb outdoors you don’t need expensive clothing or equipment but today’s Instagram society demands it to an extent with beautiful people wearing the latest clothing using ever more expensive equipment. How many people do you see at the crag or on the hill wearing the latest waterproofs when their old ones were probably fine but not the latest colours.
We talk about socially deprived young people as living in poverty but the definition of poverty used today differs from say 20yrs ago. Ask anyone over 50 if they think someone is living in poverty if they have a mobile phone in their hand or a flat screen TV in their home, but their are people in this country who some would define as living in poverty with those very things because they are seen as necessities in today’s society.
In summary, yes we as climbers are privileged, privileged to have become involved in an activity that in the main is beneficial in terms of mental and physical wellbeing.
But how do I know you're not an Old Etonian just slumming it down here with us proles and looking for a scrap?
"Sup up your beer and collect your fags,
There's a row going on down in Slough..."
A somewhat flawed piece, that.
Not because of its subject, which should have universal appeal and in these days where we should strive for equality of opportunity, it should have more relevance than ever. It's flawed because the writing is as unappealing as the title.
This isn't an academic, peer-reviewed journal. Give the text a bit of relevance, a bit of fizz and a bit less back-in-the-day, Brown-and-Whillans and it would be a great deal better. As it is, it's a bit stuffed shirt self-important and so commits the mortal sin of being rather dull.
Sorry, not for me. Shame.
I think the article has a point about cost being the barrier for those on low incomes, but his example prices are a bit high, eg Decathlon are cheaper. I just googled 'uk climbing shoe review', a UKC article was the top result with the cheapest pair in the review costing £100 (obviously there's a policy of only reviewing advertisers). Maybe if the review policy was relaxed and budget options were featured it might help promote climbing as a realistic option.
You can easily source a second hand pair of rock shoes..
my first pair were second hand and the right toe was completely worn through. Never stopped me.
Well what a load of sub-Marxist claptrap in an article which Is a predictable parade of current progressive shibboleths dressed up in politico-sociological jargon so dense that perfectly sensible blokes like Mick Ward who find its extravagant claims do not co-incide with his experiences but baffled by the jargon begins to question his understanding.......it has also released an outpouring of political posturing in other comments.....did I learn anything new about climbing or gain any useful insights from this article......not really.....what’s it even doing on here?
Mallorcan Deep Water Soloing pioneer Miquel Riera, 56, passed away after a battle with cancer on 9th October 2019. Daimon Beail shares a tribute to him. Miquel Riera was known as ''the godfather of psicobloc' and was one of the key...