The Visibility of (Gendered) Competence in Sport Climbing

Wednesday, 13 July 2016: 11:15
Location: Hörsaal 23 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Babette KIRCHNER, Institute of Sociology, Germany
Sport climbing is not only distinct from others modes of climbing or mountaineering because of shorter routes and a more frequently interaction with others. But when asked about the differences between women and men, sport climbers pre-eminently refer to differences in the act of climbing, climbing movements and attitudes towards climbing (a) – it is all about the action on the wall which is sometimes understood as gendered specificities. First and foremost, members of the scene differentiate between agents who they consider more or less competent (b). Within the triad of ability, motivation and appreciation, they categorize all people while they climb. Anthropometric aspects or other options for the characterization of personalities are said to be almost irrelevant. Sport climbers are (primarily) interested in how others move within a climbing route, what they can learn from them to improve their own climbing and how they can compare oneself to the other. They are able to assess a climber’s competence in terms of “ability” and “motivation” by “reading” her/his performance. That is why they do not deduce “ability” from the physiognomy of a climber’s body. Only a body in a (associated) motion indicates an either more or less high competence.

In order to read competences, the observer is expected to possess certain movement and observation qualities herself/himself (c), since the climbing movement, considered most competent, combines several facets like body use or the (right) “reading” of routes. Nevertheless, a climber’s competence is not bestowed individually, in account of the display of the climber’s skilled movement; but is ascribed in the presence of other climbers or by analyzing pictures. Which of the three competence aspects are gendered (how) and for which aspects gender is (made) rather ‘invisible’, is part of the negotiation of (gendered) competence in the act of climbing.