From the current issue: Turn-taking in the skate pool

The second article from Volume 48 issue 4 that we feature is by Jonas Ivarsson. Jonas has been doing some ethnography with skateboarders, and seeing how their interaction plays to conversational rules. He and his co-author Christian Greiffenhagen have written it up in the journal  here. This is a lively summary of some background, and some subtle analytical work on the standard Sacks-Schegloff-Jefferson model.

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Jonas Ivarsson, University of Gothenburg

A few years ago I was visiting scholar at UCLA. During the stay I was living with my family on the border between Venice and Santa Monica, only a quick walk to the beach. This place was very much the birthplace of modern skateboarding and the traces are still in evidence.

The local scene with palm trees in silhouette against the ocean, an abundance of concrete pavements and people of all ages on making their way skateboards made me reminisce my childhood. Most notably it brought back memories of growing up as a skateboarding kid constantly watching the latest VHS tapes produced by a handful Californian skate companies. After a few weeks I had bought a new deck and took up skateboarding, thereby ending what turned out to be an 18-year intermission.

When I came back home to Sweden I was inclined to continue skating and much to my delight I discovered that there was a newly built concrete skatepark in town. There is now a strong trend of municipalities building such parks designated for skateboarding and various other “action sports”. One of the alleged reasons for constructing these parks at an increasing rate is that they are seen as establishing a form of meeting ground where adolescents come to (read: are forced to) socialize with other age groups.

As scholars interested in social organisation we know how central the organization of turn-taking is for conversation. But how is this accomplished in other activities? Some early observation made clear that the skaters never talked about this. But they very obviously did organise their interactions in confined spaces.

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A skater takes his turn while others watch and wait

This intrigued me to examine how and in what ways skateboarders decide who should take the next turn. Skaters do not “ride” forever: Not only is riding a strenuous activity, but there is also an awareness that waiting skaters want to have a go.

A turn in the pool skate session can also be seen as made up of different parts. However, what kind of parts is even more difficult to describe than for conversation. A rough approximation of the elements in the pool ride would be that a turn is constituted of one or several tricks strung together. In skateboarding, almost every single action done in relation to the board has a name. The ways in which feet are positioned (“regular,” “goofy,” “switch,” “fakie”), the direction and extent of a rotation (“frontside,” “backside,” “180°,” “360°,” etc.), the numerous configurations a skateboard can be placed in relation to the lip (“smith,” “feeble,” “blunt,” “disaster,” etc.), all have their names and naming practices.

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A new turn is taken once the previous turn ends with a “bail”

There’s a lot more, as you can imagine! The editor has kindly allowed us to go well beyond the usual blog length… and for more, you’ll have to download the paper!

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