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Running across the rooves of empire: Parkour and the postcolonial city


Marshall, B.



Modern and Contemporary France

Publication type

Artículo de revista





This article examines a common strand of space and power, mediated by comparative notions of empire and its memory. It focuses initially on Quebec City, discussing the relations there between topography and power, in the socio-spatial, including imagined, arrangements that pertain to the division between upper and lower towns, tourist/administrative core and banlieue, as well as the original tension between the administrated city and the vast North American—and native—hinterland. The central text discussed is Pierre Gobeil's Sur le toit des maisons, in which two disaffected young men journey from the lower town to the river by climbing across the rooves of the city. The second half of the article links this to the phenomenon of parkour, in which ‘free-runners’ trace alternative pathways through urban space and which originated in the Paris banlieue. Discussion centres on Michel de Certeau's alternative mappings of the city, but the argument here also invokes embedded, imagined histories and memories of colonial space, and the problem of narrative representation and its ideological resolutions. The article thus alludes to both the first and second French empires, as well as to the role of differently lived francophone histories in the formation of youth narratives and subcultures.


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