Dying With Your Boots On: A Nietzschean Analysis of High-Risk Skiing

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Tarzwell, Kirby
Risk , Nietzsche , Sport , Skiing
The concept of ‘risk’ has become one of the main ontological, existential, and epistemological categories in the modern Western world. People are continually confronted with considerable amounts of information concerning what constitutes risks and how they are to be mediated and avoided. Along side this growing concern with risk and risk avoidance, a large segment of the population continues to seek out risk itself. Although substantial sociological research has been undertaken to try and understand why people engage with risk, these theories and subsequent research falls short in ontological, existential, and epistemological breadth. As a response, this thesis presents a new avenue to understanding risk-taking that is based upon Nietzschean aesthetic theory and its conceptualization of the ‘Apollonian’ and ‘Dionysian’ drives that structure human existence. The world of high-risk skiing is the focal point upon which Nietzsche’s theory is applied, with the hope of not only understanding this specific area of social life, but also to demonstrate the importance that risk can play as an ontological, existential, and epistemological emancipatory category. Chapter two provides an overview of the historical inception of the concept of risk and the popular theoretical perspectives used to understand its place within the social whole. Following this, chapter three reviews the dominant theories used within the sociology of sport to understand risk-taking within the world of sport. Finally, chapter four engages Nietzsche’s theory showing how the high-risk skiing community is analogous to pre-Socratic Greek tragedy, in that it enables adherents to properly balance both Apollonian and Dionysian drives allowing them to escape the ‘reactive nihilism’ that defines the modern Western world. It is concluded that such a perspective not only provides researchers with new tools that are based around the social importance of art and aesthetics, but also that risk is an important ontological, existential, and epistemological category that allows risk-takers to experience a more complete level of existence based upon an understanding of life that celebrates both its positive and negative aspects.
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