Edgework: The Sociology of Risk-Taking by Stephen Lyng

By Stephen Lyng

What do skydiving, mountain climbing, and downhill snowboarding have in universal with stock-trading, unprotected intercourse, and sadomasochism? All are excessive threat targets. Edgework explores the realm of voluntary risk-taking, investigating the seductive nature of pursuing peril and teasing out the bounds among felony and felony habit; awake and subconscious acts; sanity and madness; appropriate hazard and stupidity. the prestigious individuals to this assortment profile excessive risk-takers and discover their reports with danger via such subject matters as juvenile delinquency, highway anarchism, sadomasochism, avant-garde artwork, company hazards, and severe activity.

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2001). ). Usually an illegal activity, BASE-jumping is legally sanctioned one day each year at the Bridge Day Event in Fayette County, West Virginia. On the third weekend in October every year, about 300 jumpers from around the world show up to leap from the New River Gorge Bridge. As a part of an ongoing study of the complex subculture 36 • The Sociology of Risk Taking that has built up around BASE-jumping, the three-person research team of Ferrell, Milovanovic, and Lyng attended the Bridge Day festival for two consecutive years (1997 and 1998) to conduct a “situated ethnography” of this edgework event (see Ferrell et al.

225). Although the similarities between the foreground of criminal action and the edgework experience are striking, there are important differences between these two experiential realms as well. In contrast to their criminal counterparts, leisure edgeworkers typically do not undertake projects of moral transcendence. As noted in earlier work (Lyng, 1990, p. ), and it is certainly possible to add the “normative edge” to the list of boundary conditions that can be negotiated in edgework. But clearly, it is the illicit nature of criminal action that sets this realm apart from the high-risk leisure and occupational activities described above (although, as noted earlier, in some instances licit edgework projects can easily evolve into illicit ones).

Moreover, what commercial edgework may offer customers is an opportunity to experience an active “personal spectacle” as opposed to the passive “collective spectacle” found within the cathedrals of consumption. Standing alone on the wheel strut of a skydiving plane waiting for the signal to jump is a breathtaking experience even though it may be an entirely personal one. In the increasingly individualized world of consumer culture being created by Internet commerce, home shopping television, telemarketing, and other technologies of personalized consumption, it is possible that consumer preferences are tending more towards personal spectacle as a substitute for the collective spectacles of mega shopping malls, theme parks, and casino-hotels.

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