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Identity, Politics, and the Beach: Environmental Activism in Surfers Against Sewage

6 years ago, Written by , Posted in Academia, Articles

– Surfing as Commoning – 

An academic paper by, Belinda Wheaton,
Chelsea School, University of Brighton, UK

in Leisure Studies, Vol. 26, No. 3, 279–302, July 2007

ABSTRACT – Academic accounts of leisure activities like surfing tend to emphasise their individualistic, hedonistic and commercialised qualities, seeing this as characteristic of leisure consumption in late capitalism; that culture is increasingly dominated by the market and attention is diverted from collective and political issues. Yet empirical research in such lifestyle sport cultures reveals a more complex and contradictory picture of leisure consumption. This paper examines the pressure group Surfers Against Sewage (SAS), founded by surfers in Cornwall, England. It draws on subcultural media discourses about SAS and interviews with SAS members and personnel. Whilst acknowledging the limitations in the political significance and impact of SAS’s activism, the paper argues that through their sport consumption, participants from a range of minority water sports cultures have formed a politicised trans-local collectivity based around a concern with their own localised environment, one which has become articulated into broader trans-national political issues. It is argued further that SAS is part of a broader wave of new social movements and direct action protest groups that gathered momentum in Britain in the mid to late 1990s. In such groups the politics of identity take centre stage. The paper therefore challenges us to rethink the meaning of political activism, and the capacity of leisure and sport to contribute to the politics of identity.

KEYWORDS: consumption, lifestyle sport, surfing, identity politics, environmentalism, new social movements, political protest