Rewriting the City: Discourses of Hong Kong Skateboarders

Rodney Hale Jones

City University of Hong Kong


Skateboarding is an excellent example of a ‘global youth-subculture’, promoting particular attitudes, values and forms of discourse across a wide range of cultural and geographic boundaries. At the same time, it is also a ‘localized sub-culture’, in that it inevitably develops special features as a result of the socio-cultural and physical environments in which develops. It thus provides a unique opportunity to study the tension between ‘globalization’ and ‘localization’ as they interact in what Pennycook (2007) calls ‘glocal flows’ of discourse.

This paper explores the social meaning making practices of skateboarders in Hong Kong as an example of the ways global and local discourses interact in contemporary youth cultures. The data come from a year-long participatory ethnographic study of urban skateboarders in Hong Kong in which participants made a documentary video presenting their perspectives on the language and culture of local skateboarding. The participants’ product as well as interviews and video data of their interaction during production are analyzed using principles from mediated discourse analysis and multimodal discourse analysis.

The discussion focuses on three aspects of Hong Kong skateboarders’ discourse. The first is the interaction between global and local flows of discourse, not just in the language skaters use, but also in multimodal forms of meaning making like music, fashion, skateboard stickers, and of course, the physical performance of skating itself. The second is the way various social groups interact around skateboarding in Hong Kong, individuals from a wide range ethnolingusitic and socioeconomic groups coming together to produce an fertile environment for ‘language crossing’ (Rampton 1995). Finally, it focuses on the way skateboarders in Hong Kong interact with their physical environment, the compositional and representational mode of skateboarding in which participants strategically appropriate aspects of time and space from their urban surroundings and inscribe their own socio-spatial rhythms upon them, a process of using time and space to both ‘re-write’ the city and to compose their own socio-cultural identities within it.


Pennycook, A. (2007) Language, localization and the real: hip-hop and the global spread of authenticity. Journal of Language, Identity and Education 6(2).

Rampton, B. (1995) Crossing: Language and ethnicity among adolescents.

London: Longman.

Session: Paper session
Youth Language 1
Thursday, April 3, 2008, 10:30-12:00
room: 13