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Forest: the ‘Other’ Stadium?

Digital transition and its effects on Rouen metropolis wooded areas
Romain Lepillé
Cet article est une traduction de :
La forêt : un stade comme un autre ? [fr]

Résumé

This article looks at the trend toward digitalisation and how it is affecting natural spaces, especially forests. How have forest sports activities been affected by the deployment of digitalised equipment? Which activities lend themselves to digitalisation and which seem to resist it?
This article presents the findings on the levels and forms of the digitalisation of outdoor sports activities. The study focused on what − given the possibilities of geolocation (GPS) − affects or does not affect the socialisation of the forest and the territorialisation of activities.
The study area was made up of all the forest areas of the Rouen Normandy metropolis. In addition to field observations (n≈150), the study used mixed methods, combining a quantitative survey by questionnaire (n=332), the collection of digital traces (n≈1000) left by leisure sports practitioners equipped with tracking devices, and a qualitative investigation through semi-structured interviews (n=10).
In the first section of this article, the study area, material, and data collection methods are described, as are the two categories of forest leisure sports practitioners distinguished on the basis of their use of digital technology. Second, the article focuses on a particular profile: hyper-practitioners who use digital technology for measurement and for the exploration of the environment. Last, the results are discussed using a typology that crosses the use of digital technology with regard to motor logic and the perceptions of the forest practice space as an environment or a stadium. This last part will be an opportunity to find commonalities between the forest and mountain areas for leisure practices.

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Texte intégral

1Discussing the digital transition in urban forests (Lepillé et al., 2017a) in a thematic issue that focuses on this process in mountain spaces may seem incongruous. On the contrary, this article aims to create a dialogue on the frequentations and digital uses in different spaces in order to bring out the common points and differences with regard to the meaning and place that the use of digital technology has taken on in natural spaces.

  • 1 Article L. 312-2 of the French code of sport.
  • 2 In France, 74% of the forest is private (Morin, 2010).

2Forest and stadium: is the comparison relevant? We can defend the idea that the forest corresponds to several criteria for defining a stadium within the meaning of the sports code.1 Indeed, the forest is “an asset belonging to a public or private entity.”2 Moreover, it is to a certain extent “especially designed or used, permanently or temporarily, for the purpose of sporting activity.” Forests are equipped, particularly when they are in close proximity to cities, to accommodate sporting activities. Not least, these facilities are either “open to practitioners free of charge or for a fee.” Although state forests are free to the public, in other private forests paid activities are offered (tree climbing, paintball, etc.). Beyond the forest, in this sense, all natural spaces, and therefore the mountains, might be compared to stadiums, when these—as we will see in the case of the forest—become, among other things, measuring tools.

3This detour through the definition of stadiums offers a stimulating metaphor because the leisure sports practices that we studied has led us to consider the forest as a stadium where we measure ourselves − against others or against ourselves − with benchmarks of time and distance that we find in a forest that has become increasingly more mediated by digital tools.

  • 3 In this article, the term digital is used to refer to the devices (connected watches, smartphones w (...)

4There has been a real “groundswell” − to use the expression of Fernand Braudel—in the proliferation of digital technology3 that today is affecting the whole of society in a profound and lasting way. This article therefore proposes to study the levels and forms of the digitalisation of outdoor sports activities. It considers the possibilities of geolocation (GPS) and particularly seeks to determine exactly what factors are affecting the socialisation and territorialisation of these activities.

5How have sports activities in forests been affected by the spread of digitalisation? Which activities lend themselves most to this technology, and which ones seem to resist it? We will first examine the significant logics at work in the forest. Is going out into the forest a time for introspection? Is it a change of scenery to escape the city? Or on the contrary, does the forest become an extension, an amenity, of the city and therefore a stadium which, through the use of technological materials, increases the territory − which then becomes a hyperterritory (Musso, 2008)?

6The approach consists of analysing the territorial mediations (Di Méo, 2001) at work and giving an account of the social experience of individuals (Dubet, 1994). In this sense, the territory is placed at the heart of the relationships between individuals, institutions and digital tools and practices, and is both an object and an entrance, giving access to various logics, more or less coherent or contradictory, in which uses can be observed. Practical experiences—simultaneously and inseparably social and spatial—appear as the product of a work in which individuals construct and think of themselves as subjects, caught in complex and ambivalent relationships with others and with their environments, which then involve them in a work of critical distancing.

7The first section of this article is devoted to describing the study area, the material and the data collection methods. We then distinguish two social groups which, by their social, spatial and “sporting” characteristics, very clearly differ. Second, we present the results of a survey that helped us to distinguish a particular profile: digitally equipped hyper-practitioners. Last, we discuss the results obtained using a typology that combines the use of digital technology from the perspective of motor logics and the perception of the forest as an environment or a stadium in the context of the practice of leisure sporting activities. In the discussion, we look at leisure sports activities in mountain areas to create a dialogue between similar practices in different environments.

Territory, Sampling and Practices

  • 4 Paul Arnould, President of the “Forêt d’Exception®” committee, speaking on the France 3 Normandie t (...)

8The study area is made up of all the forest areas of the Rouen Normandy metropolis, described as “the largest urban forest heartland in France.”4 These urban forests make up a substantial green belt, which has become an amenity of the city (Lepillé et al., 2017c), to the extent that they are massively frequented and used for the leisure sporting activities of city dwellers.

Map 1. The proportion of forests within the Rouen Normandy metropolis

Map 1. The proportion of forests within the Rouen Normandy metropolis

Conceived and produced by Romain Lepillé (CETAPS UR3832)
Source: BDTOPO IGN / CLC

9We focus here on the use of digital technology in leisure sports practices in these forests, as this use is recent and all the more complex to address as its evolution has been very rapid, pushing researchers to advance at a “high rate of speed” (Passeron, 1987). Yet, moving too quickly can hamper the in-depth analysis of a phenomenon (Stiegler, 2018) that is constantly evolving (new apps, new forms of practices, etc.). A key question is this: What territorial mediations are at work (Di Méo, 2001) in the forests, which are long-term spaces, given that digital technologies operate over very brief, even immediate, time spans?

  • 5 Practice in a natural environment of several activities (orienteering, running & cycling, trail run (...)

10We used mixed methods (Ivankova et al., 2006) for the collection, analysis and cross-referencing of the data. First, we selected the activities to investigate with the help of national surveys on leisure sports (Canneva, 2005; Muller, 2005; TNS Opinions & Social, 2010) in the forest (Boutefeu, 2007; Deuffic et al., 2004; Granet & Dobré, 2009) and in the Rouen metropolitan area (FPC Marketing Direct et Relational, 2014; Mika Research, 2010). The activities that we studied are cycling/mountain biking, orienteering (as part of multisport rallies5), trail running, hiking and Nordic walking.

11These activities obviously are practised outside the framework of forest areas and can therefore be compared to their performance in mountain areas. The example of trail running is significant here since this practice was first developed in France in mountain areas. The territory is in this case a mediator of the practice, as there is often a particular search for changes in elevation. Today, trail running has become more widespread as the distances have become shorter (the first trails were around 15 km.), and it is now developing in large towns with natural spaces nearby. At first distant and inaccessible, like the first multisport rallies (in French, “raids”: Gaul Raid, Marathon des Sables), the trails and rallies have become events that last the duration of a weekend, thus offering the experience of a micro-adventure to many (Michel, Salvador & Kreziak, 2022).

  • 6 The corpus is composed of in situ and participant observations. Field observation makes it possible (...)

12The field observation work (n≈150)6 suggested it would be best not to administer a questionnaire in places that forest rangers call fixation points (parking lot, forest entrance). Indeed, as these are urban forests, a good number of the visitors do not arrive by car and park in the designated lots, but instead they enter the forest by various paths near their places of residence (Lepillé et al., 2017b). We therefore favoured two methods of face-to-face administration: at the time of a sports challenge (trail running and orienteering) and in sports clubs before an outing (mountain biking, Nordic walking and hiking).

13This research is part of a bidirectional movement on “the socialisation of spatiality and the spatialisation of sociability” (Di Méo, 2001, p. 275). Thus, we asked questions from classic sociology (age, sex, job categories), factual questions about leisure sports practices in the forest (in particular, their spatial implications), and questions concerning the use of digital technology in the forest (GPS tracking, GPS without tracking, training programs, etc.).

  • 7 For more details on the method of administration and the content of the questionnaire, refer to Lep (...)

14Our sample included 332 respondents who are distributed as follows (Table 1):7

Table 1. The percentage of each activity of surveyed participants

 

Number

Frequency

Nordic walking

71

21.4%

Mountain biking

64

19.3%

Orienteering (in a rally)

58

17.5%

Hiking

56

16.9%

Trail running

53

16%

Road cycling

30

9%

Total

332

100%

15The questionnaire survey was supplemented by semi-structured interviews (n=10), giving the sociology of experience (Dubet, 1994) its full meaning as the interviews provided descriptions (and thus insights) into the individual behaviour of social actors by taking into account the diversity and complexity of their logics of action, affiliations, values and identities—all of which provide access to the meaning and significance of the behaviours measured by the questionnaire, particularly on the uses of digital technology in the forest.

16Last, we used Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to analyse the traces that individuals leave during their practice.

  • 8 Gender, age, academic level and job category.
  • 9 Perception of the training ground, number of activities practiced in the forest and mode of travel (...)
  • 10 Activities practiced, frequency of practice, use of training program, use of equipment dedicated to (...)
  • 11 The administration of questionnaires in hiking clubs can lead to bias, since club practitioners are (...)

17Two social groups (Table 2) were clearly differentiated, based on social,8 spatial9 and “sporting”10 characteristics, with Nordic walkers and hikers in one group and mountain bikers, orienteering practitioners and trail runners in the other.11

Table 2. Differentiation of trail running, multisport rallies and mountain biking from other leisure sports practices

 

Trail, rallies and mountain biking (175/302)

Hiking, Nordic walking (127/302)

Gender

Male (93.1%)

Female (66.1%)

Age

30 to less than 45 years (44%)

60 years and older (65.4%)

Diploma

High school +3 or more (42.3%)

20.6% with 5-year post-high school

High school or middle school diploma (20.5%)

CAP, BEP, etc. (professional certificate (17.3%)

PCS

Management/intellectual work (30.3%)

Retired (59.8%)

Equipment in forest

Used GPS (36.2%)

Used nothing (43.9%)

  • 12 For more details on the subject see: Boutefeu, 2008; Granet & Dobré, 2009; Lepillé, 2017, p 183; Ma (...)

18Although female running that is mediated by sports and physical activity (SPA) apps is growing (Vignal et al., 2022), we observed that women rarely ventured alone into the forest.12 Do we find this phenomenon in the mountains? First, we must be vigilant and distinguish between the practices that take place in winter and summer. The literature (Chimot, 2004; Dietch, 2021; Mennesson, 2005; Valla, 1987) seems to show that, as in the forest, certain practices are more masculine, such as mountain biking, for example. Others are more mixed like hiking, and some are more feminine like Nordic walking.

19The questionnaire survey showed that leisure sports in forests are mainly carried out by people over 30, while those under 30 more often practise outside these areas (European Commission, 2014).

20Although ownership of a smartphone (which allows the use of SPA apps) has doubled since 2013, from 39% to 77% (ARCEP, 2019), 'today involving all age categories' (Dagiral, 2019), we observe that in the forest there are forms of resistance to the use of digital technology, which we will subsequently substantiate. The sociology of experience (Dubet, 1994) makes it possible here to grasp the diversity of experiences, showing that, faced with this groundswell of digital technology use, numerous resistances emerge, particularly in the desire to be cut off from the city and disconnected (digitally or not).

21SPA apps collect “Distance travelled, number of steps, route taken, time taken, speeds reached, elevation gain, heart rate, calories burned, etc.” (Soulé et al., 2022). After these data are collected, they can be shared not only on community platforms (Strava, Garmin, Suunto, etc.), but also on social networks (Facebook, Instagram, etc.), which encourages interactions with other users.

22SPA apps are used in high-level sport (Dalgalarrondo, 2018), but which sports and which ordinary practitioners use the apps the most?

  • 13 This treatment was created from all the deviations from independence, the Chi2 per box and the Perc (...)

23In our sample, three types of practitioners emerged from the quantitative analysis using a “modality profile”13 type of treatment: those who are seeking a weekly change of scenery with little physical commitment, those who are in regular training to prepare for sporting events or to stay in shape, and those who are the hyper-practitioners, many of whom use SPA apps.

24This last category was of particular interest. We therefore look at it in the next section.

Internal Logics of Activities That Structure the Relationship to Digital Uses

  • 14 32% of them practice “4 times a week or more” and another third (30.9%) “3 times a week.”

25The multisport practitioners and trail runners surveyed trained almost daily, and we therefore describe them as hyper-practitioners.14 They also practise several sports, particularly appreciating the forest area and making it a playground: 32.6% of them practise “5 or more activities,” and 52% “4 or more activities.” Moreover, 48% of them live “less than 5 minutes” from a forest, which they access in “a relaxed way”: on foot (34.3%) or by bike (41.3%).

26If we combine the use of training programs and SPA apps, it appears that these hyper-and-multisport-practitioners are the most digitally equipped. SPA apps, which provide, among other functionalities, geolocation and heart rate monitoring, are often put forward as a way to avoid “breakdowns,” control efforts and ensure that the training program is followed.

  • 15 Interview with a man, university instructor/researcher, mountain biker and runner, November 18, 201

27This is where these apps are particularly useful for taking measurements, as noted by this trail runner who recounts the discussions he has had with other runners who measure their activity: “They tell you ‘I was at 12’07, I covered so many km in so much time and with so much elevation.’ They need to have a quantified approach to their activity.”15

28In this context, SPA apps extend the relationships that practitioners have with themselves and in this sense deepen their self-knowledge, particularly when they are evolving outside of institutions and without a coach. Yet, these apps still require skill and a considerable amount of work is needed to fully appropriate the tools and the data.

  • 16 We present the results showing a strong relationship between two modalities (compared to the PMD) i (...)

29The use of a geolocation app (GPS) also depends on the activity carried out, as shown in Table 3.16

Table 3. Type of activity and type of equipment used to find one’s way in the forest (Chi2=105.8, df=12, p<.05, n=275)

 

Orienteering (in a rally) n=58

Trail running n=53

Mountain biking n=30

Nordic walking n=71

Hiking n=56

Total

Map, Compass

58.3%

42.5%

9.4%

19.4%

51.8%

33.8%

Topo-guide

6.3%

2.5%

9.4%

19.4%

12.5%

10.9%

GPS

27.1%

52.5%

32.8%

10.4%

0%

22.5%

Nothing

8,3%

2.5%

48.4%

50.7%

35.7%

32.7%

Total

100%

100%

100%

100%

100%

100%

30Although 22.5% of the sample used GPS, the results nevertheless reflect the logic specific to each activity. Orienteering offers a reading challenge through a logic of fun: reading the paper maps provides an interesting counterpoint to the age of digital geolocation. Twenty-five percent of the rally practitioners also used GPS, so they too were not resistant to technology and its services. We see that the forest here is part of a more global game in which spatial appropriation is carried out using various modalities.

  • 17 Interview with a man, retired, hiker, November 21, 2014

31No hikers in the sample used GPS. This suggests the limitation of a questionnaire survey, however, as it offers an image at a precise moment, whereas the approach centred on the actors’ experience (Dubet, 1994) makes it possible to grasp the motives and motivations for actions. The manager of a club17 explained that he has a very large inventory of paper maps. Yet he continued that the federation is betting on digitalisation and wants those who mark the hiking trails to record and share the routes. We see here how uses emerge and are resisted, but also how the delegated institution in the eyes of the State pushes for digitalisation. Although the oldest hikers are half as well equipped with the new information and communication technologies (NICT) as the rest of the French population (Albérola et al., 2019), it is clear that these interfaces, which are imposed by the procedures to accomplish goals and the concern to stay in contact with others, encourage them to digitalise their practices (Dou Goarin, 2014). The vast majority of Nordic walkers do not use anything to find their way in the forest. In the clubs surveyed, they follow the club leaders on marked trails and generally repeat the same route.

  • 18 Interview with a man, 32 years old, PE teacher, mountain biker, October 15, 2014.
  • 19 Interview with a man, 43 years old, worker, mountain biker, June 16, 2016.

32Trail runners and mountain bikers are overrepresented among the most digitally equipped individuals. GPS is mainly used by trail runners and a third of mountain bikers use this technology as well. Individuals who use nothing are also overrepresented among mountain bikers. Two approaches to mountain biking thus stand out. The “digitalised” anticipate outings, look for routes or maps on apps, and use the app “to optimise the distance to cover, the route based on my intentions.”18 When they use a heart rate monitor, it is to “find out about what’s going on inside me because sometimes when your heart rate goes up, you’re out of control, but you don’t realise it. Sometimes the coach says: ‘go to your maximum,’ for example, that might be 182 beats per minute.”19

33After this review of some of the practitioners’ relationships to digital technology, we now discuss the results using a typology that combines the level of engagement in the practice and the use or not of digital technology. We propose to bring this forest typology into dialogue with the recreational uses of the mountains in order to understand the similarities and differences.

Appropriations of the Forest: A Stadium Like Another or the “Other” of the Stadium

  • 20 FCA is a statistical method that determines the relationship between discrete variables. FCA is a m (...)

34First, and before analysing what digital technology does to sports practice in natural spaces, let us see whether the different uses construct differentiated territorialities within the framework of territorial mediations (Di Méo, 2001). To do so, factorial correspondence analysis20 (FCA) and k means clustering (Figure 1), which cross-references elements of the questionnaire, revealed four clusters (A, B, C and D).

  • 21 We used k means clustering, an automatic classification method used to distribute individuals into (...)

Figure 1. Factorial correspondence analysis, which crosses leisure sports activities (in blue), perception of the training ground (in red), distance to the forest (in green), the number of activities practised in the forest (in purple), and the mode of travel to access the forest (in brown)21

Figure 1. Factorial correspondence analysis, which crosses leisure sports activities (in blue), perception of the training ground (in red), distance to the forest (in green), the number of activities practised in the forest (in purple), and the mode of travel to access the forest (in brown)21

35The horizontal axis separates the cyclists (mountain bike and road, in the upper part) from those on foot (orienteering, trail running, Nordic walking and hiking, in the lower part), and the vertical axis separates the “hyper-and-multisport-practitioners” (mountain bikers, trail runners and orienteering practitioners) from the others. These individuals sometimes leave the marked trails and take singletracks, unlike those who tend to stay on the marked paths (Nordic walking, hiking and road cycling). Those who frequent the forest the most stated more often than the others that they were attached to the forest as their training ground and that they are there very often, with multiple activities and covering the forest grounds in all directions. These hyper-practitioners also favoured a nearby space for practice. They knew the specificities and particularities of the routes, the distances, and so on. This made it possible to repeat their performances and compare them (times achieved during training), particularly using SPA apps that offer graphs that show one’s progress. A dialectic appears here between those for whom the forest is a training ground “among others,” in which case it can be perceived as a stadium, and those who perceive it as an “especially appreciated” environment.

  • 22 Go out into the forest to observe the environment and discover what is out there (wildlife, ancient (...)

36We therefore propose a typology based on the quantitative results, informed by the semi-structured interviews, field observations and the literature. This typology can be conceived as a double dialectic. The first axis examines the link between the use of digital technology and the motor logic of an activity. Considering the motor logic (Parlebas, 2005) provides objective indicators linked to space, objects, time and social interactions, thus facilitating the precise identification of the socio-motor roles mediated by a territory and the digital uses within it. The second axis focuses on the perception of the forest: as an environment sought for its own sake22 or as a training ground (Figure 2).

37This typology shows four ways of being in the forest, which we will detail. “Taking care of oneself” and “Getting away from it all” are presented first. Then, we focus the analysis on the activities mediated by digital technologies, whether the forest is considered as a stadium in which one tries “Surpassing oneself” or is considered as an environment for “Exploring.” The text zones in blue and red are part of a general overview which allow us to see that the forest is ultimately the Other (Cléro, 2003) of the city.

38In this section, we attempt to bring this typology into a dialogue with mountain leisure sports in the light of the currently available literature.

39This approach suggests returning to the motives on which practices are based, depending on whether the practitioners aim for a change of scenery, explorations, surpassing oneself or introspection.

Figure 2. Typology of forms of forest appropriation by recreational sports practitioners

Figure 2. Typology of forms of forest appropriation by recreational sports practitioners
  • 23 Interview with a man, 39 years old, unemployed, trail runner and triathlete, February 2, 2013.
  • 24 Interview with a man, university teacher/researcher, mountain biker and runner, November 18, 2014.

40The first category (“Taking care of oneself”) brings together individuals who do not have equipment linked to a motor logic and for whom the forest is considered a stadium. For these individuals, going into the forest is a way to practise self-care. An outing in the forest allows you to “clear your head,”23 to be alone, to be calm, and thus to mainly take care of yourself. This activity is also the way to get back to basics, to simple things without calculation. Running or cycling for the simple pleasure of doing so, without unnecessary equipment, as this practitioner explains: “Everything that is geolocation, GPS and the like is not what interests me, what interests me is the feelings.”24

  • 25 Interview with a man, 32 years old, lifeguard, triathlete, February 2, 2013.
  • 26 A man, 33 years old, engineer, runner, February 2, 2013.
  • 27 A man, 43 years old, security guard, runner, February 2, 2013.

41A second category brings together those individuals who do not have equipment linked to a motor logic and for whom the forest is considered an environment. “Getting away from it all” is to go into the forest and immerse yourself in an environment, which functions as a symbolic elsewhere. Lazzarotti (1995, p. 17) identified this need which, “in this case, is understood in relation to everyday life.” The interviews were full of references to these moments which “represent an escape, the fact of feeling somewhere else”25; “It’s nature not far from home. I come from the mountains so I’m lucky to have this nearby […] The forests represent calm, well-being; we breathe better there.”26 The desire to break away from the city, to escape from it, is part of the same significant logic in which “spending time in the forest” amounts to “escaping” from one’s “urban condition.” This change of scenery sometimes involves adversity in the environment, “on the paths and in the mud.”27

  • 28 A man, university instructor/researcher, mountain biker and runner, November 18, 2014.

42These first two, more classic forms of forest use without digital tools are also found in the mountains. What changes in these first two forms in the mountains, compared to the activity in the lower altitude forests, is, as this multisport practitioner tells us: “it’s the difference in altitude,” “for me the goal is to get to the summit […] so I see the forest as only a place to run because it’s less monotonous.”28

43It appears here that forest areas can be meaningful as mediators between the territory and digital practice − or not. In some cases, they are simply considered as spaces among others and therefore carry no particular meaning.

44The second part of the typology focuses on forms of leisure through a digital prism. A first interesting point of discussion to note is that the uses of digital technology in the mountains seem much more varied. We found 141 uses of digital technology, with 10 main types of users, identified in the mountains (Lesné et al., 2022). We also observed some of these types of users in the forest. We can cite among others: “the e-practitioner challenger,” “the performer,” and “the expeditionist.” In the latter case, points of connection exist: Practitioners prepare and organise their outings not only in terms of time, equipment, water, and food, but also regarding what they wish to achieve within the framework of a practice and/or preparation for a competition. Once in practice, they connect to their digital device, and on their return, the information is shared on collaborative sites (openrunner, trail trace, Strava, etc.).

45The lower part of the typology concerns the use of digital equipment whether the forest is a “training ground like any other”, a stadium, or on the contrary an environment sought for its own sake. We observe here two types of practices which sometimes border on “Surpassing oneself” and sometimes on “Exploring.”

  • 29 Interview with a man, 43 years old, worker, mountain biker, June 16, 2016.

46The digital dimension can be part of the horizon of “Surpassing oneself.” The forest can be a place that allows you to push personal limits during an outing or a sporting event. To support this argument, we might take the case of a mountain biker explaining his own practice, as well as that of his son: “I don’t use specific equipment other than what is necessary, but my son has a Garmin [watch]. It’s great, there’s cardio, pedalling rate, etc.”29 The son is well equipped, since in addition to the GPS, he has a belt around his waist to measure his cardiac activity, he uses another device placed on the wheels of his bike, a cadence sensor, which measures the pedalling rate. This equipment can interconnect these devices to a computer, thus offering the possibility of planning sessions, measuring himself against his peers, or tracking the evolution of his performance.

  • 30 Interview with a man, associate professor in the university school of sports sciences, trail runner (...)

47Individuals oriented toward “surpassing themselves” tend to follow similar routes in order to quantify progress and evaluate their progress. This is the case of a group of runners who measure the difference in elevation using the topography of a place that they call the “half-pipe” for which they know the distance and the elevation changes. “We have a big descent, a big climb and as soon as we reach the top of the path at the top of the church, well, we go back down.”30 Depending on their level, these runners divide themselves into groups and complete the “half-pipe” between three and six times, all the while measuring their heart rate according to the difference in altitude, with the aim of evaluating their progress using an SPA app. The territory carries meaning here as a mediator of practice.

  • 31 In the Strava app, a segment is a portion of a route or trail created and edited by members, where (...)
  • 32 Interview with a woman, 32 years old, trail runner, December 15, 2022.

48For these individuals, the forest can be compared to a stadium with an athletics track and markers on the ground that are all measuring tools. An excerpt from an interview takes on its full meaning here. A runner who used Strava in the forests of the Rouen area and who continued in the Grenoble region explained to us that, even if her measurement practice remains the same, the level of the trail runners has changed: “In Rouen it was easier to win certain segments,31 but around Grenoble people put in such great times that it’s impossible to win most of the segments.”32 Here too, the territory mediates the socio-spatial dynamics. We can wonder whether the use of an SPA app works on practitioners of similar levels in such a way that they influence each other (Pharabod et al., 2013). Can the change of environment and the confrontation with higher-level individuals in mountain areas lead to a disengagement from the practice?

  • 33 Interview with a woman, 32 years old, trail runner, December 15, 2022.

49Last, desires to explore the territory and the environment are thus likely to find digital possibilities for increasing capacities, to assist or deepen discoveries. As example is this mountain biker who commented on his GPS explorations to modify his route: “I sometimes try to modify a route that I do regularly to make it longer it and change the dominant aspect of the route a little.” 33He uses the territory as part of training with various routes, some with elevation, others for speed, and so on.

50Digitalisation is giving rise to new forms of urbanity, fuelled by community sites, for example. This digital use in natural spaces is visible in forests (Map 2) as well as in mountain areas (Map 3).

Map 2. A map produced by Suunto which lists the various routes that runners put online on the site, page consulted on April 21, 2021

Map 2. A map produced by Suunto which lists the various routes that runners put online on the site, page consulted on April 21, 2021

51And

Map 3. A map produced by Suunto which lists the different routes that walkers put online on the site, page consulted on December 14, 2019

Map 3. A map produced by Suunto which lists the different routes that walkers put online on the site, page consulted on December 14, 2019

52Forest areas are becoming hyperterritories (Musso, 2008). This concept helps us to understand how NICT modify the link between individuals and territory and space. It constitutes a key concept for understanding territorial dynamics in the digital age. The growing presence of digitally equipped individuals in forest and mountain areas thus creates new problems for the managers of these spaces. Forest rangers, for example, want to concentrate attendance around specific facilities (a five-kilometre route, for example, Map 2). Yet, technology for the discovery of nature and the use of connected equipment are also opportunities to highlight certain spaces. Runners can thus “stumble” upon places they like and register them on their watches (points of interest, POI). They can also follow the traces that others have left. This assisted roaming continues upon return from the activity because they have the possibility of putting their journey online, sharing their experience, adjusting their profiles and track records, and receiving comments, encouragement, and praise from individuals coming to congratulate them for their “performances.” This data collection represents significant work beforehand (preparation, loading, startup, verification of operation), but also afterward (exporting, giving meaning to the data) (Lupton, 2019).

Conclusion

53This article contributes to the literature by showing that leisure sports activities in the forest, as in mountain areas, have been affected by the deployment of digital tools. It emphasises that, more than the activities themselves, the methods of practice either lend themselves to or resist digitalisation. The digitalisations studied here refers to the promises of embedded solutions, trends linked to self-measurement, and self-care, on the one hand, or to geolocation. The results show that these two types of uses grow out of pre-existing desires, depending on whether the practices aim for a change of scenery, exploration, surpassing oneself or turning inward.

54In any case, sports activities in the forest are partly resisting the advent of everything digital. A significant portion of practitioners still subscribe to a return to simplicity and a desire for digital disconnection. Thus, the empirical study of uses requires us to put the scale of the digital revolution into perspective, at least in the forest.

55It seems clear that urban forests, because they are enclosed in a dense urban fabric, are part of the landscapes in which practices of “self-enhancement” are pursued through “quantifying elements of oneself” and “sharing oneself” through one’s activity via social networks. The forest is an environment which increasingly presents itself as an amenity of the city, in which city dwellers “transport their use of the city into the forest: they circulate there more than they contemplate.” (Piveteau, 1999). Leisure sports activities in urban forests have reinvented city-forest relationships by creating a nearby elsewhere. The forest is therefore not only a stadium like any other, but it is also the Other of the stadium and the Other (Cléro, 2003) of the city. The forest might be, using Lacanian concepts, an invisible but powerful force that shapes experience to the world and individuals through a symbolic, but also social, dimension. The word “tree,” according to Lacan, does not simply represent a physical object but is loaded with cultural and symbolic meanings.

56The forest crystallises the divergent and contradictory aspirations of those it shelters. We can only wonder about the knock-on effects that are likely to be generated by the desire to increase the digital coverage of forest areas, as these are currently not thought about or questioned by planners, shared with experts, or brought up for consultation and debate with the participatory approaches organised by the Rouen metropolis.

57Perhaps it is time to think about the design of forest leisure stations (Lepillé, 2017) by looking to the works carried out on the design of smart cities, with the idea of combining information and communication technologies with an approach to forest leisure activities through the conception of resort.

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Notes

1 Article L. 312-2 of the French code of sport.

2 In France, 74% of the forest is private (Morin, 2010).

3 In this article, the term digital is used to refer to the devices (connected watches, smartphones with dedicated applications) that capture, store, process and visualize activity data for analysis purposes (Soulé, Perrin & Marchant, 2022).

4 Paul Arnould, President of the “Forêt d’Exception®” committee, speaking on the France 3 Normandie television news on September 13, 2016.

5 Practice in a natural environment of several activities (orienteering, running & cycling, trail running, climbing, etc.) which leaves room for the creativity of the organizers and adaptation to the territory (forest, mountain, river, etc.).

6 The corpus is composed of in situ and participant observations. Field observation makes it possible to evaluate practices and modes of practice, frequency, and uses of equipment, particularly digital tools. Observation can also become participatory (Soulé, 2007), as when the researcher takes on the role of participant in competitions to understand the relationship of practitioners to digital uses.

7 For more details on the method of administration and the content of the questionnaire, refer to Lepillé, 2017. Volume 1: pages 241-246. Volume 2: appendix 8 page 46, appendix 10 page 49, appendix 11 p.55, appendix 12 page 65, appendix 13 page 67.

8 Gender, age, academic level and job category.

9 Perception of the training ground, number of activities practiced in the forest and mode of travel to access the forest.

10 Activities practiced, frequency of practice, use of training program, use of equipment dedicated to practice.

11 The administration of questionnaires in hiking clubs can lead to bias, since club practitioners are in the minority compared to the entire population who practice hiking. On the other hand, the results obtained confirm those of other surveys carried out in the Rouen region since 2002 (2002: n=957; 2006: n=1573; 2010: n=1502; 2014: n=1500). These surveys used different collection methods: on site (in the forest at fixation points) and by telephone (using a quota method). Thus, despite the different delivery methods, we find similar profiles across the different surveys. Details of these are available in Lepillé, R. (2017). Urban recreational forests. Recreational uses and ways of living [Rouen: Doctoral thesis in Sciences and Techniques of Physical and Sports Activities]. http://www.theses.fr/2017NORMR069

12 For more details on the subject see: Boutefeu, 2008; Granet & Dobré, 2009; Lepillé, 2017, p 183; Maresca, 2000.

13 This treatment was created from all the deviations from independence, the Chi2 per box and the Percentage of the Maximum Deviation (PMD) for each category of a categorical variable.

14 32% of them practice “4 times a week or more” and another third (30.9%) “3 times a week.”

15 Interview with a man, university instructor/researcher, mountain biker and runner, November 18, 2014

16 We present the results showing a strong relationship between two modalities (compared to the PMD) in bold. Conversely, when the relationship is weak, it is presented in italics. Results for which the difference from independence is not significant are presented in light gray.

17 Interview with a man, retired, hiker, November 21, 2014

18 Interview with a man, 32 years old, PE teacher, mountain biker, October 15, 2014.

19 Interview with a man, 43 years old, worker, mountain biker, June 16, 2016.

20 FCA is a statistical method that determines the relationship between discrete variables. FCA is a method adapted to the contingency table in order to study the possible relationships between two categorical variables within a large number of variables (Cibois, 2007). It has the advantage of being represented graphically. A line (in green here) represents the strength of the relationship between two variables. The thicker the line, the stronger the link between the two variables. We sometimes associate FCA with k means clustering, which is an automatic classification method used to distribute individuals into a certain number of classes.

21 We used k means clustering, an automatic classification method used to distribute individuals into a certain number of classes here named A, B, C and D. We used this classification to trace the potato-shaped ovals which make reading the FCA easier.

22 Go out into the forest to observe the environment and discover what is out there (wildlife, ancient trees, etc.).

23 Interview with a man, 39 years old, unemployed, trail runner and triathlete, February 2, 2013.

24 Interview with a man, university teacher/researcher, mountain biker and runner, November 18, 2014.

25 Interview with a man, 32 years old, lifeguard, triathlete, February 2, 2013.

26 A man, 33 years old, engineer, runner, February 2, 2013.

27 A man, 43 years old, security guard, runner, February 2, 2013.

28 A man, university instructor/researcher, mountain biker and runner, November 18, 2014.

29 Interview with a man, 43 years old, worker, mountain biker, June 16, 2016.

30 Interview with a man, associate professor in the university school of sports sciences, trail runner, trainer in his Jog’nature Association, September 30, 2014.

31 In the Strava app, a segment is a portion of a route or trail created and edited by members, where athletes can compete for time.

32 Interview with a woman, 32 years old, trail runner, December 15, 2022.

33 Interview with a woman, 32 years old, trail runner, December 15, 2022.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Map 1. The proportion of forests within the Rouen Normandy metropolis
Crédits Conceived and produced by Romain Lepillé (CETAPS UR3832)Source: BDTOPO IGN / CLC
URL http://journals.openedition.org/rga/docannexe/image/12603/img-1.png
Fichier image/png, 599k
Titre Figure 1. Factorial correspondence analysis, which crosses leisure sports activities (in blue), perception of the training ground (in red), distance to the forest (in green), the number of activities practised in the forest (in purple), and the mode of travel to access the forest (in brown)21
URL http://journals.openedition.org/rga/docannexe/image/12603/img-2.png
Fichier image/png, 178k
Titre Figure 2. Typology of forms of forest appropriation by recreational sports practitioners
URL http://journals.openedition.org/rga/docannexe/image/12603/img-3.png
Fichier image/png, 177k
Titre Map 2. A map produced by Suunto which lists the various routes that runners put online on the site, page consulted on April 21, 2021
URL http://journals.openedition.org/rga/docannexe/image/12603/img-4.png
Fichier image/png, 2,0M
Titre Map 3. A map produced by Suunto which lists the different routes that walkers put online on the site, page consulted on December 14, 2019
URL http://journals.openedition.org/rga/docannexe/image/12603/img-5.png
Fichier image/png, 2,2M
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Romain Lepillé, « Forest: the ‘Other’ Stadium? »Journal of Alpine Research | Revue de géographie alpine [En ligne], 111-3 | 2023, mis en ligne le 15 février 2024, consulté le 21 avril 2024. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/rga/12603 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/rga.12603

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Auteur

Romain Lepillé

Normandie Univ., Université de Rouen Normandie, CETAPS (UR 3832)

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