‘… so don’t run’: is running out-of-place?

Topping the most read chart over at the BBC News website this morning is a report from Tim Franks titled ‘Burundi: Where jogging is a crime’.


The article explains how running has been banned by Burundi’s president Pierre Nkurunziza, fearing it was being used as a cover for subversion in a country with a long history of ethnic conflict. Rather, the people of the city of Bujumbura, gripped by fear, frustration and claustrophobia started to run in large groups as a means to vent such feelings. Regardless, the practice of jogging is now criminalised in Burundi, with some people spending lengthy sentences in prison because of it.

Influencing the acceptability of activities?

The legality of running something that really grabs my attention as a geographer (and runner; and a running-geographer). It links to wider questions regarding the acceptability of certain practices and activities in particular places and times. Obviously this is an extreme and direct example of how such activities and those that undertake them are designated as in-place or out-of-place, as belonging or alienated. Yet not all influences or clues about such designation are quite so palpable – but they are certainly there to be explored.

The influences on constructing activities as acceptable or otherwise can broadly (and simplistically) divided into ones that assert their influences from the ‘top down’ or the ‘bottom up’. Top down influences include statutes and the legality of activities but can also be found in the policies of various governments, messages spread through film, music, literature and other cultural media as well as through the physical design of places. For example, the increasing use of ‘hostile architecture‘ such as homeless spikes and anti-skateboarding benches are a means by which to physically influence behaviours and lead to the exclusion of particular people and activities.  The bottom up influences are centred around how people who do particular practices experience them and what the reaction of others to such practices are – e.g. how do runners and pedestrians encounter each other.

Is running an acceptable activity?

Before the running-boom of the 1960s and 1970s, jogging certainly was not a commonplace activity and running is public places could see you brandished as mad. In some cases, running was even discouraged as this surreal and comic-book public information broadcast from 1978 demonstrates:

Much has changed since that video – running is a hugely common practice and even our political leaders encourage us to do it and do it themselves. This does not means that runners are totally accepted however. In previous work I have used head cameras to look at the meeting of pedestrians and runners on the street. This showed that runners, almost all the time, are the ones who have to take responsibility for ensuring the encounters pass without incident. Runners are the ones who must change their direction, reduce their speeds and disrupt their rhythms as they twist, shake and shimmie around pedestrians and the physical space. This implies that pedestrians are in a position of power on the street, with a prior claim to the space resulting in runners being subordinate and thus the ones having to make concessions in the favour of others.

I am just at the beginning of my MA dissertation, which was going to explore how running and runners have been constructed as in-place or out-of-place in much wider terms – combining the experiences on the street with wider discourses about running in film, policy, media, literature, statues etc. I have since changed my topic (more on that another time), but it is still something I hope to explore over the course of my PhD. It would certainly be interesting to see how such influences and narratives about the acceptability of running has impact or affects those who run and those who encounter runners.


4 thoughts on “‘… so don’t run’: is running out-of-place?

  1. Miranda says:

    Hey, have you read Mark Greif’s essay ‘Against Exercise’? (See https://nplusonemag.com/issue-1/essays/against-exercise/) It’s not about running, per se, but this passage came to mind, particularly re: what you say about runners moving around pedestrians during an encounter:

    “Running is most insidious because of its way of taking proselytizing out of the gym. It is a direct invasion of public space. It lays the counting, the pacing, the controlled frenzy, the familiar undergarment-outergarments and skeletal look, on top of the ordinary practice of an outdoor walk. One thing that can be said for a gym is that an implied contract links everyone who works out in its mirrored and pungent hangar. All consent to undertake separate exertions and hide any mutual regard, as in a well-ordered masturbatorium. The gym is in this sense more polite than the narrow riverside, street, or nature path, wherever runners take over shared places for themselves. With his speed and narcissistic intensity the runner corrupts the space of walking, thinking, talking, and everyday contact. He jostles the idler out of his reverie. He races between pedestrians in conversation. The runner can oppose sociability and solitude by publicly sweating on them.”

    1. simoniancook says:

      Thanks for this Miranda – I hadn’t come across that but it’s really interesting. What was going to be my MA thesis would have tried to look at the affective relations and bodily reactions between runners and pedestrians, so sweaty runners certainly would have to come into it! Not such a problem for swimmers hey …

  2. purplecords says:

    Banning running in Barundi, that is very sad. Wow that ‘against exercise’ essay looks vicious. There is no way I am being confined to the nasty, smelly, noisy gym when I can be on a delightful prom/ riverside etc! The quote and Simon’s post made me wonder about the potential to incorperate how runners experience other runners when they themselves aren’t running (!) – I know I can’t help noticing their technique, attire, pace, feeling a bit guilty if I haven’t been running much, a little bit envious they have found the time and motivation, and I always try and get out of the way, though I quite like playing dodge the pedestrian as well 🙂 I suspect you are onto this already…

    1. simoniancook says:

      I agree with you Sam, it would be great to see how runners encounter other runners … certainly on my plans!

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