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					Dave Horton ESRC Postdoctoral Felowship 2003-4
Bicycle Cultures: Vehicles of Sustainability?
How relevant is the bicycle to the search for sustainability? As an alternative to the
car, how plausible is this mobile technology? In a complex, interconnected, global
world, evermore dependent on dispersed mobilities, does the bicycle have a future?
Within transport policy worlds, cycling is an increasingly desirable mobility. In
contrast to the perceived negative social and environmental impacts of the car, cycling
is portrayed as an environmentally benign and health promoting mobility, one which
can alleviate road congestion and improve the conviviality of local communities. At
every level of government, UK transport policy has become 'cycle-friendly' over the
past decade. The aim is to increase cycle use, to quadruple 1996 levels by 2012. And
new affordances to cycling are being put in place. Yet the proportion of journeys
made by bicycle remains stubbornly low.
The cultural shift necessary for people willingly to 'get on their bikes' seems to be
lagging. Why is modal shift to the bicycle not taking place? In spite of an increasing
range of affordances to cycling, why do people seem less rather than more likely to
take to the bicycle? Against the context of cycle-friendly policies and low cycling
rates, the aim of this research is to explore how people might be encouraged to cycle.
It does so by understanding the current specific ways in which the bicycle is used.
Against common assumptions to the contrary, the research argues that the bicycle is
not a stable object and cycling is not an homogeneous practice. Both the bicycle and
cycling are heterogeneous and complex. People ride bicycles for very different
reasons. Wherever and whenever it occurs, the bicycle is an object existing in
networks of social relations. Alternative meanings are attached to the bicycle
according to context. Different 'bicycle cultures' draw on different sets of resources
and sustain different identities. Cycling is variously about personal health, poverty,
convenience, political resistance, competition, environmental concern, leisure, risk,
and adventure.
This research argues that knowledge of the multiplicity of actually existing bicycle
cultures can inform strategies aimed at increasing bicycle use. Of course, the bicycle
is a globally significant object, and over the long term it is envisaged that the research
will form part of a broad project exploring the bicycle cross-culturally.
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posted:7/7/2011
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