Cycling sociabilities

Popan, Cosmin (2014) Cycling sociabilities. In: Cycling and Society Annual Symposium, 2014-09-152014-09-16.

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The argument of this presentation is that cycling creates meaning through the act of moving together in time. Such instances of cycling together, that are so salient outside the city, for leisure or for sport, are almost invisible in cities. This paper examines why is this happening and how can this situation be addressed. Ultimately, my purpose is to assess how cycling together outside the city can contribute to the success of urban cycling practices. I am addressing here the togetherness of cycling, a topic which is largely neglected by most of social scientists. Being mobile together is imbued with meaning, as 'moving in accordance brings about senses and feelings of solidarity and belonging without verbal, communicative and symbolic forms of action' (Adey 2010: 168). Cycling is often described in academic literature with tropes suggesting different degrees of togetherness or, at least, communal ideals, such as citizenship (Aldred 2010), shared identity (Carlsson 2002), even revolution (Mapes 2009). Despite such associations, most of the academic literature on cycling is nevertheless focused on solidarity practices. The flâneur-cyclist (Oddy 2007, Cox 2008) has become the representative image of the lone cyclist practising an individualized 'tourist gaze' (Urry 2007) in the countryside, thus possibly reflecting cycling's marginalised status in academia. In contrast to these solitary approaches, I propose a focus on more solidary forms of cycling, the practices of cycling together, and on the subsequent construction of meaning by those who take part in them. The process of meaning making while moving from A to B has been of uttermost importance for different social scientists working in the realm of mobilities studies. For them, it is important to move beyond the general perception of mobility as being unproductive and wasted time (as often reflected in the thinking of planners and engineers), claiming instead that mobility is itself a site of meaning creation, identity formation and even cultural production (Adey 2010; Creswell 2006; Ingold 2011). Motion and emotion are, as Mimi Sheller puts it, 'kinaesthetically intertwined and produced together through a conjunction of bodies, technologies, and cultural practices' (Sheller 2004: 227). The geographer Tim Cresswell (2006) observes as well that mobility is far from being a chaotic thing and that meaning described on the move is seldom neglected: Stories about mobility, stories that are frequently ideological, connect blood cells to street patterns, reproduction to space travel. Movement is rarely just movement; it carries with it the burden of meaning and it is this meaning that jumps scales. It is this issue of meaning that remains absent from accounts of mobility in general, and because it remains absent, important connections are not made (2006: 6-7). In the cases of co-mobility, such emotions and affects 'rise and surge between bodies', says the geographer Peter Adey (2010: 166). That is to say that the emotions become themselves mobile as a result of not moving in time, but, as Adey explains, 'by simply moving with it' (2010:168): Bodies extend out into more-than-personal bonds and associations as people move with each other. Emotions and affects feed back as they leap between people tying them even closer together. […] Rather than communicating symbolically or discursively, being mobile together in time is 'crucial in both establishing and enhancing a sense of collective purpose and a common understanding' producing feelings of 'well being' (Brennan in Adey 2010: 167-8). The importance of togetherness in the studies of mobility is also echoed by John Urry (2007) who emphasizes 'the essential role of meetings for work, family and social life' in general (2007: 273). In conclusion, this research into the practice of cycling together is concerned with the production and mobilisation of meaning within cyclists. The individualized and flâneuristic performance of cycling is only one part of the equation in question; cycling is, in the words of anthropologist Luis Vivanco, 'also a collective, expressive, and culturally patterned experience, in the sense that it is organized and constrained by social and political-economic processes, symbolic meanings, and actual skills, practices, and norms involved in riding a bicycle [through a city], each of which transcends what any single individual does or believes' (2013: 95).

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Contribution to Conference (Paper)
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Cycling and Society Annual Symposium
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20 Feb 2018 18:27
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22 Nov 2022 14:25