I’ve been finishing off my amendments to the article ‘Incompetent, or too competent: negotiating everyday cycling identities in a motor dominated society’. Subject to them agreeing the amends, it will be going in Mobilities journal While I can’t post it online now because of copyright restrictions, I am happy to email it to anyone who’s interested.
In some ways this is a companion piece to my published article on ‘Cycling Citizenship’ which looks at positive discourses around being a cyclist and how these relate to practices of mobile citizenship. This one looks at ‘the cyclist’ as a stigmatised identity using some of the interview data from Cambridge and Hull. It argues that cyclists are caught between stereotypes of being an incompetent cyclist (the ‘bad cyclist’) and being too competent a cyclist (the ‘proper cyclist’, ‘bike nut’, ‘avid cyclist’, etc.)
Here’s a sample bit of data about being a ‘proper cyclist’ -
‘Oh I would say an avid cyclist is somebody who like, they live and breathe it really. You know the sort, you’ll see them when you’re driving somewhere going up a really steep hill and all you can see is these legs like tree trunks (laughter)’
Most people had vivid descriptions of one kind or another, representing the kind of cyclist they were definitely not. In the article I discuss this as a way of drawing boundaries, negotiating identity and avoiding what stigma writers call a ‘spoiled identity’. Also in the article I talk about some of the ways that being ‘a cyclist’ interacts differently with other social identities (class, gender, etc.) depending on the context. For example, in Cambridge cycling has a more middle-class image than it does in Hull, and that matters for how cyclists perceive themselves – and how easy or difficult it might be to be ‘a cyclist’.
One thing I don’t get a chance to discuss in the article is how cycling identities are informed by, and inform, cycling politics. This is something that’s being hotly debated in London at the moment – not necessarily in so many words, but in arguments around how advocacy should work, what forms activism should take, and so on. One sign of this is the email I got over the weekend from Lilli about the Londoners on Bikes project, a new group seeking to mobilise a cyclist ‘block vote’ in the upcoming mayoral elections.
I thought it was interesting (a) to see this form of cycling activism develop and (b) more specifically, the choice of name – ‘on bikes’ rather than ‘cyclists’. With the research internship on advocacy and activism, I’ll be thinking some more about how different forms of activism and advocacy mobilise different conceptions of ‘the cyclist’, ‘people on bikes’, ‘potential cyclists’ and so on, and the implications of this in turn for the changing politics of cycling.