Cycling and Society Symposium
6th September 2010
University of Oxford
“Nattering” and “silly little things”: Informal encounters, everyday connections and local characters in cycle campaigning in Hull
This paper will draw on ethnographic and interview data on cycle campaigners in Hull (2010). It focuses on campaigners in both official and volunteer contexts, taking particular interest in the myriad of places, times and methods in and through which individuals do important work. While some of these practices take place in conventional formal meetings, many others occur in informal settings and at unusual times. Campaigners talk to people in the street. They stop to help strangers with punctures. They volunteer with different cycle groups in their spare time. They introduce people. They share news and tell of events. They make lists, keep records and write letters. These often serendipitous and largely undocumented “natterings” and “silly little things” have important consequences. This paper examines how small encounters and seemingly inconsequential events serve to generate and reinforce critical connections between people, ideas and things. It reflects upon the role of cycle campaigners as “local characters” with deeply embedded knowledge of people, places and things that together make and sustain these networks. Emerson (2009) draws attention to ‘ordinary troubles’ to highlight the routine, boring and often trivialised interactions that help to explain more dramatic events. In this case, a focus on “nattering” and “silly little things” brings to light not only the mundane activities that underpin successful cycling campaigning but also the persistence, patience and relentless pressure necessary to make change happen.