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RECONSIDERING THE BICYCLE: An Anthropological Perspective on a New (Old) Thing CHAPTER ONE: Anthropology, Bicycles, and Urban Mobility © Routledge 2013.

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Presentation on theme: "RECONSIDERING THE BICYCLE: An Anthropological Perspective on a New (Old) Thing CHAPTER ONE: Anthropology, Bicycles, and Urban Mobility © Routledge 2013."— Presentation transcript:

1 RECONSIDERING THE BICYCLE: An Anthropological Perspective on a New (Old) Thing CHAPTER ONE: Anthropology, Bicycles, and Urban Mobility © Routledge 2013

2 KEY IDEAS Tracking the new uses and upheaval of meanings surrounding bicycles in urban areas. Anthropology of mobility. “Critical estrangement” and other methodological concerns. © Routledge 2013

3 Whoever Would Have Thought…? “Whoever thought it would come to this? Our cavalcade grows exponentially! Hath you seen it? On the roadways of every city there are bicyclists emerging again after a century in the shadows. We are here to claim what’s rightfully ours: respectful free movement on streets everywhere. In Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, Dallas too, and Bellingham, Grand Rapids, and Los Angeles even!” --Boneshaker, bicycle ‘zine, 2011 © Routledge 2013

4 General Motors Ad, 2011 © Routledge 2013

5 BACKLASH! © Routledge 2013

6 An Upheaval in Meanings From bicycles as toys, recreation, and sports… …to bicycles as useful, quick, healthy, inexpensive, technologically-simple, efficient, and even enjoyable means of getting from point A to B. Especially in flat and dense urban areas where distances are short and traffic congestion bad. And the bicycle as a tool of socio-political, environmental, and cultural change. © Routledge 2013

7 Background Conditions Hyper-automobility, especially in the U.S. Governmental concerns about reducing health and transportation expenditures. Municipal concerns about traffic congestion, emissions reductions, and quality of life competitiveness with other cities. Public health concerns about sedentary lifestyles and obesity crisis. Everyday concerns about the consequences of petroleum and automobile dependency. © Routledge 2013

8 Anthropology of Mobility Some key questions: Why is it “natural” that when people need to go somewhere they get in a car, while for others it might be by foot, on a bus, a subway, or by two- wheeled vehicle? What social, ideological, historical, environmental, and institutional factors and norms shape a decision to drive, walk, or ride, or alternatively, prevent people from doing any one of these things? How might these same factors pattern how people might actually perceive, experience, and practice these things in their everyday lives? What are the consequences of the ways people move around on: their physical bodies, social identities, perceptions of themselves and the places they live, ideas about what is right or wrong, ideas about space and time, and the way their communities are socially and spatially organized? © Routledge 2013

9 Anthropology of Mobility TRANSPORTATION VS. MOBILITY “Transportation” is the act of carrying or conveying something or someone, especially “passengers,” emphasizing speed and efficiency. “Mobility” is a change of condition that has three interdependent dimensions--movement, networks, and motility—in which: Movement involves circulation through physical and/or social space. Networks are those frameworks and infrastructure, themselves often immobile, that enable and limit mobility. Motility is the actual capacity an actor has to move or be mobile. © Routledge 2013

10 Anthropology of Mobility There are diverse modes, skills, technologies, and infrastructures related to movement. Different mobilities carry the potential for knowing, sensing, and interacting with the world in specific ways, and are closely associated with certain practices of life. How people move around presupposes, reflects, and generates social and political struggles. © Routledge 2013

11 Anthropology “At Home” What defines ethnographic fieldwork is not necessarily geographic displacement… …but the deliberate work of creating contacts and interactions that yield meaningful insights into human lives without assuming the ethnographer stands apart from those processes. The “field” is not a given place to which anthropologists travel and “immerse” ourselves. Fieldwork is open-ended, episodic, and fluid. The division between the ethnographer and the informant can get blurry as we meld our personal and professional roles and identities. Informants are often friends, neighbors, associates, and contacts with whom we might have intermittent, serendipitous, diffuse, and even sometimes ephemeral ties. © Routledge 2013

12 “Critical Estrangement of the Lived World” The work of taking the familiar and taken-for-granted and making it seem strange, “of deconstructing its surfaces and the relativizing of its horizons”… …with the goal of understanding the social, cultural, and historical conditions that give rise and help sustain a particular set of ideas, meanings, objects, or social practices. © Routledge 2013

13 Discussion Questions How do the meanings you have about bicycles compare or contrast with the meanings of the bicycle in the GM ad? Why? Discuss some of the differences between how a traffic engineer who specializes in designing road infrastructure to keep traffic flowing and a cultural anthropologist would approach the bicycle. How can we as anthropologists step back from what we take for granted and make critical sense of a mundane object like a bicycle? © Routledge 2013

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