Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Fear of Cycling recently completed a series of articles on the Fear of Cycling by David Horton, a British sociologist. He explores one of the main reasons people don't cycle. Often the dangers of cycling are stressed so strongly that many people are put off; and yet cycling is safer than driving (40,000 people killed every year), swimming and other activities. In fact, it's probably more dangerous not to cycle.

The article is in five parts and the final part was just completed, on "how the identity of 'the cyclist' tends to invoke fear." In the article he explores some reasons why the image of cyclists has been marginalized. Horton is a sociologist, so the writing style is academic, but the message is certainly thought-provoking:
Newspaper editors are attuned to knowing what their readers and advertisers want (and we should note how a high proportion of those advertisers belong to the system of automobility, on whose revenues newspapers depend). Media accounts are therefore likely to reproduce dominant representations of the cyclist as a 'yob', law-breaker and outsider (for example, Hoey 2003).

Such stereotyping works by isolating certain behaviours, stripping them from their meaningful context, and attributing them to 'everyone associated with a particular group or category' (Pickering 2001, 4). And these stereotypical representations contribute to the maintenance of the cyclist as a strange 'other' (Basford et al 2003; Dickinson 2004; Field 1996; Reid 2004).

Against the context of socially and ecologically destructive automobility, the reproduction of concerns about cyclists' behaviour is a classic example of scapegoating (Cohen 2002). Scapegoating deflects attention away from greater crimes, by in this case sacrificing the cyclist in the ideological pursuit of 'motoring-as-usual'. Through representing the marginal practice of cycling as 'deviant', the dominant practice of car driving is reproduced and reaffirmed as 'normal'. Representations of cycling as deviant and cyclists as outsiders both contribute to, and are facilitated by, low levels of cycling which mean that few people are able to take, and defend, the cyclist's point of view.

But times are changing.


Hmmm. . . I guess I'm a bit more of a "materialist" about this. The physical conditions in which motorists and bicyclists transport themselves are really what marginalize cyclists, in my view.
Bicycling is cool in DC, not just for younger people but for other residents because bicycling is integrated in the transportation fabric.
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