Hacking urban space

An interesting piece about bicycling and urban sociology/ethnography:

Back in 2009, I was taking a graduate class on “concept work” and Chris Kelty came to visit. I had a chance to babble a little bit about my dissertation project studying bicycling in Los Angeles, and Chris speculated that bicycling could be a way of hacking urban space. This made a lot of sense to me. When you are doing an ethnographic study of one mode of transport in a city where another mode of transport reigns supreme, you notice things that are otherwise hard to see. Living among bicyclists in Los Angeles meant that I learned short cuts and the locations of tunnels under freeways, found out how to avoid major streets and still get across town, and questioned the dominant academic view of Los Angeles as a postmodern non-city.

The bicycle can be an experimental tool for ethnographic work. In my case, studying the social/cultural life of bicycling worlds, this was front and center in my fieldwork life. But I know many other people have found examining the bicycle as an object and bicycling as a practice productive while studying other topics more directly. For example, Wiebe Bijker’s writing on the development of the safety bicycle has given insight into the social construction of technology. And Robin LeBlanc called her 1999 book about Japanese housewives’ political engagement Bicycle Politics because she found that her mode of transport during fieldwork gave her a useful metaphor for the limited (but existent) political power of the women she studied.

“The world we see at a given time is chosen for us by the transportation we use to get there,” LeBlanc commented in her introduction. Has bicycling gotten you into new worlds, as an ethnographer or in other areas of your life?

Take a look!

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