Friday, February 22, 2013

Damned Cyclists

I heard an interesting podcast recently, called the Morality of Cycling.

The podcast was Thinking Allowed, from BBC Radio 4. This is the link to the Morality of Cycling episode. The host of Thinking Allowed is Laurie Taylor, and in this episode he's interviewing a British sociology professor who recently published an article titled The Travelling Citizen: Emergent Discourses of Moral Mobility in a Study of Cycling in London in the April 2012 issue of Sociology.

(Video is at this link)

So, the study involved interviewing people to get their opinions on how "moral" cycling was... i.e. is it better (primarily environmentally) for a person to bike to work, or drive to work etc.

Nearly every single respondent said that yes, the most "moral" way to get to work, or to get around London, was to ride a bicycle.

What's interesting however is that most respondents also said something like "but God I hate cyclists!!!". The reason they had this reaction is that people perceive cyclists as being scofflaws who run red lights all the time and break any other rules that they want to, while motorists are all obeying the rules and are aghast at how immoral cyclists are.

So... cycling = moral, but cyclists = evil.

Here's the citation and abstract for the article.

Judith Green, Rebecca Steinbach, and Jessica Datta The Travelling Citizen: Emergent Discourses of Moral Mobility in a Study of Cycling in London Sociology April 2012 46: 272-289

Drawing on accounts of travelling within London, this article explores the ways in which mobility discourses are tied to the responsibilities of ‘a good citizen’ and suggests that car-dominated automobility has been significantly fractured, at least in one urban setting. A consensus hierarchy of transport modes now configures driving as immoral, as well as dysfunctional, and cycling, in contrast, as particularly laudable. Within this new moral economy of transport, cycling holds the promise of conscientious automobility, enabling a number of explicit and implied citizenship responsibilities to be met. These include ecological responsibilities to the city and global ecosystem, but also responsibilities to enact the ‘new citizen’: a knowledgeable and alert risk-assessor competent to travel in ways that maximize independence, efficiency and health. However, cycling has its own contradictions: whilst enabling some to enact a new ‘moral’ citizenship, it simultaneously underlines the marginal citizenship of less mobile Londoners.

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