Cycling and Society Research Group

I’ve spent the last couple of days in Bolton, at the 6th Cycling and Society Research Group symposium and annual meeting. The organiser, John Parkin, bravely managed to cram 14 papers into Monday’s schedule. This would be a big mistake at many academic meetings, but it worked wonderfully well in Bolton, because of the participants’ shared enthusiasm for the topic and the fantastic diversity within that topic – in terms both of the content of the papers (to give a taste – cycling and citizenship, bike-sharing schemes, shared space …), and the backgrounds of those presenting (sociologists, geographers, transport planners, NGO activists, engineers, consultants …). It was the kind of day that from time-to-time I need in order to keep faith in the importance of thinking, sharing and developing ideas, and working collectively towards a more cycle-friendly, better world.

I think it’s fair to say that over the last 6 years the Cycling and Society Research Group has pioneered and championed the importance of more cultural approaches to cycling. Of course, many disciplines can make important contributions to our understandings of cycling, and it’s wonderful now to see sociologists, cultural geographers and anthropologists talking and thinking with planners and engineers, as well as policy-makers, activists, consultants and other cycling practitioners, at our annual gatherings.

Marie Kastrup, who is involved in organising the programme for next year’s Velo city conference in Copenhagen, was in Bolton, and she gave a great paper on the role of national identities in producing and reproducing cycling cultures, paying particular attention to the Danish case. I’m hopeful that her involvement in the proceedings, and her own clear cultural orientation to cycling, mean that ‘the cultural turn in cycling studies’ will have a somewhat higher profile at Velo-city 2010 Copenhagen than it did at Velo-city 2009 Brussels. Cycling, non-cycling, perceptions of cycling, attitudes to cycling – all these things are always cultural; and it’s only by getting stuck into and trying to get to grips with culture, that we can hope to understand more about cycling, including who cycles and how, who doesn’t, why, with what effects …

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