Cycling in Sydney Australia
About a week ago I was encouraged to look up this essay by a British sociologist on the social construction of the fear of cycling, which I think should be compulsory reading for anyone with an interest in cycling as an issue of public policy.
It was quite a coincidence that I should read this in the same week that we have had such a clear example of how this fear is constructed in Sydney right now with this week's ACA story.
One line that particularly struck me while reading the essay, and which directly applies to the ACA story, is that ‘to ignore safety advice is to transgress the new moral consensus’.
Another interesting passage is applicable also:
The cultural acceptability of cycling’s spatial marginality, particularly when combined with the cyclist’s stigmatised identity, is highly consequential. It means that those cyclists who do not stick to the margins, but either consciously or unconsciously attempt to ‘centre’ themselves, are experienced as threatening and unsettling, and are demonised – most visibly and powerfully within the mass media... The mass media is very alert to the potential of the cyclist’s stigmatised identity to make ‘a good story’, especially in a social context which increasingly encourages people to reflect on transport choices and question their own automobilised lives (see below). 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; see also Fincham, this volume). 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).
The question then has to be asked, what are we going to do about it? Horton's conclusion is this:
In the meantime, what can be done to allay people’s fears of cycling? Although it is constantly produced and reproduced, fear of neither cycling nor the cyclist is inevitable. Both the conditions for cycling practice and representations of the cyclist can change and be changed, and thereby produce different effects... At the level of representation, our task is to generate and continuously reaffirm positive representations of cycling as an ordinary and enjoyable practice... Certainly, we must stop communicating, however inadvertently, the dangers of cycling, and instead provide people with very many, very diverse, positive and affirming representations of both cycling practice and cycling identities. Current fear of cycling can be otherwise, but we must help make it so.
I agree and the reason why I posted this is because I think it tells us with the most important thing that we can do in response to the ACA story - get out there and be the positive representation, make your cycling ordinary and enjoyable, and encourage others to do so too.
Nice post Rob.....didn't see the ACA "story" (I generally don't watch TV) but I can only imagine what it was about.
Problem is that implicit attitudes are proven to be VERY hard to change. If someone is exposed to minute snippets of reaffirming information time after time then the attitudes surrounding those snippets become entrenched - there are plenty of examples e.g. cyclists a.k.a "lycra loonies", refugees a.k.a "illegals".
Then again I'm not exempt from forming potentially un-helpful implicit attitudes e.g. I'll probably always believe that people associated with the Lieberal Party are f-wits and that people who vote for f-wits are even bigger ones.
I don't have a TV either, but you don't have to have one to follow the story.
It is hard to change attitudes, but not impossible and we are heading in the right direction at the moment, even if we are a long way off. The most important thing, though, is that we don't let ourselves be discouraged from getting out there on our bikes each day, because that is what will drive the change.
Speaking of attitudes - the car culture is world wide - and very evident in those recently developed countries where the car is the number 1 symbol of aspiration. Below is an ugly post which exemplifies what Dave Horton seems to be saying. In a country which spends billions of dollars on roads and where the entrenched politicians can and do justify spending next to nothing on the safety of cyclists - as "there isn't enough room". The "east coast park" being referred to is a short track for rollerbladers, bicycles and other wheeled toys. What sort of society is it where middle aged women think it is acceptable to air the view that cyclists should be killed so she doesn't have to give way to them in her car?
What sort of society is it where middle aged women think it is acceptable to air the view that cyclists should be killed so she doesn't have to give way to them in her car?
That is from a country will crack the whip on people who make racist, or incite religious hatred in their posts. It's quite telling that making discriminatory posts that are hatred inciting towards cyclists are not handled the same way... yet.
Still this in't that far from the actual actions here of the motorists that have used their known killing machines to swerve / come in contact at cyclists to injure, intimidate or hoping that the cyclist crashes and then shrugging their shoulders. The intent is the same, it's just not spoken out loud.
This is an interesting discussion. Today, at Newcastle University, I went to this lecture
HUMAN RIGHTS AND SOCIAL JUSTICE LECTURE
Her Rights At Work?
The Political Persecution of Australia’s First Female Prime Minister
by Anne Summers AO
In Anne's presentation, she spoke of how the "new" media is becoming grubby and appalling by going to the lowest common denominator and that we must all fight back to say "enough is enough and/or that it is unacceptable to vilify people in the way that it is currently happening". Common decency has flown the coup, we need to re-capture it! It applies for the treatment of Jula Gillard, cyclists, muslims and anyone else that the rabid shock jocks are on about. If you are interested in her presentation, she will be loading it up onto her website in the next few days.