Thursday, December 25, 2008

"Cycling" and "Cyclists"

I've recently been doing some media analysis as part of one ongoing project on the hatred of cyclists and a new project that is looking at the reporting of cycling in the Australian print media over the last 5-10 years. One of the most alarming things I've discovered is the complex language politics between "cycling" and "cyclists". "Cycling" is an activity involving bicycles and can include anything from riding to the local shops to participating in the Tour de France. "Cyclists" are identified as people who ride bikes and therefore could be almost anyone.

One of the strange things I've found is that when you conflate cycling and cyclists and then look at all the positive and negative attributes associated with each in the media, the positives are almost universally associated with "cycling" as an activity (ie. its fun, healthy, environmentally good, and convenient) whereas the negatives are almost always associated or tagged on "cyclists" as a group of persons (i.e. cyclists 'are' irresponsible, dangerous, arrogant, inconvenient). For the purposes of clarity it would be nice to partition each of these concepts and analyse them separately, however like most things involving language, they tend to slide around and stick to eachother. For instance, we hear that ‘Cycling is dangerous'... because its an activity that involves exposure to motor cars and/or because cyclists are irresponsible and break the road rules etc. How then do we response to this perception of cycling/cyclists as 'dangerous'? What's the danger – cycling, cyclists or fast moving automobiles? The language we use to account for 'cycling' and 'cyclists' seems to be incredibly important in framing many of the political debates. My sense is that by focusing on/positioning cyclists as some (out)group, it is easier for the media to engage in the politics of blame and in doing so evade questioning what may be good about cycling and how we might want to encourage it.


Rooman said...

we have looked at marginalisation by the media at WoJ... plenty of resources eg:


the bottom line is in everything we do when discussing humans riding bicycles we should ensure we do that, refer to the act of cycling as a human riding a bicycle such as John commutes to work on his bicycle, mary rides with her children to school each day on a bicycle, amy rides her bicycle for fitness. I am a grandfather who rides a bicycle for health and enjoyment and for sensible transport.. the most efficient vehicle for personal mobility is a bicycle and riders who do so are sensibly making a choice that matters.

If we as humans who ride bicycles also not dehumanise the fact that we do so, we make a contribution to reducing marginalisation...

RobE, CoConvenor
Wheels of Justice Cycling safety Advocacy Group

Pedals Cycling said...

Cycling is not a dangerous sport as long as the bike is well-maintained and the cyclists know all the rules of the road. Amen to the promotion of cycling!