Re-imagining the city through the lens of cycling : the bicycle, its advocates and urban transformations in Thai cities

F. Sengers, R.P.J.M. Raven

Research output: Contribution to conferenceOtherAcademic

Abstract

Decades of unrestrained motorization and car-oriented development have made sure that Thailand’s cities are a challenging habitat for the bicycle to flourish. In recent years, however, a new vibrant subculture of bicycle enthusiasm and advocacy has emerged spearheaded by a set of dedicated social movement organizations (SMOs). These organizations promote and empower cycling as an everyday practice as part of a broader process sustainable urban renewal. This paper takes stock of the strategies (physical, spatial and discursive) that these quintessential guardians of the bicycle deploy in order to mainstream urban cycling to attain what, in accordance with their ideals, they view as ‘the good city’. Conceptually, the analysis mobilizes elements from social practice theory (Shove’s social practice approach), sociotechnical transition theory (Geels’ multilevel perspective) and social movement theory (McAdam’s take on resource mobilization). Using ethnographic mobile methods we follow the wheeling and dealing of three cycling campaigners in Thailand’s three biggest cities (Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Korat). Each of these campaigners leads a different organization with different tactics and appropriates the sustainable development imperative and livable city discourse in his/her own particular way. We show how, notwithstanding unfavorable infrastructural conditions and political difficulties, the practice of urban cycling and its visibility in the public eye are growing rapidly in these cities today. At a deeper level, we reveal the variety of cognitive frames through which the Thai city and its future are envisioned by the cyclists. They re-imagine the city as an ‘urban ecosystem’ (as an integral part of the natural world, the logics of biology are extended to an urban setting through the use of conservationist techniques and methods of knowledge production), as a ‘virtuous village’ (the Thai King’s ‘sufficiency economy’ ideal aimed at transforming the nostalgic village of yesterday gets re-appropriated to set out a development path for the sprawling city of today) and as a ‘creative hub’ (viewed as nodes in a global city-to-city network, connected cities cooperate by sharing in the circulation of ideas for green urban development, but they also compete with one-another to attract the a ‘creative class’ of people). The common denominator of these imaginaries is a deeply permeable and interconnected urban environment: discourses and ideas of ‘the good city’ seep through the proverbial city wall to bring natural- and rural realms into urban life and tie together globally interconnected urban environments within and across Thailand’s borders. The paper’s main contribution to the study of sustainability transitions is to show how such urban imaginaries matter for the way in which the bicycle and the city feature in transitions thinking and that they are crucially important for creating and maintaining legitimacy for marginalized but truly sustainable options like urban cycling.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2014
Eventconference; RGS-IBG Annual International Conference -
Duration: 1 Jan 2014 → …

Conference

Conferenceconference; RGS-IBG Annual International Conference
Period1/01/14 → …
OtherRGS-IBG Annual International Conference

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