Performing resistance? Re-reading practices of urban cycling on London’s South Bank

Spinney, J.

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Spinney, J. (2010). Performing resistance? Re-reading practices of urban cycling on London’s South Bank. Environment and Planning A, 42(12), 2914–2937.

Cycling Practices , London , Performance , Resistance , Social Norms , Subculture

Despite a burgeoning literature on mobilities in general and cycling in particular as a transport, leisure, and political practice, there remains a lack of research on cycling in pedestrian public spaces. There is, however, a substantial body of literature in relation to skateboarding in public spaces which with few exceptions theorises it as resistant to preexisting dominant design codes and social norms. Using the example of London's South Bank this paper focuses on the urban cycling practices of bike trials and BMX in order to illustrate that these practices are perhaps not as `resistant' as previous accounts have argued. Whilst accounts of skateboarding have tended to draw upon a body ^ architecture dialectics and subcultural theory, using ethnographic methods this paper discusses the practice and reception of display, sociality, and authority inherent in these public performances. In doing so the paper demonstrates that these styles of riding largely perform the social and cultural norms enshrined in the redevelopment of the South Bank. The result is a performed reading of these practices and spaces which sees power as always becoming. In line with this, the paper also questions the logic of current strategies which seek to displace riders and skaters to peripheral `private' skate parks based on an erroneous reading of such practices as always resistant.

Main finding
The author argues that although London’s South Bank architecture is not designed to encourage alternative practices, such as BMX bike riding, the performance activities of these subcultures nonetheless fit within the sociocultural aims of the newly commodified area where they are performed. It’s suggested that certain practices can be inappropriate-yet-appropriate in spaces while still allowing for its uncontested dominant uses. Groups, like the BMX riders, perform unsanctioned uses of the architectural forms in public spaces, but the author suggests that privileging the transgressiveness of these behaviors ignores how they have simultaneously become acceptable in the spaces.

Description of method used in the article
The author took a performative stance to understand how power and resistance are continually becoming through fleeting encounters. The case study included 20 cyclists and with 100 participant observations conducted of London's cycling culture inclusive of various stakeholders such as bike commuters, messengers, and BMX riders. A virtual ethnography via website forum used by riders was conducted.

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Case Study Participant Observation
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