Appropriating the city: space, theory, and bike messengers

Jeffrey L. Kidder

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Kidder, J. L. (1). Appropriating the city: space, theory, and bike messengers. Theory and Society, 38(3), 307–328.

Bike messengers , public space , structuration , urban environments

Over the last 30 years, social theorists have increasingly emphasized the importance of space. However, in empirical research, the dialectical relationship between social interaction and the physical environment is still a largely neglected issue. Using the theory of structuration, I provide a concrete example of why and how space matters in the cultural analysis of an urban social world. I argue that bike messengers—individuals who deliver time-sensitive materials in downtown cores of major cities—cannot be understood outside an analysis of space. Specifically, I connect the cultural significance of messenger practices to the emplacement of those practices inside the urban environment.

Main finding
Bike messengers interact with public space as they utilize the built environment around them. In doing so, they create their own meanings for the use of public space, blurring the lines between work and leisure. The author finds safety to be an issue for bike messengers as they interact with roads and drivers. Often, risks are taken due to external time constraints assigned by deliveries. These deadlines create rule breaking behaviors.

Description of method used in the article
Three years of participant observation spread over five total years were conducted. From June of 2002 to June of 2003, the author rode as a bike messenger for two companies in New York City. Beginning in August 2006 through May 2007, the author worked in Seattle. In addition, the author spent time riding in San Diego. Informal discussion and questioning occurred during activities, and historical and contemporary documents were examined.

Of practical use

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