Ephemeral Selves: A semiotic cultural analysis of a Swedish bicycle helmet campaign

University essay from Lunds universitet/Avdelningen för etnologi

Abstract: In 2014, Lund municipality in Sweden handed out 830 bicycle helmets for free. Such governance campaigns are commonplace in Sweden, yet no campaign has ever been evaluated. There are two research aims to this thesis. First, to evaluate how many of the 830 cyclists actually wear the bicycle helmets that they received. Second, to gain insight into why some cyclists choose to wear the helmet that they received, and why some choose to not wear the helmet that they received. The research purpose is to look at why these cyclists choose to become helmet-wearing or helmet-free, and use that to attain a deeper understanding of ephemeral selves. Two research questions are answered to reach the aims, one quantitative and one qualitative. This leads to a mixed-methods perspective, where a survey complements subsequent in-depth interviewing. Questionnaires were sent via post and the online service Webropol, in order to answer different questions regarding the helmet-usage. The response rate was over 50%, and it was found, among other things, that over 70% of the helmets were still in use at the time of the survey. The detailed results of this quantitative survey were used to find representatives to interview. 3 separate in-depth interviews were then performed to gain insight into why some would choose to (not) wear the helmet. These one hour long interviews were coded and analysed using the author’s take on C.S. Peirce’s semiotics. A model is presented, with helmet-wearing and helmet-free cyclists as two ephemeral selves. It is shown that while some cyclists choose to wear the helmet because they want to be associated with what helmet-wearing signifies, some cyclists choose to actively abstain from the helmet because they would rather want to be associated with what it signifies to be a helmet-free cyclist. The research findings of the ephemeral selves, is shown to have academic significance as well as relevance to applied research. Having used applied cultural analysis in this case has not only facilitated an academic explication upon the socio-cultural phenomenon and analytical category of ephemeral selves, it has also enabled for further insight into end-user behaviour for municipalities, NGOs, state ministries, private companies, and other stakeholders of governance and policy design.

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