Stockholm’s Engine of Change: Cyclists Remaking Themselves and Their City

University essay from Uppsala universitet/Institutionen för geovetenskaper

Abstract: Today we are experiencing an urbanization process at a speed never acknowledged before. With mobilityaccounting for a considered share of the environmental impact of these expanding urban ecosystems, the bicycleassumes an increasing fundamental role in the framework of sustainable development. However, despite gainingrecognition as valuable sustainable transportation alternative, it is still marginalized within a current car-centeredsociety. Collective action around cycling has therefore started to mobilize in order to defend cyclists’ interestsand needs. Yet, there is still limited research on its role on affecting urban development, as well as on its impacton the people who engage in such action. This thesis aims to fill this research gap by focusing on how collective action around cycling has shaped city andpersons. First of all, the collective action framework has been delineated by building on different authorscontributions: in this thesis, collective action has then been defined as an action of the collectivity for thecollectivity through the efforts of both single individuals and organized groups. Three sub-questions haveconsequently been investigated: how collective action changed its own practitioners, transforming theircapabilities and self-perceptions; how collective action has been shaped itself by cyclists group identity; and howsuch action has impacted the development of the city of Stockholm, taken as case study. The methods appliedinclude a literature review to provide relevant background, followed by a qualitative research based on semi-structured interviews. The informants involved were selected based on their engagement in the collective actionof the Stockholm scene, taken as case study due to its rather rapid process and quest in becoming a more bikeablecity. By analyzing their experiences and answers, the study results provide a new perspective on the impact ofcollective action, focusing in particular on the way group identification can strengthen and direct this engagementand on how the latter has contributed to a more personal development of its practitioners. The results build up on and also confirm previous findings in relation to dynamics typical of collective action andgroup identity, applying a more case-related perspective. In regard to its practitioners, collective action has beenfound to have an impact by enhancing a feeling of empowerment, freedom and community, affecting also non-practitioners and benefiting the society as a whole. Group identification resulted to play a significant role inshaping the different kinds of engagement, for example by focusing on contrasting the car hegemony within theurban system; however, consistent differences were found between high and low identifiers. For what concernsthe urban development of Stockholm, collective action has been found to have shaped the city in regards toinfrastructure, policies and organization, thanks to a growing network and political engagement of different actorsand organizations. The deriving increased awareness and recognition represent a core starting point for theachievement of future goals.

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