Vappu Kantola

University of Tampere

Twitter: @KirsikkaVarjo

Bicyclist as the Other: possibilities and opportunities for embodied agency in public space.

My research focus is on the relationship between agency and spatial circumstances in the urban area: more specifically, I’m interested in how we navigate ourselves in and through the city, and also, how we do not. I’m interested in the bodily presence and experience in the daily life, especially in situations where everything is ‘normal’, yet not ‘alright’. A bicyclist, for example, easily has the sensation of being somewhat ‘queered’ (Ahmed 2006) when passing through the city. What I want to look into is the various (social and cultural, even political,) conditions and processes that affect our experiences in such a way. How is this urban environment constructed, or more specifically, how do we influence it by our very own activities? My main interest is to find out if we can think or somehow imagine ourselves as competent, able agents that through our actions create a common world in the sense of Arendts (2002).

As for the empirical material in my research, I have chosen a bicycle route in Tampere, Finland, for close inspection. It is one of the main routes designed for bicyclists going to the university. The route goes from west to east across the city center, and it is nearly 7 kilometers long. It takes almost half an hour to cycle this route. I examine the route through my own experience, collecting material with diverse media as well as by keeping a field diary. It is, therefore, an autoethnography with aspects from phenomenology (Ahmed 2006). I pay attention to aspects like: how do I come here in the first place; who am I to cycle here; where do I come from and where am I going to. To answer these questions I need to find out what are, or should be, the characteristics of this space. What kind of choices there are to be made while I am cycling this route? How am I seen or registered by the ‘others’? How do we negotiate the use of the common space?

The theoretical background of the research is somewhere between critical studies and cultural studies. The concepts of world, public space and agency are from the work of Arendt (2002) and the understanding of spatiality is based on Massey’s texts (1999). The ways or possibilities of agency are inspired by the International Situationists (Pyhtilä 2005) and de Certeau (2013). The idea of the agent rests on Ricoeur (1992), Butler (2006) and Ahmed (2006). These theories are not necessarily read in a conventional way, but rather, the research aims to challenge the paradigmatic science. Through the analysis of the strictly defined route found in the city chosen as an exemplar, the research enquires what kind of worldviews we tend to serve with our social and scientific concepts and research (Feyerabend 1984)