• Social practices and the importance of context

      Cox, Peter; Bunte, Heike; University of Chester: German Environment Agency (German Environment Agency / European Cyclists' Federation, 2018-11)
      Social practice theory provides insight not only for analysis of existing social habits but also into their formation. Better understanding of the complexity of practices also allows insight into their relative degrees of obduracy: the potential for change or resistance to change. Characteristic of much work in recent analysis of cycling promotion is a tendency towards abstract generalization that ignores the specificities of practices as they occur in given locations. Cycling practices are not only located in space but also in time, and meanings, competencies and technologies are all inheritors of particular histories. This paper argues that much current promotional activity and research into changing behaviour is problematic inasmuch as it is ahistorical, lacking in analysis of the social and political forces that are responsible for the sedimentation of current practices. Following Oosterhuis’ (2016) argument, the paper argues that without embedding analysis of transport processes in a much broader context, that pays heed to forms of governance, citizenship, the relative competencies of different levels of polity and the ways in which these forces are historically constructed, interventions aimed at behavioural change have little chance of success. Developing the work of Aldred (2010) on cycling and citizenship and Shove (2015) on social practice and policy, the paper links these to the field of comparative environmental politics (Steinberg & Van Deever 2012) through a lens of historical analysis. Drawing on a survey of over 100 recent papers analysing problems and interventions designed to promote modal shift in general and toward cycling in particular, the paper considers the degree to which these are sensitive to the social political and historical forces against which they operate. It then uses a comparison between historic campaigns for change in the UK and Germany to argue that the impact of interventions is less to do with their design than with the political context into which they are introduced.