• Moving and Not Moving: rhythm, flow and interruption in a sensory ethnography of urban cycling

      Cox, Peter; University of Chester (2015-09-16)
      Recent work in sensory ethnography has drawn attention to the integration of both corporeal and cognitive dimensions in the experience of mobile practices. Drawing on fieldwork conducted in Munich and its immediate surroundings, together with comparative data from Munich and London, this paper follows on from work by Edensor (2010) in linking a Lefebvrian consideration of rhythm with a concern for the sensory dimensions of mobility. In this case, the central concern shifts towards a greater focus on an exploration of the intertwined physical and emotional sensations imposed on the mobile body by its immediate surroundings and the physical environments of movement. In the sensory world of journey-making by bicycle, a process reliant on repetitive, rhythmic physical motion restricted by the mechanics of the machine itself, stopping and starting has a significantly greater impact than it does for walking. The paper therefore considers the import of the not-moving experience for journey-making by the cycle commuter. By focusing on the sensory dimensions of travel, differentiation can be made between stillness, not moving, pausing and waiting. Consideration is given to how these relate to the sensory environments of non-motorised urban mobility.
    • Senses Matter: A Sensory Ethnography of Urban Cycling

      Cox, Peter; University of Chester (Springer, 2017-10-26)
      In recent research I have been considering the question, “how do people ride in the city, when bicycling is a mundane phenomenon?” The core of this investigation builds on a discussion between the contributors to Cycling Cultures (Cox 2015) seeking to understand everyday practices and to evaluate appropriate methods for doing so. I wanted to explore in particular how important the physical spaces in which people ride are for the ways in which people ride. As sensory beings, our sensory experiences should have an important impact upon our choices and behaviours at a collective, as well as individual level. My working hypothesis was that they are very important but problematic to measure in any meaningful way.
    • Sensory ethnography and the cycling body: Challenges of research and communication

      Cox, Peter; University of Chester (2015-07-10)
      Recent interest in sensory ethnography has challenged ethnographers to extend their attention beyond the visual and into the full sensory world. This paper reports on the experiences of a six-month research project exploring the sensory world of cycle users in and around Munich. It explores two contrasting but complimentary sets of urban journeys, one constrained by streetscapes, and one by greenways and urban parks. The conscious employment of a sensory studies approach assists the researcher to consider how the processes of cycling involve a whole body sensory experience. It also questions the adequacy of the western sensory five-sense construct, which is generally limited to external sensory input and lacks clear articulation of the intra-bodily senses of muscle feel, fatigues and stress. Thus, it begins to unpack the complex of elements subsumed within the general heading of kineaesthetics in recent studies of cycling and walking. Combining visual ethnography - using filmed journeying - with GPS and biometric data, (heart rates and power measurement), more commonly associated with sports training and analysis, provides a different view of the embodied journeying even at a mundane level. These ‘objective’ or ‘hard’ data measurements are also mediated through autoethnographic considerations of the subjective feelings and experiences associated with these ‘hard’ data. A conventional written paper is presented with accompanying film - incorporating data overlay - so that the story of a sample (composite) journey can narrate the findings of the research.
    • Spaces and Experiences of Cycling

      Cox, Peter; University of Chester (2016-02-26)
      ABSTRACT As a traveller, the bicycle rider is uniquely exposed to the world around. Weather, terrain, surfaces and infrastructure have all been studied in the ways that they facilitate or militate against opportunities for cycling. In recent research I have been considering the question, “how do people ride in the city, when bicycling is a mundane phenomenon?” Presenting results from a 6 month sensory ethnographic study of urban and peri-urban cyclists, this paper seeks to understand everyday practices and to evaluate appropriate methods for doing so, examining how riders respond to their surroundings and how they adapt the surroundings to their own travelling needs. It considers how a range of factors in combination structure the experiences of the bicycle traveller. I wanted to explore in particular how important the physical spaces in which people ride are for the ways in which people ride. As sensory beings, our sensory experiences should have an important impact upon our choices and behaviours at a collective, as well as individual level. My working hypothesis was that they are very important but problematic to measure in any meaningful way. Also, travel is rarely an entirely individual process. Our social interactions are also shaped by these sense-spaces. Landscapes are not just experienced visually but through the whole body. To investigate and to try and make sense of how people move around, it is first necessary to observe. Film provides a valuable means to create anthropological field notes, as process rather than as an end. Everyday cycling takes place in a sensory landscape, a sense-scape, of urban life and form. The turn towards greater consciousness of the sensory world in ethnographic work is now well established. Combining a camera with other digital sensors originally developed for sports use enables a rich dataset, and verbal notes can be made whilst in motion without risk and without creating too much distraction. The study showed how changing sense-scapes couple with the changing rhythms of the city to create inviting or dissuasive journey spaces. Some sense-scapes act to slow travel, others to speed it up, some to frustrate, others to ease and relax. Different spaces can encourage different groups of people. However, reviewing the data also revealed not only the actions and the world of other’s behaviours but also my own learning to ride in a new and unfamiliar space. The study was reversed from a voyeuristic investigation of ‘others’ to a reflexive engagement with the self as travelling subject. Auto-ethnography allows the researcher to engage with lived-experience as it is lived, within a spatial context, but avoiding the voyeuristic gaze. I saw how I responded differently to changing conditions. External factors from the condition and type of infrastructure, to changes in weather and season altered the way I, and my fellow commuters, moved through the city. While I have previously argued strongly for the agency of landscape in the formation of cycling experiences, the more forceful engagements of this perspective in the built environment forced me to reconsider not simply the sensory experiences as the (agentic) body absorbs and processes information coming in, but also the emotional responses provoked by those outer conditions. For example, weather conditions combine with the built environment to present not just physically changing circumstances but also inputs that shape emotional changes. What I came to understand was that senses matter. The city shapes how cycle commuters ride, both positively and negatively. The way we respond to urban design is emotional and pre-rational, existing in sensory perception that goes beyond conventional categories. Spaces shape feelings and feelings change the actions we take. Understanding and being able to measure these dimensions prompts a number of areas of further research, most notable in designing evaluation tools to measure the experiential impacts of infrastructural investments. Technically competent infrastructure design does not necessarily produce an inviting experience, if other sensory externalities have a negative impact. Better understanding of the complexity of our travelling experiences can help in infrastructure design. Keywords: Cycling, Sensory ethnography, environment, infrastructure, evaluation, film, research methods