Reconsidering the Bicycle

An Anthropological Perspective on a New (Old) Thing

By Luis A. Vivanco

© 2013 – Routledge

160 pages

Purchasing Options:
Paperback: 9780415503891
pub: 2013-02-14
Hardback: 9780415503884
pub: 2013-02-14

Look Inside e–Inspection Copy Companion Website

About the Book

In cities throughout the world, bicycles have gained a high profile in recent years, with politicians and activists promoting initiatives like bike lanes, bikeways, bike share programs, and other social programs to get more people on bicycles. Bicycles in the city are, some would say, the wave of the future for car-choked, financially-strapped, obese, and sustainability-sensitive urban areas.

This book explores how and why people are reconsidering the bicycle, no longer thinking of it simply as a toy or exercise machine, but as a potential solution to a number of contemporary problems. It focuses in particular on what reconsidering the bicycle might mean for everyday practices and politics of urban mobility, a concept that refers to the intertwined physical, technological, social, and experiential dimensions of human movement.

This book is for Introductory Anthropology, Cultural Anthropology, Cultural Sociology, Environmental Anthropology, and all undergraduate courses on the environment and on sustainability throughout the social sciences.


A vivid, ethnographically and historically rich contribution to transportation studies and the study of commodities. The bicycle emerges as one of the most fascinating and unexpectedly important objects of our world.

- Catherine Lutz, Watson Institute for International Studies, Brown University

With care and clarity, Luis Vivanco draws upon intensive fieldwork and meticulous research to produce a rich cultural analysis of the bicycle and the complex ways in which bicycling is made meaningful. Reconsidering the Bicycle not only carves new terrain for the study of bicycles as material culture, it effectively grapples with the socioeconomic, symbolic, personal, and political dimensions of bicycling in everyday life. Beyond its unique contribution to and expansion of existing work on urban cycling, Vivanco's engaging book demonstrates how and why anthropology and ethnographic inquiry should play central roles in the future of transportation research. Highly recommended."

-Zack Furness, author of One Less Car: Bicycling and the Politics of Automobility, Communications, Penn State University

Reconsidering the Bicycle gives an urgently needed critical context to the recent explosition of bicycle cultures in the United States and emphasizes the important distinction between passing cultural fads and the more durable social change brought about by bicycle mobility. To achieve this Vivanco traces the historical relationship between bicycles and mobility to illustrate a previously unrecognized continuity between contemporary social activists' concerns about community and the social history of automobiles, urban planning and issues of mobility in three cities; Amsterdam, Bogota and Burlingon, Vermont. The diversity of the locations are brought together by a complex analysis of the simple fact of people needing to find solidarity and confidence in their physical engagement with the place they live and spaces in which they move about.

--Brian Joseph Gilley, Anthropology, Director, First Nations Educational & Cultural Center, Indiana University, Bloomington

"'Reconsidering the Bicycle' explores, among other things, the bicycle's social history, its cultural context in various urban settings, the newly energized bicycle movement, and the need for anthropologists to give some serious attention to this thing and how it's used."Tim Johnson, Burlington Free Press

Table of Contents

Preface: The Bicycle, A New (Old) Thing Acknowledgements 1. Anthropology, Bicycles, and Urban Mobility 2. What (and When) is a Bicycle? 3. Constructing Urban Bicycle Cultures: Perspectives on Three Cities 4. "Good for the Cause:" The Bike Movement as Social Action and Cultural Politics 5. Conclusion: On the Need for the Bicycle

About the Author

Luis A. Vivanco is Associate Professor of Anthropology and Director of Global and Regional Studies at the University of Vermont.

About the Series

Routledge Series for Creative Teaching and Learning in Anthropology

Editors: Richard H. Robbins, SUNY at Plattsburgh and Luis A. Vivanco, University of Vermont 

This series is dedicated to innovative, unconventional ways to connect undergraduate students and their lived concerns about our social world to the power of social science ideas and evidence. We seek to publish titles that use anthropology to help students understand how they benefit from exposing their own lives and activities to the power of anthropological thought and analysis. Our goal is to help spark social science imaginations and, in doing so, open new avenues for meaningful thought and action.

Books proposed for this series should pose questions and problems that speak to the complexities and dynamism of modern life, connecting cutting edge research in exciting and relevant topical areas with creative pedagogy. We seek writing that is clear and accessible, yet not simplistic. The series has three primary projects:

The Anthropology of Stuff

This project invites proposals for 100 to 120 page books devoted to tracing the biographies and social lives of commodities that illuminate for students the network of people, institutions, and activities that create their material world. The series already has successful titles on milk, coffee, lycra, counterfeit goods, bicycles, Wal-Mart, and alcohol, as well as a forthcoming title on seafood. We seek books that:

  • Focus on specific problems or issues (e.g. social inequality, violence, gender discrimination, consumption, environmental degradation, urban mobility, etc.).
  • Use close description and analysis of everyday objects to stimulate students to think about their own culture and their place in it.
  • Make complex concepts (e.g. capitalism, the nature of hegemony, commodification, etc.) accessible to undergraduate readers.
  • Integrate a set of learning and teaching tools that could include the use of field research projects, group projects, media analysis, films, web-based research, and other relevant activities.

Anthropology and Civic Engagement

This project invites proposals for 100 to 120 page books that examine anthropology’s historical, contemporary, or potential involvement in civic affairs, contributions to key public debates, and/or engagement with diverse notions of citizenship and civic participation. Its goal is to illuminate for students how anthropological concepts, methods, and approaches can create powerful insights about critical social issues, while at the same time providing useful models for civic engagement for the construction of a more equitable society. We seek books that:

  • Focus on specific problems or issues (e.g., the health care debate, school violence, environmental activism, historic preservation, gender inequality, intellectual property, equity and social justice movements, food justice, rights of marginalized groups, etc.).
  • Help students understand how concepts such as citizenship, engagement, public participation, collaboration, activism, etc. are constructed and mobilized in specific political and social contexts.
  • Examine how anthropology’s concepts, methodological tools, and ethical principles relate to strategic and effective engagement with public concerns and dilemmas.
  • Integrate a set of learning and teaching tools that could include the use of field research projects, group projects, media analysis, films, web-based research, and other relevant activities.

High-Impact Anthropology

This project invites proposals for 150-350 page introductory texts that integrate high impact teaching and learning practices with treatment of specific topical areas that are the focus on undergraduate courses in anthropology. These specific topical areas could include Anthropology of Religion, Economic Anthropology, Political Anthropology, Anthropology of Food, Environmental Anthropology, Medical Anthropology, Anthropology of Gender and Sexuality, etc. The texts should examine the development of the field and provide coverage of key concepts and theories. At the same time, they should integrate high-impact educational practices into the structure of the text and its features. These practices could include:

  • Problem-centered learning
  • Question-based learning
  • Collaborative learning
  • Community-based learning
  • Writing-intensive approaches
  • Experiential learning
  • Co-curricular learning
  • Field-based learning


If you have a proposal that you believe would fit into the series in one of its three project areas, or if you have any questions about the series, please contact Richard Robbins at, or Luis Vivanco at

Learn more…

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Sociology / General