The Science & Justice Working Group presented "Bike-Body-Trail Assemblages," exploring a comparative approach to mountain biking in California and Austria. This panel explored how riders’ subjectivities are attached to and enacted by (changing) technologies of leisure, in context of local discursive and bodily practices.
In today’s late modern society the increasing importance of leisure activities, of having fun, of getting or staying fit and healthy is suggested by the media and a plethora of artifacts as found in sporting goods. When viewing leisure practices as mutual co-formation of making one-self available to what happens in contact with things, investigations can be anchored at debates on (new) technological objects. However, not only the talk surrounding technological objects is of interest here but how incremental changes of them can have effects on the activity, hence on us. Therefore the incremental change of wheel standards in mountain biking is chosen to finely investigate how classifying products, positioning and evaluating them leads to the formation and classification of subjects attached to those goods.
What makes this case particularly interesting is how this incremental innovation seems to provoke or allow questioning and (re-)negotiating affiliated subjectivities, pointing to the entanglement of capabilities of the subject and the object. As debates on the matter of bigger mountain bike wheels often suggest, all discourse is arbitrary if not also experiencing the ride, trail, and artifact with the body. To account for bodily and discursive practices in the field and the cultural embeddedness of this bike-body-trail assemblage, a multi-sited comparative approach between California and Austria is chosen to see one site through the lens of the other. Methods contain the observation of online forum discussions, sales situations in shops, participant observation of test rides, and interviews with riders and sales persons. The research addresses a shortage of international comparative small- to medium-scale leisure studies, extends existing studies on media and mountain biking into the practices themselves, and aims to offer insights on how subjects and objects are (re-)configured in leisure and sporting practices.
Robin Rae: Science and Technology Studies, University of Vienna, SJRC Visiting Scholar
Wade Hall: Owner and Fitter, Spokesman Bicycles
Emilie Dionne: Postdoctoral Researcher, Feminist Studies, UCSC
Engineering 2, room 506 | October 8, 2014
SJWG Rapporteur Report
8 October 2014
Rapporteur Report by Robin Rae, Science and Technology Studies, University of Vienna, SJRC Visiting Scholar
Mountain Biking: a comparative approach in California and Austria on how riders’ experiences
of body and landscape are attached to and enacted by (changing) leisure technologies.
This event followed the experimental character of the Science & Justice Working Group, as
introduced by SJRC’s Co-Director Andrew Mathews, which emphasizes interdisciplinarity,
discussion and questioning at any times. The panel reflected great diversity by including Wade
Hall (shop owner and certified bike fitter at Spokesman Bicycles, Santa Cruz), Emilie Dionne
(Postdoctoral Fellow at UCSC politics/feminist studies), and Robin Rae (PhD candidate Science
& Technology Studies Univ. of Vienna, Scholar IHS Vienna). Participation of UCSC cycling
team’s president Mark Tingwald added further valuable insights by bringing in a rider’s
perspective. The material attendance of a special fitting bike from Wade, and Mark’s mountain
bike and body helped to exemplify issues brought up in the event. With it being open to the
public, attendants’ disciplinary backgrounds ranged from Engineering, Mathematics, and Physics
First, Robin offered a frame for the event by elaborating on the assemblage of bike, body, and
trail. Highlighting the material heterogeneity in each of its components inevitably lead to
outlining how entangled these are at the same time, affecting and enacting each other in specific
ways. Presenting pictures of mountain bikes and local (unauthorized) trails in particular sparked
up an early discussion on how political issues are involved in this assemblage and (local) riding
Wade’s presentation was a captivating experience as it involved everyone and every body in the
room to stand up and feel how different muscle groups are activated in varying postures. Making
adjustments on the fit bike demonstrated how slight changes in the bike’s setup could affect the
riding experience. Wade however also underlined how the fit needs to take into account how
flexible and structurally strong the body is, for the bike to act as an extension of the body.
The far-reaching thinking of Emilie offered facets from material-political participation of the
body entangled with objects, to personhood, and matter having agential capacities. Introducing
her concept of the prosthesis, drawing on feminist theory of the dis-/abled body, opened up
minds and eyes of many by referring to how mundane artifacts like chairs or steps affect material
reality. With including the past in the body and regarding its materiality as plastic-like she
further brought the dimension of time into the ongoing discussion.
The final open discussion was then extending the prior exchange of thoughts, experiences, and
ideas, which took a dynamic of its own, not needing any initial questions. The mix of
perspectives from different academic and non-academic fields contributed to an experience of
mutual learning, leaving attendants with many things to think more about at meeting points of
humans, non-humans, and landscapes.