Great! I am very pleased that an article I wrote for the Guardian Newspaper on the relationship between Apartheid and the decline of Johannesburg’s commuter cycling culture was highly commended at an awards ceremony last night in London.
You can see the list of other nominees here.
After a period of painstaking research and fundraising (thanks to all the individual and institutional supporters!), the book on the history of commuter cycling in Johannesburg is now going to print.
Cycling Cities: The Johannesburg Experience
Cycling Cities: The Johannesburg Experience
You can now order your copy via the publisher directly, Foundation for the History of Technology. To do so send an email to J.W.A.Korsten(at) tue.nl
I am looking forward to presenting a paper at the Annual Meeting of the Society of the History of Technology (SHOT). I anticipate good feedback to inform the remainder of the fieldwork. Below is an abstract of the paper
Scholarship in science and technology studies has for some time argued that technologies can express and shape relations of power. While the concept of ‘scripting’ and associated notions — as ways of thinking about how power relations may be encoded in technologies to shape user behavior (or not) have been fruitfully applied in numerous studies, there is a need for greater conceptual elaboration. This is because of the variety of critiques that have been raised. These for example pertain to supposed exaggeration of designer(s) as powerful figures in producing the script (as designed user behavior in relation to the technology) (see, for example Suchman 2007), or the proposition that ‘script(s)’ are eventually emergent in user interactions (Verbeek 2011).
This paper engages with these conceptual issues by examining historical developments in a small town in South Africa, called Springs. Between the 1950s and 1970s a script to govern mobility behavior of black workers in the context of Apartheid, South Africa was inscribed in various socio-technologies. Ongoing analysis suggests reconceptualisation of designers of a script as well as the technology within which a script is inscribed as also potentially heterogeneous. In addition, the wider social-political milieu within which a script emerges or is embedded, is inextricable as a condition shaping potential for de-scription as itself might be understood as a designer for a script.
Workers arrive at a bicycle manufacturing plant in Springs
A bicycle registration tag then mandatory
Akrich, Madeleine. 1992. “The De-Scription of Technical Objects.” In Shaping Technology / Building Society, edited by Wiebe E. Bijker and John Law, 205–25. Cambridge, Massachusetts & London, England: MIT Press.
Suchman, Lucy. 2007. Human-Machine Reconfigurations: Plans and Situated Actions. Cambridge University Press.
Verbeek, Peter-Paul. 2011. Moralizing Technology: Understanding and Designing the Morality of Things. University of Chicago Press.
When I ride a bicycle or walk in a motor-oriented context, I sometimes feel very frustrated by the unequal power relations demonstrated in street level traffic culture. In such contexts, pedestrians or people cycling are rarely ‘seen’ by those behind private cars.
I then remember what a respondent said to me about changes in Chicago. He had been commuting by bicycle and was also involved in grassroots mobilisation. In 2015 he said:
When we started out, people often talked about fearing for their safety. People were not used to us being around. You would be yelled at. There would be people like, what the hell are you doing? So in 12 years I have seen amazing turning around in public opinion. In terms of being yelled, feeling terribly scared on the streets. And now I am in a pack of cyclists. And I see motorists acknowledging you have that right of way. As I see it we are all taking turns. I am finding it a little easier to get your place in line and be acknowledged at an intersection on a bike than it used to be.
That gives me hope then about the possibilities for change – even though such changes appear to take long to realize:
Active Trans. 2018. “Regional Mode Share Report.” Chicago, Ill., United States: Active Transportation Alliance. www. activetrans.org.
Berkow, Matt, and Nick Falbo. 2014. “Chicago Bike Monitoring 2014: Technical Report.” http://www.activetrans.org/.
League of American Bicyclists. 2014. “Where We Ride: Analysis of Bicycle Commuting in American Citie.” http://www.bikeleague.org/sites/default/files/ACS_report_2014_forweb_edit.pdf.
Vance, Steven. 2015. “New Census Data Says Chicago’s Bike Mode Share Is at an All-Time High | Streetsblog Chicago.” StreetsBlog Chicago (blog). September 25, 2015. http://chi.streetsblog.org/2015/09/25/new-census-data-shows-chicago-bike-commuting-might-be-up/.
Tomorrow, I will be presenting a seminar at the University of the Witwatersrand on the appearance and disappearance of a cycle lane on one of Johannesburg’s thoroughfares.
Below is an abstract of the talk which is based on a chapter in a book critically engaging with the global upsurge of cycling infrastructures (Morgan 2020). The book is due out January, 2020.
Cycle infrastructure, especially cycle tracks and or cycle ways, have commanded significant attention in cycle planning. They have, for some, been seen as a ‘silver bullet’ to promote utility cycling since when separated from vehicle flows, they can shield people cycling from motor traffic improving road safety. A range of studies have however begun to question the causal relationships in stimulating cycling. Others following the notion of co-evolution between technology and society and therefore setting aside the concept of ‘neutral’ technologies, point to the possibilities of infrastructures doing other ‘work.’
This paper follows these critical lines of inquiry about cycle infrastructure to examine an historical case of cycle lane provision in Johannesburg, South Africa. In 1935, a cycle lane was allocated on a road called Louis Botha Avenue. While the road remained an important cycling corridor well into the 1960s, and there were policy recommendations for such high volume corridors to have barrier protected cycle tracks, the cycle infrastructure was never upgraded and was eventually abandoned. How do we make sense of the appearance of the cycle lane as well as the failure to upgrade the facility? This paper draws on insights from science and technology studies for analysis. It argues that the cycle lane as well as improvement failure were ultimately manifestations of processes through which the rights of cycle users on Louis Botha Avenue were in question, as were also their rights of residence in an area called Alexandra Township adjacent to the road.
I look forward to showing the film clip below to illustrate the argument:
Morgan, Njogu. 2020. “The Cultural Politics of Infrastructure: The Case of Louis Botha Avenue in Johannesburg, South Africa.” In The Politics of Cycling Infrastructure, edited by Till Koglin and Peter Cox. Bristol, United Kingdom: Policy Press.
I recently published an article in the Guardian Newspaper which provides a sneak preview of the book into the history of cycling in Johannesburg.
There is undoubtedly much more empirical material and analysis contained in the book. So look out for the printed edition.
You can read the article here.
Why did cycling disappear from the streets of Johannesburg? What are people doing to restore utility cycling? How can the city get cycling right in the 21st century—and help to secure a sustainable future?
These are the questions we ask, and answer, in Cycling Cities: The Johannesburg Experience. Back our book project with the last bit of funding we need and help us bring this important story to a larger audience.
Cycling Cities: The Johannesburg Experience challenges the inevitability of today’s Johannesburg, a city synonymous with highways and rush hours, cars, minibus taxis, and 4x4s. The book shows that Johannesburg wasn’t always like this: it once was a cycling city.
So far, we have raised most of the funds we need, covering the costs
of the author’s research, as well as editing and image rights to a total
of 40,000 Euro. Our printing costs have been covered by a single
generous donation. Now we need to raise the funds still needed to pay
for the book’s design, typesetting, and distribution.
By donating to this project, you can help to bring awareness to a broader audience of cyclists and urbanists, as well as everyone interested in how to make their car-dependent communities more sustainable and rewarding places to live.