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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Emotions, space, and cultural analysis : the case of bike messengers

  • Author(s): Kidder, Jeffrey Lowell
  • et al.

Bike messengers are individuals who deliver time-sensitive items in the downtown cores of major cities. More than just an occupation, many bike messengers are part of what can be considered an all-encompassing lifestyle (i.e., a subculture based around "urban cycling"). The goal of this dissertation is to explain this lifestyle. I propose that an adequate explanation must incorporate emotions (as embodied lived experience) and physical space (as a set of structures dialectically related to all action) into the analysis. My basic argument is that when riding through the city (whether for work or for play), messengers take part in what I call an "affective appropriation of space." It is this emplaced lived experience that gives the bike messenger subculture its meanings. To illustrate this I provide a practiced-based semiotics of messenger style that highlights the interconnection between symbols and practice. Ultimately, I argue that culture is not only emotionally felt, but spatially experienced. I conclude by ruminating on the political implications of affective spatial appropriation for understanding alienation and exploitation in the workplace

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