RAE, Robin: How some inches matter: (re-)negotiating subjectivities and wheel size in mountain biking.

Abstract


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 artefacts 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 particular case interesting for an STS-approach 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 artefact 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 reconfigured in leisure and sporting practices.