Critical Mass pushes subtle incremental social changes.
The social change that CCM and similar loosely-organized,
practice-based movements (like Veganism) are causing happen
from the bottom up. These movements will not result in a
drastic, violent overthrow of the existing social order.
Instead they influence social change on the individual level
through the practices of everyday life (Lefebvre: 1947,
1991; Harvey, 2000; Castells: 1997, 2001).
Chicago's Critical Mass empowers
riders to become everyday cyclists. With this increase of
riders, the numbers of people who critique car-culture,
the dominant mode of transportation in the United States
also increases. Such movements of critical practice then
interact with official policies, plans and large-scale social
change in complex and dynamic webs impacting how space is
formed. Henri Lefebvre’s spatial triad in The
Production of Space provides a useful paradigm to examine
the relationships between critical practice movements and
larger social process (originally published in French in
1974, English in 1991).
This framework describes how urban spaces are formed by
the interactions over time of first, people's daily practice,
second ideal images of how that space should be, and finally
in plans, models and other representations of physical space.
History is important to understanding how ideal images of
the city are formed as well as the structures that cause
people to form habits that they follow in their daily routine.
If you would like to know more about how the modern urban
form developed to support the circulation of commerce, click
here examine plans of Chicago starting with D.H.
Burnham’s Plan of 1908. Then you can read about
current plans for a city no longer as dependent on streets
for financial succes. If you would like to know more about
the history of cycling in the
city, click here, or explore the
bike maps by hitting the link at right.
Lefebvre’s spatial triad effectively explains the
impact of CCM on urban infrastructure and everyday practice.
This theory explains the interdependency of social
practice, representational space or the space
of ideas, and representations
of space manifested in maps, plans, etc. Below is
a graphic representation of his triad that I created to
show the interaction of these three processes over time.
It is the interaction of these three
processes over time that produces space, or the urban reality.
For a more detailed description of the triad click
Ideals and social movements form in the domain of representational
space. Some ideas are built and become physical places,
others die as logically represented plans, others are actualized
to some degree in practice, others remain isolated ideas.
Massers seize their idealized vision
of the city during the evnt. Urban streets become a space
for bicycles. Streets become sensual human spaces
during the ride dominated by cyclists celebrating cyling.
Below I have constructed a figure that transposes the event
CCM onto Lefebvre’s spatial triad, along with the
city's interests in cycling (roll
mouse over image). This diagram represents
the interrelationships between a fringe-social movement
and the production of space in Chicago over the first few
years of the 21st century.
Critical Mass is an extension of
activism based on the notion that change will occur at the
individual level, through the practice of everyday life.
While sharing sensibilities with those from ‘the Old
Left,’ Critical Mass has taken on a new form of direct
action where the symbolic critique
is actualized in the movement of the demonstration
on bicycles across city streets. Critical Mass and many
other contemporary forms of activism, are different from
the movements of the 1960s because communication technologies
allow for more efficient and new forms of organization that
can bypass institutional bureaucracy. Such movements are
therefore interesting theoretically from an organizational
standpoint. However, an entirely new discourse on social
movements is unnecessary as the social conditions which
these movements strive to change are not fundamentally different
from traditional leftist movements. These movements are
working to transform society through tactics and ideologies
that have long histories (Calhoun: 1995, 207; Scott and
Street: 2002, 50). For more information on the theoretical
trajectory of practice
theory click here >>.
Such a movement creates solidarity amongst the cycling and
often leftist sub-culture. These protests are empowering,
validate passions and create fraternal networks that perpetuate
future action and the development of communal strategic
thought. According to David Harvey in City and Justice:
Social Movements in the City (2001), an understanding
of how local solidarities can be constructed is essential
for understanding how social change may become a reality
(2001: 191). He argues that local solidarities serve as
mediators between individual persons and a more general
politics (2001: 207, 193). For Harvey, practice and social
movements are grounded in broad political-economic processes
(193). Only when social movements have a potential impact
on shaping these political economic processes or shaping
historical geographies do social movements become theoretically
important (207). Chicago’s Critical Mass is a particular
example of a global movement of cycling communities riding
to transform urban streets from car dominated spaces to
bike friendly spaces. This movement is working to transform
urban space away from the capitalistic logic in which most
modern cities were constructed.