CCM and Social Space
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.

The Production of Space
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 here. >>

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.

CCM and the city on the triad

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 >>.

Social Movements, Solidarity and Individual Empowerment
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.



The Ride
CCM & Social Space
Critical Mass Art Show
Bike Maps
links & resources