January 24, 2014
Relevant Social Groups, Interpretive Flexibility and Closure: The
Social Construction of the Safety Bicycle
• Bicycle main means of transportation in the Neththlands, Amsterdam, China, and other
countries, as well as one of the pinnacles of the 19 century.
o One of the most important daily artifacts and public forms of recreation
o Used as a children toy, military and police applications, cycle sports, and adult
• Social and historical impacts of the bicycle
o Increased men’s courting radius in early society
o In cities, helped reduced dependence on horses and allowed easier commute for
work and leisure in the country
o Greatest impact on women and gender relations;
The first cycles reinforced gender roles—women could only ride tricycles
with a male chaperone.
As bicycles became safer and cheaper, more women had access to the
freedom they embodied and bicycles came to symbolise female
• ‘Freedom Machine’ for the Early Women’s Movement
o Crucial constructivist lesson; the meaning of the technology does not lie in the
technology itself, but by the interpretation of its users
What does it mean to whom? What is the constellation of meanings that
clusters around these technologies? And who holds which meaning?
• ‘Interpretive Flexibility;’ refers to the way in which different social
groups can have different understandings of a technology’s
• Pitch and Beaker; interpretive flexibility is more than just
symbolism, its about understanding the ways/standards of judging
how an artifact works—a social struggle over its meaning
• Penny Farthing High Wheel; coexisted with the Safety Low Wheel
Bicycle in the 1870s—in 25 years, however, the High Wheel was
gone. Technological determinists may say the High Wheel was a
glitch in progress, but each was valued over different standards
and requirements. o Used by athletic young men of upper-class for a meaning
centered on manly activity and feats of daring, racing, and
sport that was prized for its speed. The bigger the wheel
the faster you could go, as opposed to the slow of the
Safety Bicycle without the invention of the air-filled wheel.
o Its danger was used to impress (women).
o A ‘Macho Bicycle’
• For women and other men, the High-Wheeler was an unsafe way
to travel. It could easily topple over, resulting in hard fall, and had
a habit of throwing people off. This riskiness made people avoid it;
thus, this single artifact had two meanings.
o For young, upper-class men, the Macho Bicycle worked.
o For nonusers (women and elderly men), the Unsafe
Bicycle was non-working.
o Thus, no independent standard but interpretation of users.
• Notions of ‘working’ and ‘non-working’ are not due t