Title: “Bicycles for Development in Uganda: A study of perceptions, organizations and globalization”
Thesis Supervisor: Dr. Brian Wilson (Kinesiology)
Committee members: Dr. Moss Norman (Kinesiology), Lyndsay Hayhurst (York University)
Chair: Dr. Patricia Vertinsky (Kinesiology)
Abstract: The bicycle has been hailed by The United Nations and various non-governmental organizations for its use in environmentally-friendly forms of social and economic development (Yang & Wu, 2015). Despite these claims, there remains a lacuna of research exploring the value of bicycles outside of Europe and America (Sengers, 2016). Specifically, there is a lack of research on: the structure and goals of ‘bicycles for development’ (BFD) organizations; how bicycles are used for development purposes; the perspectives of those involved in BFD; and the politics and complexities of bicycle-driven development work related to globalization.
Responding to these shortcomings, the overarching goal of this study was to better understand how bicycles are being used as an international development tool. This research was guided by pertinent literature on ‘sport for development and peace’ (Darnell, 2012), neoliberal approaches to development (Wilson & Hayhurst, 2009) post/colonialism (Carrington, 2015), and globalization (Tsing, 2005). In order to bring focus to this study of the global BFD movement, and how it is understood and experienced in relation to particular contexts where BFD is prominent – I conducted semi-structured interviews in various regions of Uganda with 19 individuals associated with 10 BFD organizations.
Research results included that: (1) BFD organizations exist along a spectrum, with some being ‘top down’, international, and economics-focused – and others being ‘bottom-up’, domestic, and community-focused (and most having features of both); (2) meanings ascribed to the bicycle are unstable and context dependent, which impacts how bicycles are used as a development tool; and, (3) as bicycles move to and within Uganda, various forms of ‘friction’ (Tsing, 2005) are encountered, that lead to challenges for BFD providers and recipients. I conclude by suggesting that while bicycles are considered useful for a range of development purposes, perspectives on their usefulness varies. It is also clear that inequalities commonly associated with sport for development are evident in the BFD movement too, although there are some unique features of BFD in this regard. I recommend further research on how local populations understand the bicycle, with a focus on the extent to which local interests and needs are taken up.