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The Use of Bicycles and Children’s Relationships with Public Space: The Permanence of “Gender Divisions” for Learning Devices in Strasbourg’s Disadvantaged Neighborhoods

Gilles Vieille Marchiset, Sandrine Knobé, Enno Edzard, Arnaud Piombini, Christophe Enaux

Research Framework: In France’s socially disadvantaged neighborhoods, physical activities, whether they be for travel or leisure, lag behind the rest of France. While many studies have analyzed physical and sporting activities among young people, and adults, the practices of children remain a blind spot. The experience of children growing up in impoverished areas, however, deserves a specific look, especially regarding their relationship with public space. From this perspective, we studied scientific literature that emphasizes the independent mobility and family constraints of girls in particular.

Objectives: Our approach questions gendered relationships with public space in socially disadvantaged neighborhoods and the use of bicycles by children between the ages of nine and ten.

Methodology: A team of sociologists and geographers followed six CM1classes in three primary schools located in some of Strasbourg’s more socially disadvantaged neighborhoods. For two of these groups, these children received specific training from municipal sports educators and from road safety educators. The third school served as a control group. Ad hoc questionnaires were sent to each school, before and after the bike learning courses, to study the development of their technical levels, their use of the bicycle in the neighborhoods and around the city, their cycling related relationships with friends and family.

Results: The results highlight a clear, gendered, and persistent differentiation, in terms of bike control, technical ease (in and out of their neighborhood) and the weight of a distinct socialization regarding gender related risks and family relationships.

Conclusions: For these children, there exists a persistent and specific use of public space when it comes to cycling and this division is essentially related to the gendered relational configuration of working class families.

Contribution: This study looks at how cycling is learned and it identifies the precautions taken when promoting cycling among boys and girls in public spaces. The promotion of cycling is essential for the purposes of travel, especially in socially disadvantaged neighborhoods.