Leadership dynamics in urban cycling movements: Montreal – Chicago – Copenhagen

Geneviève Dufresne

Student thesis: Master thesis


A comparative case study of social movements to promote alternative modes of transportation such as cycling in three urban centers contributes a better understanding of the importance of both top-down and bottom-up leadership dynamics in any attempt to change people’s habits and effect social change. I draw on Bourdieu’s sociology of culture and key concepts from social movement theory to analyse the leadership dynamics behind organized efforts to promote a bicycle culture in Montreal in comparison to Chicago and Copenhagen. I employ Bourdieu’s understanding of habitus, lifestyle and social status to explore the centrality of cultural perceptions to these efforts, and to emphasize that each person riding to work or school participates in the leadership process. The framework I develop makes clear that top-down leadership enhances people’s motivation to act, provides resources to build infrastructure and enforces financial constraints on car drivers while bottom-up leadership provides cultural legitimacy, critical mass and challenges the dominant CAR ideology. As I conclude, both types of leadership are central to these types of movements for social change

EducationsMSc in Business, Language and Culture, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2012
Number of pages98