The Appropriation of Bicycles in West Africa

Pragmatic Approaches to Sustainability

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Author: Hans Peter Hahn
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Bicycles have a wide range of functions and roles in West Africa. They have vital functions for everyday necessities, but they also constitute prestige objects. The appreciation of bicycles in Africa started very early, almost simultaneously with their diffusion as consumer goods in Europe. However, the adoption of bicycles followed a specific pathway, which is explained in this article within the conceptual framework of appropriation. Cultural appropriation highlights the significant modifications of bicycles in Africa and the abandonment of some functions like braking. In spite of the technical simplifications, modified bicycles are perceived as having higher value, by virtue of their fitness for the tough roads and their increased reliability. Appropriation results in a specific “Africanized“ bicycle, which makes possible a prolonged usage. This essay argues that the “Africanized“ bicycle constitutes a model of sustainability in matters of transport, one which is not sufficiently recognized in current debates about sustainable innovations.

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Interdisciplinary Journal of Mobility Studies

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