‘The bike breaks down. What are they going to do?’ Actor-networks and the Bicycles for Development movement

Mitchell McSweeney, Brad Millington, Lyndsay Hayhurst, Brian Wilson, Madison Ardizzi, Janet Otte

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


This article reports on an empirical study of ‘Bicycles for Development’ (BFD) – a nascent movement whereby used bicycles are collected (often in the global North) and distributed in development contexts (often in the global South) with the aim of achieving a range of positive social outcomes (e.g. access to education). Drawing from interviews (n = 32) with participants from 19 BFD organizations, and informed by actor-network theory (ANT), the analysis presented herein specifically highlights three key factors that facilitate and/or hinder BFD work: (a) government regulations that potentially stem or ease the flow of bicycles into development contexts; (b) the bicycle’s material constitution, and specifically its sturdiness (or lack thereof); and (c) environmental conditions that impact how bicycles are made, distributed and used. A key theme that cuts across these findings is the potential for non-humans to cause ‘frictions’ that potentially disrupt, divert, but also help in realizing the programmes of action of BFD organizations. We consider the relevance of these findings for both the BFD movement in particular and the wider Sport for Development and Peace (SDP) movement in general. Based on study findings, we argue for ANT as a useful framework for achieving a widened analytical focus and thus for delivering more robust accounts of development contexts under study.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)194-211
Number of pages18
JournalInternational Review for the Sociology of Sport
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2021
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2020.


  • Actor-network theory
  • bicycles
  • development
  • mobility
  • new materialism
  • physical culture
  • sport


Dive into the research topics of '‘The bike breaks down. What are they going to do?’ Actor-networks and the Bicycles for Development movement'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this