Haigh, Justine (2008) The Engagement and Consumption Experiences of Motorcycling Edgeworkers: A Narrative Approach Examining the Personal, Social and Material Context of Voluntary Risk-Taking. Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

The purpose of the study is to explore the engagement and consumption experiences of motorcycling edgeworkers. In understanding motorcyclists’ experiences, the thesis takes the position that participants are now living in new times of an ‘advanced industrialised society’. With a variety of sites, services and goods available for consumption, it is argued that the contemporary high-risk performer is free to subjectively negotiate the meanings of their experiences from the multiplicity of choices available, which has implications for methodology. That is, the study moves away from utilising a standardised methodological approach of developing ‘general high-risk typologies’ or ‘stress-seeking personality types’ towards an approach that stresses its diverse and plural characteristics. Hence, the position is taken that motorcyclists’ experiences are characterised by highly diversified patterns of interests and activities and therefore seeks to understand motorcycling as a complex, reflexive process where riders assign different meanings to their riding experiences.
Hence, drawing upon narrative theory, the thesis aims to understand the ‘lived experiences’ of motorcyclists, exploring the personal, social and material context of riders’ lives. That risk-taking involves a complex interplay between sensual or emotional apprehending but also a reflexive understanding of the discursive notions associated with high-risk activities. More specifically, the study adopts what Ussher (1997) and more recently Ussher and Mooney-Somers (2000) describe as a ‘material-discursive intrapsychic perspective’. This considers the manner by which cultural/community understandings impact riders’ accounts of their experiences but also examines the physical/intrapsychic aspects of the activity which are arguably highly
interrelated. The study also seeks to explore motorcyclists’ biographical accounts, examining the diverse ways in which riders draw upon their past in making sense of current motorcycling practice.
Using a narrative approach to data collection and analysis, the data presented is collected in thirty-three in-depth narrative interviews. The data was analysed using a voice-centred relational approach to narrative analysis called the ‘Listening Guide’, based on the Harvard Project on Women’s Psychology and Girls’ Development at the Harvard Graduate School of Education (Brown and Gillian, 1991, 1992, 1993 and more recently Milnes 2003) and the data is presented in the form of an analysis of narrative themes from the accounts of the riders, however what separates this ‘themed’ analysis is differences amongst the accounts are considered alongside similarities. Finally, in exploring motorcyclists’ individual biographies, the personal narrative accounts given by nine of the riders are presented focusing on key turning points or ‘epiphanies’ in their stories.
In order to ‘contextualise the narratives’, participant observation was conducted at a variety of popular motorcyclist enclaves including motorcycle track days, cafés and venues as well as the review of existing popular text such as magazines, papers and specialist motorcycle press. Several conversations also took place with those who deliver the experience such as motorcycle shop owners and track day tutors.
The research reveals that riders’ experiences are more diverse and complex than more traditional studies have often suggested. The analysis of the participants’ narratives show that participants draw on both physical/intrapsychic explanations but also on
community understandings in describing their riding experiences. Hence, it is argued that the materiality of the body, its connections to thrill, desire, to the performance of the activity are all intimately tied to the more discursive factors involved (Ussher 1997).
Furthermore, by identifying key turning points in the stories told by the motorcyclists, the diverse ways in which individual riders adapt their motorcycling practice is revealed. The individual accounts show how riders are influenced by their past experience, but also by dominant cultural and/or community understandings which, as acting as cultural resources, guide riders understanding of their experiences.
Therefore, in taking a ‘material-discursive intrapsychic perspective,’ the study aims to present a more comprehensive understanding of motorcyclists’ experiences. Particularly concerned with commitments to TCR (Transformative Consumer Research), the research may therefore assist in informing future road safety research and motorcycling initiatives. That is, due to the manner by which participants engage in their activity in an ongoing and reflexive manner, the opportunity exists for those interested in re-directing motorcyclists’ aspirations, such as marketing campaigners or rider education/assessment training schemes, to encourage participants to adopt more safety conscious, responsible riding styles, focusing on competence, wisdom and safety rather than excitement, performance and speed.


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