Nicholas Scott, Ph.D.

mobilities, environments, social movements, cities



My research is rooted in a classic sociological tradition of mobilizing value-laden theories of what is right and what is good through empirical reseaPS + Mrch about the worlds in which we live together. I draw on theoretical work by Laurent Thévenot, Luc Boltanski and Bruno Latour that explores a plurality of common goods based on different visions of a common humanity, and the qualified materials on which these visions rely for support during public conflicts. I am examining the ways in which multiple goods (and their objects) collide in conflicts over new cycling infrastructure, light rail systems and other technologies designed to enhance public health and curb urban sprawl. I am also examining possibilities of an emerging ‘ecological common good’ based on shared principles of environmental sustainability. More specifically, my research program brings ethnographic, quantitative and mixed methods to bear on the following puzzles:

1. How are sustainable mobilities practiced, performed, embodied, and lived? How is bicycle travel successfully accomplished in everyday life? How do gender, age, ethnocultural identity and social class shape ordinary cycling? How do technologies and physical materials mediate social practices of walking, cycling, and riding public transit? How do affect, emotion and creativity colour these practices?

2. How do sustainable mobilities and the environment relate to the common good? How is cycling publicly justified and critiqued? How is cycling connected to civic equality, market worth, industrial efficiency, domestic traditions and ecological value? Does an environmental and ecological worth constitute a unique common good? If so, can an ecological common good help bring about the expansion of sustainable mobilities and sustainable cities? How do other ecological conflicts over oil and gas development, climate change, urban biodiversity and national parks relate to the common good?

3. How do neighbourhoods shape complex inequalities, mobilities and sociotechnical change? How does sociospatial context shape individual practices, resources, attitudes and beliefs? How do urban, suburban and rural neighborhoods in Canada affect the nature and distribution of complex inequalities? How can quantitative methods more beyond methodological individualism and take social context into account?


1. “Cycling, Sustainability and the Common Good: Sparking a Bicycle Renaissance in the Automotive City” (Principal Investigator, funded by a SSHRC Insight Development Grant, 2014-2016)

The purpose of this research is to advance interdisciplinary knowledge about bicycle travel in the automotive city, or urban settings that privilege the car. Cities increasingly justify the expansion of cycling as a way to reduce excessive car use, promote environmentally sustainable mobility and mitigate potentially catastrophic climate change. However, despite this politicization of cycling and its association with the common good, relatively few Canadians actually use cycling for everyday transport, and little is known about the dynamic process by which cyclists navigate material and political spaces dominated by the automobile. This research will address this gap in knowledge by using innovative methods to investigate the politics and practice of cycling in Vancouver, British Columbia, which stands out as a national leader of cycling development.

This research will proceed in four phases. Phase one entails analyzing recent public controversies surrounding the expansion of bicycle travel in which people justify and critique cycling by appealing to the common good. Phase two entails investigating bicycle travel as it actually unfolds by using mobile video ethnography to document the ordinary voyages of cyclists in Vancouver. Phase three deepens this analysis of cycling experience by interviewing these cyclists. I will use results from phase one to design relevant questions for these interviews on the politics of cycling, and use the fine-grained footage produced in phase two to elicit embodied and performative understandings of cycling that would otherwise be difficult to generate in a static interview setting. Phase four integrates these data on the politics and practice of cycling by mobilizing practical knowledge about successfully accomplishing bicycle travel in Vancouver to enhance public policies on cycling. Knowledge mobilization will occur through digital dissemination, academic publications and a community charrette that will bring together academics and community stakeholders seeking to improve strategies for expanding bicycle travel.

This research will advance scholarly and societal outcomes related to mobilities, cities and environmental sustainability. Scholarly outcomes include a wider sociological understanding of the relationship between mobilities and the common good, including the relationship between cycling and a common good based on environmental worth. By generating insight on cycling practices in the automotive city, this research also builds on cycling scholarship developed in urban geography, urban planning and environmental studies. Like the scholarly outcomes of this research, its societal outcomes are broad-based. By strengthening the capacity of automotive cities to promote cycling as a physically active, emission-free mode of mass transport, this research will help Canadian governments and the general public capitalize on the wide ranging societal and environmental benefits and increased quality of life associated with everyday cycling.

IMG_84762. (Re)Cycling Windsor and Detroit: The Death and Life of America’s Motor Cities (2013-2015)

This research project focuses on Windsor and Detroit, and how cycling has expanded through heterogeneous networks in these depoIMG_8475pulating cities. I examine how the collapse of car industries and rapid transformation of spatial cultures (both Canadian and American) have suddenly generated openings for sustainable mobilities in general, and everyday cycling in particular. Guided by recent work by Laurent Thévenot on pragmatic regimes of familiar and creative engagement, this project entails in-depth interviews with 15 experts in Windsor and Detroit –  city planners, politicians, local businesses, community advocates and engineers – on how people successfully accomplish cycling in uncertain urban contexts whose extreme economic dependence on the car has, after 2007-8, unexpectedly created opportunities for bicycle travel. Early findings suggest recent growth in cycling practices reflects a wider revaluation of urban space in the automotive capitals of North America that may herald wider shifts in the ways in which people imagine the good city.

3. Neighbourhood Intersections and Inequalities (2012-2015)

My third research project involves using multilevel modeling to examine the relationship between complex gender-related inequalities and neighbourhood context. Professor Janet Siltanen at Carleton University and I are preparing a journal article based on a methodological toolkit we developed foIMG_4827r researchers and policy analysts at Human Resources and Skills Development Canada that has been distributed within government. Our article maps out ways of conducting analysis on gender and intersectionality that take into account the dynamic social and spatial contexts of complex inequalities. Using a similar methodology, I am also working with Census and General Social Survey microdata files at  Simon Fraser University’s Research Data Centre to explore neighbourhood-level impacts related to socioeconomic inequality and urban design on individual mobility patterns and self-reported health.

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