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Organising the Journey to School: Mobility at the Heart of Pro-Environmental Activism and Identity

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  • Design
  • Ecology
  • Education
  • Geography
  • Psychology


In a context of global change, public actions, such as pro-environmental activism, are now more and more studied in a large range of disciplinary (geography, politic sciences, sociology, psychology, etc.). Among them, spatial and daily mobility has become an operative vector to analyse and understand what global change implies locally for peopleenvironment. In particular, daily travel and pro-environmental activism for engaging in sustainable travels are in the midpoint of several issues concerning sustainable transport, urban design, temporal work-orgnisation, new cohesion-forms, etc. Today, commuting travels, specially escorting children for school and their activities are one of the most transforming spatial practice in urban environment. For one decade, parents, local collectivities and school supervisors organise and support sustainable school travels called “walking-bus” (W-B). Without being a new form of travel for school, walking-bus can be seen as a “natural laboratory” for research. Often studied for its healthy benefices and social virtues for children, very little attention has been paid on families and parents, moreover on socio-psychological processes that are implied on this pro-activism, that is to say in the public engagement for sustainable transport. The aim of this paper is to understand how children’s daily mobility can constitute a fundamental stage in the dynamic of parent’s residential relationships and social identity. Indeed, children’s daily travels apprenticeship is considered as a whole spatial and social transition for parents in their way of life and relationships to daily spaces. Thus, we need to understand not only how and why parents relationship to environment are changing but also the social and cultural conditions in which their educational strategies for children mobility can be unrolled. Studied from a physical perspective for a long time, children’s mobility is examined in this paper, going past the micro-systemic approach, in adopting an exo-systemic one, in reference to the ecological model of development (Bronfenbrenner, 1977; 1993). Within this perspective, we take into account the parenting strategies with respect to housing, mobility and social context as well as relationship to the neighbourhood context. We hypothesize that “walking-bus” as a pro-environmental involvement is a way to restore spatial and residential identity. Two groups of family were interviewed in Rennes (France): children and parents involved in W-B versus organising by themselves. In this paper, we will only focus on parents. They were interviewed at home and completed a questionnaire about organisation of children’s travels, involvement in W-B (or not), issues in relation to spatial and social identity process and ideal-city evocations. Results based on comparisons of the two groups of parents (involved versus no involved in WB) will be explored in this paper. These will allow us to discuss relationships between identity and mobility, pro-environmental activism and identity and how “walking-bus” can reveal some kind of relationships to neighbourhood and can be seen as a “catalyst” of identity in neighbourhoods.

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