Coventry University Featured PhD Programmes
University of Glasgow Featured PhD Programmes
John Innes Centre Featured PhD Programmes
Catalysis Hub Featured PhD Programmes
University College London Featured PhD Programmes

The perception of cycling and cyclists amongst non-cyclists: exploring opportunities for social marketing interventions to increase commuter cycling rates in the UK.

This project is no longer listed on and may not be available.

Click here to search for PhD studentship opportunities
  • Full or part time
    Dr S Allison
  • Application Deadline
    Applications accepted all year round

Project Description

The aim of the research is to explore the perception amongst non-cyclists of cycle commuting and cyclists in order to gain insights to inform social marketing interventions designed to increase cycling rates. The insights gained and interventions highlighted should be accessible to and have policy, and planning relevance for, practitioners in this area. Policy background and research rationale: In 2014 the UK Government drew up a plan to invest £214m to promote (Deputy Prime Minister’s Office, 2014) - to address such issues as obesity, the nation’s health, EU emissions targets, road safety and congestion. The Government has also made a strong economic case for increased cycling, citing a positive cost-to-benefit ratio of around 5:1 (Department for Transport [DfT], 2015).
There is evidence to suggest that following long-term decline more people are now cycling (Paton, 2015), but relative to use of motor transport cycling is still a minority activity amongst commuters.
Research already points to a range of situational barriers to cycling, such as infrastructure, traffic volumes and cost (Pooley, 2011), but there is limited research exploring less tangible concerns, such as how cyclists and cycling is perceived. Perceptions that are held of people, institutions, products and activities, and especially of peers and reference groups are important and unless cycling can be seen as both attractive and aspirational efforts to increase participation will be hampered. This research seeks to provide insight in this area.
Theoretical perspective: The research seeks to view cycle commuting from three theoretical perspectives: social marketing, consumer culture theory (CCT) and social/personal identity formation. In this configuration CCT and identity formation are seen as the lenses by which consumer behaviour is analysed to gain insight and social marketing is the device to create meaningful behaviour change interventions. Social marketing is an individual-oriented marketing approach designed to deliver benefits to society (National Social Marketing Centre, 2015). The UK Government seeks to “kickstart a cycling revolution…” such that “…cycling levels rival those in Denmark, the Netherlands and Germany” (DfT, 2014:p4). The achievement of such ambitious goals would involve considerable behaviour change amongst key population groups; social marketing’s focus on individual level behaviour change (Hoek and Jones, 2011) suggests its application has a part to play in supporting policy implementers to achieve these goals. Consumer culture theory is defined by Arnould and Thompson (2005) as a composite doctrine that addresses consumer identity, marketplace culture, socio-historic patterning and consumer ideology. Of especial interest is understanding the associations that exist between identity formation and personal development, and how the notion of what might be called ‘cycling culture’ (Rosen, Cox, and Horton, 2007; Kuipers, 2012) might impact this relationship.
Identity formation involves both continuous self-evaluation and social comparison (Neff and McGehee, 2010). Social identity needs a social context, and ‘being at one’ with a certain group or tribe (Maffesoli, 1995), or being similar to that defined group, is key. These people represent the ‘in’ group, whilst all others are the ‘out’ group (Stets and Burke, 2000). Identifying with, and feeling part of, a positively perceived social category (or reference group) helps in the affirmation of personal identity but if a chosen category (e.g. cycling fraternity) is perceived to be at odds with positive self-definition then this will be perceived as the ‘out’ rather than ‘in’ group. Understanding how to align the multiple identities of self and ‘cyclist’ may well offer some insight into how commuters can be encouraged to engage with cycling. Key to gaining an insight into how this might be achieved is to understand how ‘cycling culture’ is perceived by target groups.
Method: Research in the areas of social marketing, CTT and identity formation often takes a qualitative approach but in keeping with the views of Arnould and Thompson (2005) this is not a prerequisite. Current work by faculty in this area includes both qualitative research (focus groups based on projective techniques) and quantitative work involving large sample sizes. We are open-minded regarding well planned and executed research taking either approach.


Arnould, E. J., & Thompson, C. J. (2005). Consumer culture theory (CCT): Twenty years of research. Journal of consumer research, 31(4), 868-882.
Deputy Prime Minister’s Office, (2014). Deputy PM announces £214 million investment in cycling. [On line]. Available at : [Last accessed on 9th November 2015].
Department for Transport, (2015). Investing in Cycling and Walking The Economic Case for Action. [On line]. Available at: [Last accessed 11th January 2016].
Hoek, J., and Jones, S., C., (2011). Regulation, public health and social marketing: a behaviour change trinity. Journal of Social Marketing, 1(1), 32 – 44
Kuipers, G. (2012). The rise and decline of national habitus: Dutch cycling culture and the shaping of national similarity. European Journal of Social Theory, 17(1), 17-35.
Maffesoli, M., 1995. The Time of the Tribes: The Decline of Individualism in Mass Society. London: Sage.
National Social Marketing Centre, (2015, November 9). What is social marketing? Retrieved from
Neff, K. D., & McGehee, P. (2010). Self-compassion and psychological resilience among adolescents and young adults. Self and identity, 9(3), 225-240.
Paton, G., (2015, November 9). Cycling at its most popular in 24 years. The Times. Retrieved from
Pooley, C. G., (2011, November 9th). Understanding walking and cycling. Lancaster Environment Centre, University of Lancaster. Retrieved from [Last accessed 9th November 2015].
Rosen, P., Cox, P., and Horton. D, (2007). Cycling and Society. Aldershot: Ashgate
Stets, J. E., & Burke, P. J. (2000). Identity theory and social identity theory. Social Psychology Quarterly, 63(3), 224-237.

Related Subjects

How good is research at Nottingham Trent University in Business and Management Studies?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 23.00

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

Click here to see the results for all UK universities

FindAPhD. Copyright 2005-2019
All rights reserved.