Out of more than two thousand bike messengers in New York City, a few hundred participate in alleycats—illegal races held in open traffic. Surrounding this racing scene is a vibrant messenger community. Messengers who race in or attend alleycats carry their messenger identity into all aspects of their lives. Through direct participant observation, this article proposes that alleycats function as Durkheimian rituals for these messengers. Alleycats express the central values of the social world. Lost in collective effervescence, the individual confronts these values as objectified truths, which allow messengers to form stable identities. Further, bicycles, messenger bags, and other objects become sacred symbols within this ritualization process. The ability of messengers to construct such nonreflexive identities is juxtaposed with theories about the self in postmodernity.
Kidder, Jeffrey L., "Bike Messengers and the Really Real: Effervescence, Reflexivity, and Postmodern Identity" (2006). Faculty Peer-Reviewed Publications. 1038.
Department of Sociology
Society for the Study of Symbolic Interaction