Hermes on Two Wheels shows the dynamic world of the bicycle messenger through a sociological lens, based on a five-year participant observation study. Beginning with the experiences of messengers themselves and moving to describe the structural settings of those experiences, the research shows how messengers work within a political-economic system that devalues semi-skilled labor and strips people of emotional fulfillment. The voluntary risk-taking of messengers becomes a means of achieving such emotional fulfillment as well as making a living, while their stylistic expressions pay dividends in cultural scrip rather than money. Through their work, messengers help to reproduce and maintain the structures of society while also constructing a vibrant, rebellious, politicized subculture that has come to represent the new urban hipster, an image continually under threat of co-optation.
Kevin Wehr is associate professor in the Department of Sociology at the California State University, Sacramento, where he specializes in environmental sociology, political sociology, social theory, culture, and criminology. He received his Ph.D. in sociology in 2002 and his M.S. in 1998 from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He completed his B.A. in 1994 at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
Wehr's Hermes on Two Wheels examines an interesting social phenomenon closely in order to derive insights about the contradictions and challenges of our accelerated era of laptop capitalism. He shows that the Internet-driven post-Fordist era cannot dispense with actual people, who dodge traffic in order to deliver important pulp documents on time. In this, he brilliantly opposes technological optimism, which assumes that utopia is a chatroom. Bicycle messengers, an edgy crew, live on the edges of our fast society and help us see it more clearly. This book is very much in the tradition of Walter Benjamin's study of the Paris Arcades project. Like Benjamin, Wehr examines fragments—tea leaves, as it were—as the resources of a critical social and cultural theory.