Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Arts (MA)

Degree Name

Communication Studies

Department or School/College

Communication Studies

Committee Chair

Joel Iverson

Committee Co-chair

Steve Schwarze

Commitee Members

Joel Iverson, Steve Schwarze, Nicky Phear


identity, belonging, community of practice, basho, bicycle, community, non-profit


University of Montana

Subject Categories

Interpersonal and Small Group Communication | Nonprofit Administration and Management | Organizational Communication | Other Arts and Humanities | Social Influence and Political Communication


A qualitative analysis was conducted at the community bicycle shop, Free Cycles, in order to examine participants’ identities and belonging within a community of practice. Semi-structured interviews with 19 members of the community and 50 hours of participant observation were conducted. Data analysis followed the grounded theory methodology of Strauss and Corbin (1990). Four research questions were proposed to examine the ways participants at Free Cycles identified with the bicycle-related practices of bicycle riding and maintenance, co-constructed the collective organizational identity, and developed a sense of belonging within the community amongst other members. The constructs of identity and belonging were examined using Wenger’s (1998) community of practice and modes of belonging frameworks, as well as Nishida’s (1987) Japanese philosophy of relational place-based belonging, basho. The study articulates how practices can enact both individual and collective identities and are instrumental to the belonging process. This research also shows how participants can identify and engage without developing a sense of belonging due to situational barriers. The study shows how individuals pull meaning from their belonging through a sense of inclusion and purpose in the community that is fostered by the shop director, employees, and other members. Free Cycles as a case study adds to current community of practice, identity, and belonging literature because of its inclusive and empowering nature. Overall, the study shows how identity and belonging are fluid, complex aspects of individuals’ lives that are separate but interconnected through practices and thus communities.



© Copyright 2017 Caitlyn Lewis