Expanding the debate on transport and mobility justice

CALL FOR PAPERS
AAG Annual Meeting, April 10-14, 2018, New Orleans, LA
Organisers: Ersilia Verlinghieri and Tim Schwanen

Transport and mobility play a critical role in current social and environmental crises and are vital to creating more just societies at different spatial scales. Across various disciplines, including Geography, researchers are now routinely drawing attention to the spatial dimensions of justice. Some have begun to consider the interconnections of transport and mobilities with justice and space (e.g. Soja 2010; Sheller, 2011; Cook and Butz 2016; Verlinghieri and Venturini 2017), but important conceptual and empirical work remains to be undertaken. Cross-fertilisation of the thinking and practice around justice in Urban Geography, and urban studies more widely, with ongoing work on transport and mobility justice seems to be a particularly effectively way forward.

In this session we seek to consider and explore the concepts of transport and mobility justice and their interconnections with the wider frameworks of social, spatial and environmental justice. We welcome both theoretical contributions and case studies from across the globe that focus on procedural and substantive aspects of transport and mobility justice. We are particularly interested in contributions that stage dialogues of transport and mobilities research with urban scholarship and so explore how one can contribute to, and open up new questions for, the other.

Potential topics include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • The nature of transport and mobility justice;
  • The right to mobility;
  • The relationships of transport and urban planning with transport and mobility justice;
  • Urban struggles and transport and mobility justice;
  • The use of participatory and critical social science methods for research on transport and mobility justice; and
  • Research ethics for studies of transport and mobility justice.

Please email enquiries and abstracts (250 words) to Ersilia Verlinghieri (ersilia.verlinghieri@ouce.ox.ac.uk) and Tim Schwanen (tim.schwanen@ouce.ox.ac.uk) by October 20. Authors must register for the conference and submit their abstracts through the AAG website by the October 25 deadline to be added to the paper session. AAG guidelines for preparing and submitting abstracts at: http://www.aag.org/cs/annualmeeting/call_for_papers.

 

Two Paper Sessions at 2017 RGS/IBG conference

I am co-organising two paper sessions at the upcoming Annual International Conference of the Royal Geographical Society with the Institute of British Geographers, which will be held 29 August-1 September in London.

Everyday Mobilities and Climatic Events

Convenors: Anna Plyushteva (Vrije Universiteit Brussel), Nihan Akyelken (Oxford), & Tim Schwanen (Oxford)

Deadline: 7 February 2017

Weather and climate shape the everyday mobilities of people worldwide, in both mundane and increasingly disruptive ways. Transportation, on the other hand, is closely linked to climate in at least three ways: as a major contributor to climate change; as a sector progressively more vulnerable to its effects; and as a set of individual and institutional practices which have proven resistant to transformative change. We are interested in bringing together theoretical and empirical contributions which examine the ways in which climatic events play out in the everyday mobilities of different groups and locales.

Topics include, but are not limited to:

  • Everyday mobilities and vulnerability to climatic events;
  • The role of gender, life course and household dynamics in climate and everyday mobility;
  • Social, spatial and environmental inequalities in transport and climate change vulnerability;
  • Examples of transport policies which address the social implications of climatic events for everyday mobility.

We are especially interested in papers which take a comparative approach, and/or focus on the global South.

 

Exploring the socio-spatialities of urban goods mobility

Convenors: Debbie Hopkins (Oxford) & Tim Schwanen (Oxford)

Deadline: 6 February 2017

As centres of production and consumption, cities rely heavily on the mobility of freight for the provision of goods and services to residents, visitors, firms and organisations. Volumes of freight mobility are increasing and courier, express and parcel (CEP) services are growing rapidly with ongoing urbanisation and changes in consumption and shopping habits and delivery structures. Further change can be expected in light of the ongoing restructuring of logistics and supply chains and the rise of the smart city and vehicle automation. Yet the parcels, distribution centres, vehicles and pipelines that make up the systems of freight delivery often remain invisible in geographical studies of transport and mobilities. Similarly, policies to reduce the negative impacts of road freight transport are seldom focused at the city scale, and urban mobility is rarely prioritised in urban planning. In this session, we seek to address these gaps, through in-depth explorations of the social-spatialities of urban goods mobility.

Topics of interest include, but are not limited to:

  • Innovations in urban freight and logistics — e.g., urban consolidation centres, drone delivery, electric and autonomous vehicles, cargo-bikes;
  • Freight and logistics in the ‘smart city’;
  • The political economy of urban goods mobility;
  • Geographies of new business models for CEP services in cities; and
  • The lived experience of freight mobilities.

Struggling to understand objects

One of the most exciting developments in social theory and philosophy in recent years has been the articulation of object oriented ontologies, and a range of geographers (e.g. Katharine Meehan, James Ash) have been actively involved in this development. One of the most influential thinkers in this nascent body of work is Graham Harman, one of the leading Speculative Realists who has taken the phenomenological philosophies of Heidegger and Husserl into completely new directions, along the way adding elements from Latour, Whitehead and others.

Fascinated by Harman’s writings I have over the last two years been thinking about if and how his ideas can be used to enrich our thinking about everyday mobilities in cities. The (first) results of this have now been published in EJTIR. It is fair to say that working with Harman’s philosophy proved less straightforward than I had anticipated. This was not just because of high level of abstraction that characterises his thinking about objects compared to the particularities and context-specificity of everyday mobility that one encounters in empirical research. It was especially so because his work — or at least those parts I have engaged — have often little to say about change, dynamics and process. It would appear that geographers seeking to work with his ideas need to combine them with other philosophies or perspectives if they want to study mobilities, cities, landscape, nature or whatever it is they are interested in.

Cities and Transition towards Low Energy Mobility

The first paper from my research on Innovations in Urban Transport has recently been published in the open access journal Sustainability. It summarises some of the analyses on the emergence and early development of low energy innovations in the everyday mobility of two UK cities, Brighton and Oxford. In many ways these cities are ahead of the curve in transitioning towards urban mobility systems characterised by lower energy consumption and greater energy efficiency compared to systems that are strongly dominated by private car use. And the empirical analysis confirms that many innovations related to cycling, bus and rail transport, shared mobility and clean cars are developing in both cities.

The paper argues that geography matters to transition processes in various ways. Innovation trajectories with regard to low energy mobility are differentiated geographically: where Oxford has a stronger orientation towards electric mobility (hybrid buses, electric vehicle charging, a car club with electric vehicles), Brighton tends to stand out in its attempts to create a cycling friendly infrastructure and the rapid expansion of car clubs. But the analysis also shows that cities should not be seen as independent and discrete spatial units in which innovation processes unfold. This is because most of the financial resources for those innovations come from elsewhere, notably the national government but also the EU. Thus, like technology and expertise do (as the literature on policy mobilities suggests), the finance of innovations in low energy mobility ties cities into wider uneven and networked constellations that encompass cities, states and EU institutions.

From this perspective, the budget cuts that local authorities across the UK will be experiencing due to changes to national level policy are not good news: they are likely to threaten the much needed continuity in support — finance, expertise, officers’ social capital, etc. — for innovations in low energy mobility in the early stages of their development. Indeed, a discourse of localism cannot prevent that significant reductions in national funding for local transport are likely to slow down of the rate change towards lower energy consumption in everyday mobility in many UK cities.

Moving towards low carbon mobility

Moving Towards Low Carbon Mobility

A few weeks ago the Moving towards Low Carbon Mobility book edited by Moshe Givoni and David Banister came out. This is a book with chapters written by researchers of the Transport Studies Unit on different dimensions of low-carbon mobility, including technology, governance, infrastructure finance and pathways to a low-carbon future.

My contribution to the book consists of a chapter that reviews the latest thinking on socio-technical transitions in transport. It covers key theories — the multi-level perspective advanced by Frank Geels and others, social practice theories advocated by Elizabeth Shove and colleagues and the complex systems approach that John Urry has elaborated over the past decade — and seeks to outline how these strands of social science research can inform thinking about how to effectuate the step change towards low carbon transport.

I have also contributed to the final chapter of the book on how transport policy should be reconfigured for a low-carbon transport future to become a more realistic prospect. Here Moshe, David, James Macmillan and myself argue that what I tend to call the ‘logic of provision’ — the idea that providing alternative, better, speedier, more fashionable, etc infrastructure is the primary means for bring about change in the transport system — and prevailing understandings of travel time as a cost to be minimised are more of a hindrance to step change than that they will really help to bring a transition about. We also begin to outline a list of guiding principles for alternative transport policy but it must be said that this is only the beginning. Much more thought needs to go into answering the question what policies should look like if they are to help to bring about fundamental change in transport.

Peak car travel?

A topic that is currently attracting considerable attention in transport studies is the slowing down or even decline in the growth of car use across the Global North. The car evidently remains the the dominant mode of transport for everyday activities, but among young adults – and especially young men – holding a driver’s license, car ownership and the per capita distance by car have been decreasing since 1990 or thereabout. This trend has been attributed to a range of factors (see, for instance, Newman and Kenworthy 2012):

  • a revival of public transport in urban areas
  • a slowing down of the pace of urban sprawl
  • (re)emerging cultures of urbanism, implying among others that more younger adults than before remain in the city rather than relocate to the suburbs
  • population ageing
  • the rise in fuel prices since 2000
  • the economic crisis followng the 2007/07 credit crunch
  • the waning influence of the car industry and lobby on public attitudes towards transport
  • possibility that growing number of car users now spend so much time in their cars  that they are unwilling to drive even more

It is beyond doubt that automobility — the practices, institutions and landscapes centred on the private car — is changing in countries like the UK, Germany, Japan and even the USA. But it is far too early to read the end of the car’s dominance into these developments. For one, a stabilising of the growth in car use and ownership is just that: it does not mean that as yet there are fewer people who are actually using or owning a car. And it remains to be seen what the future brings: it is not unlikely that the growth of car use and car ownership picks up again in the near future, for instance when the capitalist economies of the Global North enter a new growth cycle.

More significant, however, is that automobility has gone global over the past decades. At the global scale automobility continues to expand rapidly — think of the rapid growth in China, India, Brazil, Mexico, Indonesia, Ghana, Nigeria, etc. We could therefore say that the global system of automobility is in great ‘health’, however undesirable that is from the point of view of environmental degradation, CO2 emissions and social justice. Peak car travel in the Global North is a significant development at the national level but it is also dwarfed at the global level by the developments in the Global South. A narrow focus on the developments in car use in the Global North is therefore a variant of western-centric thinking.

One might argue that the developments in the Global North are still significant as they are countries like Japan or Germany are the front runners and that the patters observed there will eventually be replicated in places that now experience rapid growth in car use. This argument, however, is developmentalist: it assumes that there is a more or less universal development trajectory that all countries will ultimately follow — a form of thinking that is not only Western-centric (as it positions Europe, the USA and Japan as leading by example) but also sidelines the role of spatial multiplicity (see Doreen Massey’s book For Space for further elaboration of this argument).

Peak car travel is a significant development but it must be placed in perspective: it is ultimately a local phenomenon that hardly dampens the global growth of car use. This means that transport’s contribution to global warming remains enormous and that there is no time for complacency: it remains absolutely critical that transport planners and professionals think more seriously and creatively about how step changes away from automobility can be realised. Conventional policies (investment in new public transport infrastructure, urban compaction, mobility management, road pricing) may have facilitated peak car travel in the Global North — though their effects should not be exaggerated as these policies’ public acceptability is partly a result of the same cultural, social and demographic changes that made peak car travel possible — but they appear quite inadequate at fundamentally reducing the growth of automobility across the Global South.

Foucault and Mobilities Workshop

After a hectic December and a break over the festive season I am at last able to write a new and long overdue post. At this moment I am in Lucerne and the workshop on Foucault and Mobilities that I co-organised with Katharina Manderscheid and David Tyfield has just finished. It has been a wonderful experience: great people, great papers, great discussions, great atmosphere.

I have learnt a lot about how others work with and along Foucault in studying im/mobilities in a great variety of contexts: water management in Singapore, fire in County Durham, madness in Scotland, prisons in Belgium and electric transportation in China are only some of the topics that have been discussed. And I have also learnt a great detail about how others understand (and sometimes struggle with) such concepts as the dispositif/apparatus and discursive practice, as well as Foucault’s methods.

There was a strong sentiment that our discussions about Foucault and mobilities should be taken forward, and we will be setting up some sort of internet platform or resource, where publications on Foucault and mobilities will be brought together and where discussions can be conducted. The powerpoint presentations from the workshop may be made available there as well. More on this will follow shortly.

 

Thinking Climate Change Mitigation in Transport

A few weeks ago the special section of Journal of Transport Geography that David Banister, Jillian Anable and myself guest edited has been published. This special section introduces a range of theoretical approaches that can help (transport) scholars to better understand climate change mitigation and reduced use of carbon-intensive energy sources in transport. The general idea is that new understandings — and especially social science approaches — are needed alongside more mainstream transport studies perspectives emphasising the importance of green infrastructures and technologies and pricing measures, given that transport planning and practice has made little headway in reducing transport’s deep dependence on fossil fuels.

The approaches highlighted in the special section include: the sociotechnical transitions approach and multi-level perspective advanced by Frank Geels and others; theories of social practices a.k.a. practice theory; and behavioural economics. Each approach is introduced by one or a team of leading experts — Frank Geels, Matt Watson, and Paul Dolan & Robert Metcalfe, respectively — and its value and usefulness is then evaluated by a expert in the field of transport or mobility studies — Lorraine Whitmarsh, Thomas Birtchnell, and Erel Avineri. In this way each perspective is discussed from two sides and the views of both the protagonist and the transport/mobility scholar sympathetic to the approach.

The special section also contains the paper about rethinking travel habits I authored with David and Jillian (as discussed previously), and a commentary by John Urry. More details are available here.

Rethinking habits of everyday mobility

This is just a quick note at a very busy time to say that the paper on rethinking behaviour change and habits with regard to everyday mobility that I co-authored with David Banister and Jillian Anable is now available online. In this paper we critique the — at least in transport studies — prevailing cognitive-psychological conception of habits as the automatically cued, repetitive behaviour of individuals acquired through positive reinforcement over time. We elaborate an alternative perspective that is based on the thinking of Aristotle and especially the philosophies of Félix Ravaisson and John Dewey. Here habit is understood as a generative and propulsive capacity or force that does not simply belong to the individual but to assemblages of body, mind and world. Habit is thus more embodied than psychological thinking tends to recognise; it is very much about bodily techniques, skills and competencies. But one should not simply privilege body over mind and instead try to keep both in balance — hence the explicit inclusion of both in Couze Venn’s (2010) notion of body-mind-world assemblage. Habit is also distributed across body/mind and all kinds of elements, or actants in the language of actor-network theory, and in a way non-individual.

In the paper we also explore what this conceptualisation means for transport policy and governance in light of the need to make this sector more sustainable. We emphasise the importance of embedding the behaviour change agenda in transport in attempts at more systemic transitions in transport systems, of not understanding habit change simply in terms of displacing unreflective behaviour by reasoned action, and of developing/instilling habits deemed desirable in people from a young age onwards — a life-course perspective on habit formation and change is critical, we argue, to the behaviour change agenda. Finally, we stress the importance of working with, and capitalising on, the potential for subtle and gradual change that is immanent to existing habits in certain circumstance — in particular in situations where there is no realistic alternative for carbon-intensive modes of transport.

At the moment I am working on a follow-up to this paper, which will be submitted for a special issue on ‘energy and transport’ edited by John Urry and David Tyfield. I will write more on this new paper with evolving thoughts on the subject of habit change shortly. In the meantime readers interested in social theory perspectives in habit may also want to read  the work on ‘practice theory’ as elaborated by Elizabeth Shove and colleagues and the recent writings of David Bissell.

 

Foucault and Mobilities II

This is just a short note to announce that we — Katharina Manderscheid, David Tyfield and myself — have received an overwhelming response to the call for papers on Foucauldian mobilities research, which I posted in my previous message. Many more abstracts than we can accommodate have been submitted, and we have selected a number of submissions for the planned two-day symposium on the basis of fit with other presentations and the parts of Foucault’s oeuvre that the papers sought to engage with. We are very sorry for not being able to accommodate all the submitted abstracts and everybody for their interest in participating. It is clear that Foucauldian mobilities research is a rapidly expanding and vibrant constituent of both the wider mobilities paradigm in the social sciences and Foucauldian scholarship in human geography, sociology and beyond.

At the moment I am working on a paper for the upcoming RGS/IBG conference in which I explore the usefulness of Thomas Schatzki’s recent book The Timespace of Human Activity. But I will write more on this in one of my next posts.