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.

Call for Papers: Foucault and Mobilities

Together with Katharina Manderscheid and David Tyfield I am organising a two-day symposium on Foucauldian thought and mobilities research and we are currently solliciting abstracts (until 10th June). Here’s the call for papers — Do get in touch if you would like to participate!

Call for Papers : Foucault and Mobilities Research

A Two-Day Symposium, 6th and 7th of January 2013, Lucerne, Switzerland

The publication in English and in German of Michel Foucault’s lectures at the Collège de France in the years 1970-1984 has been a key driver of the recent renaissance of research inspired by his work across the social sciences. As part of this, sociologists, geographers and others in the academic world have begun to draw on and work with a wider range of Foucauldian concepts than in earlier studies. Foucault’s thinking on power/knowledge, panopticism, discourse, the role of the sciences, and so on still resonates strongly across the social sciences but it is the topics that he lectured on at the Collège that arguably attract the bulk of attention: a surge of interest has occurred among social scientists in his writings on apparatuses/dispositifs, governmentality, self-government and ethics to name but a few concepts. The translation of the lectures into German and English has also brought to the fore a greater focus on the liveliness of the world, the non-discursive realm, materiality and resistance than Foucault is usually credited for. In fact, and as Philo (2012) has noted, the lectures show more than his published books that Foucault was closer to Deleuze than is often assumed.

Foucault’s work has been employed and embraced enthusiastically by ‘mobilities’ scholars (e.g. Adey, 2009; A. Jensen, 2011; Merriman, 2007; Paterson, 2008, Richardson and Jensen, 2008; Schwanen et al, 2011; Manderscheid, 2012). It can nonetheless be argued that mobilities researchers have not yet fully explored or exhausted the potential of Foucault’s philosophy for understanding mobilities. Against this background we seek to bring together scholars from across the social sciences with a shared interest in both mobilities and Foucauldian thinking. Mobilities are here understood broadly as the flows (or lack thereof) of people, artefacts, money, ideas, practices, and so on across a wide variety of spatial and temporal scales, both in contemporary societies or in the past. More specifically, we are soliciting conceptual and/or empirical papers that address one or several of the following topics or a related theme:

• The governmentalities that shape mobilities

• The government of im/mobile others and selves

• Mobility dispositifs

• Mobile subjectivities

• Formation and contestation of material landscapes of mobilities

• Ethics of mobility and mobile ethics

• Discourses surrounding and underpinning mobilities

• Mobilities as an object of knowledge

• The ‘disciplining’ of mobilities

• Techniques of im/mobility and im/mobile techniques

• Conceptualisation of mobilities in regards to biopolitics and territory

The two-day symposium aims at connecting scholars from different disciplines with an interest in this range of topics. If you are interested in participating in this event with a paper, we ask that you prepare an abstract of no more than 250 words and send this to one of the organisers no later than 10th June 2012.

Katharina Manderscheid, Lucerne University, Tim Schwanen, University of Oxford, and David Tyfield, Lancaster University.