Politics of non-knowing: an update

I spent over a year interviewing activists, policy-makers and innovators involved in collecting data on cycling in the context of smart cities. I have spoken to 80 people in four cities and I am now writing up papers on this research. While there is much to say about what is going on with transformation of cycling and cycling governance with the introduction of new technology, I decide to focus my first paper on an as of yet missing perspective in the smart cities debate.

Many scholars have spoken about politics of knowledge in smart cities – how knowledge that is mobilised for decision-making is exclusive, technocratic and comes with a host of assumptions about cities and their residents. My extensive international fieldwork and data analysis have inspired me to introduce a new concept and a new angle to the debate – politics of non-knowing. Politics of non-knowing is the result of the social construction of a lack of knowledge about something. In other words, it is about how various stakeholders define something as “not yet known” or even “unknowable” and what consequences these definitions have. A very obvious example is climate change. For years mainstream media, politicians and many other powerful stakeholders justified inaction through appealing to uncertainty: “we don’t really know for sure”/”we can’t know” etc. As it clear from this example, appeals to non-knowing can have major consequences as some issues get ignored and others get attention.  In my data I found countless examples and varieties of “non-knowing” and its effects. The idea of the politics of non-knowing as such is not new, I’m drawing on a number of works in defining it, e.g. Beck and Wehling,  but it’s introduction to the debate on smart cities is an original contribution and is supported by data from four cities.

I presented this paper at the expert symposium Beyond Smart Cities Today in Rotterdam on 18 September, 2019, and it gathered considerable interest, including a reaction from prof. Rob Kitchin (Maynooth University) calling it one of the key takeways from the symposium in the closing commentary.

The paper will be available soon. I’m looking forward to sharing it and  I’ll use this website to spread the word as usual.

Commoning mobility: a dialogue

Since the beginning of working on the concept of commoning mobility, I wanted to discuss it not only with fellow scholars but also with urban planners: does the concept resonate with them? At some point Jan Duffhues, a city official from the city of Amsterdam, read my work and asked if we could discuss it. We did, and we thought this exchange could be of interest to others, so we wrote a short paper together in the form of dialogue. We will present it on 26 September at the conference The Great Transformation: On the Future of Modern Societies at Friedrich Schiller University Jena. You can download the paper here

Commoning Mobility. Public Debate at Pakhuis de Zwijger

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During the Cities & Mobilities Seminar Series more than 100 scholars, students, experts from public and private sector, artists and activists met each other and exchanged thoughts on how mobilities shape cities. We spoke about bikes and buses, tourism and AirBnB, homelessness and accessibility, transitions to sustainable mobility, borders, suburbia, public space, liveability, street markets…

It is time to bring some of the insights and questions from our discussion to the public and talk about Amsterdam – a crossroads of transnational and daily mobilities, a destination and a departure point, a city made and remade through mobility day by day.

So on November 14 at 20:00 we meet at Pakhuis de Zwijger to have an open discussion about the ways we talk about mobility, the ways we practice it and plan for it. Can we start commoning mobility?

Speakers: Marco te Brömmelstroet, UvA (aka @fietsprofessor), Thalia Verkade (De Correspondent), Jan Duffhues (City of Amsterdam), Zeeger Ernsting (City Council of Amsterdam), Bart Stuart (Buro Spelen), Ananda Groag (ShareNL), Anna Nikolaeva, UvA/UU. Moderated by Luca Bertolini (UvA), made possible by the Centre of Urban Studies at the University of Amsterdam.

The programme, some resources and signing up:  Pakhuis de Zwijger page.

 

 

 

 

Looking back at seminar # 7 Mobility Justice with Mimi Sheller

The 7th Cities & Mobilities seminar on 20 April focused on mobility justice. Hanna Murray-Carlsson presented the results of her master thesis on mobilities of visually impaired people. The key question of her study was “what creates satisfying mobility?”. Her account of mobilities of visually impaired people exposed the importance of mobility for her respondents as it relates to sense of freedom, independence and affords particular socialities. In the discussion we have talked about the experiences of freedom and constraint in moving around the city that other people may experience, visible and invisible disabilities and ways that people adapt to their social and spatial environments on the move. Martin Šimon presented the results of his study of mobility of homeless people using a mixed method approach – a combination of interviews and GPS tracking. His presentation revealed the complex patterns of mobility of homeless people, their reliance on particular spaces of mobility for the purposes of both dwelling and moving (public transport) and their “invisibility” for transport professionals viewing public “as customers” rather than “as citizens”.

Mimi Sheller presented some key thoughts from her forthcoming book Mobility Justice: The Politics of Movement in the Age of Extremes (Verso, 2018). Building on the thesis that mobilities are constitutive of social relations (or a “mobile ontology”, according to Sheller), she defined mobility justice as a lens that allows to focus on “how power and inequality inform the governance and control of movement, the shaping of patterns of unequal mobility and immobility in the circulation of people, resources, data, information”. She provided two examples of movements for mobility justice from the North American context, Slow Roll and Untokening that converged around aspirations that transcend accessibility connect with broader agendas of racial justice, inclusion, safety, health and social connectedness. Such “shared movements for mobility justice”, according to Sheller represent processes of mobilising mobile commons understood as “access to the cooperative social territories and shared infrastructures of movement (both material and immaterial) which have been produced by human relation to others (both human and more-than-human) through common passage, translation and co-usage over time).” Seeking mobility justice and activating mobile commons is, according to Sheller, crucial to our common future.

See the full lecture here

Looking back at seminar # 6 Staging and Designing Mobility with Ole B. Jensen

On 16 March 2018 the sixth edition of seminar series Cities & Mobilities focused on mobility and design.

The first presentation by George Liu (Technical University Eindhoven) revolved around the methodological question: how can be best understand cycling experience and are virtual reality simulators or 360 degrees videos suitable tools for that. The discussion afterwards revolved around the question posed by the guest speaker Ole B. Jensen: understanding mobility experience means engaging with the way we relate to the world – which transcends the visual and the cognitive dimensions. That was the question that stayed with us for the whole afternoon: how do people experience mobility and how can we measure the dimensions of that experience. We discussed how methods of understanding mobility such as virtual reality simulator can shape that understanding by virtue of eliminating or downplaying certain elements or senses and emphasizing others, as well as limiting elements of the landscape to specific functions while any object may be used in a variety of ways.

Michael O’Regan presented his exploration of the notion of friction and frictionlessness, in particular in the vision of future mobility where the absence of friction is often presented as the greatest good. In the discussion of the subject we focused on what friction may mean as a positive and a negative experience in daily mobilities. Do we want frictionless movement at all costs? In which case is friction unevenly distributed and when is friction a choice or a burden? Marco te Brömmelstroet asked a broader question about the meaning of metaphors that we use to describe mobilities and made a link between the current language of transportation planning and the advent of the automobile as a prioritized mode.

Ole B. Jensen’s lecture revolved around theoretical underpinnings of connecting mobilities research and the field of design, pointing towards the new questions and possibilities that research in “mobilities design” may bring. In the discussion afterwards mobilities design practitioners and academics recalled specific examples of collaborations between academic researchers and planners. Such encounters enabled reframing problems and changing planning processes, moving from the opening “what if…” questions to the more grounded and “what now?”. Luca Bertolini connected this discussion of experimental approach to mobilities design with the earlier discussion of virtual reality simulation as a method which affords playing with variables of the environment; he asked how we can make it possible in the real world to experiment, to play, to tinker with the built environment, instead of trying to re-recreate the world in VR?

The discussion then again came back to the experience of mobility, the emotions, the senses, all the elements that make the “mobile situation” what it is and most probably contribute to our choices and practices. Such dimensions are not currently present in traffic models which marginalizes them, on the one hand. On the other, the question arose whether they should be put in some sort of model at all?

You can see the full Ole B. Jensen’s lecture here

Cities and Mobilities Seminar Series #7 Mobility Justice with Mimi Sheller

When: 13.45 -17.00, 20 April, 2018

 Where: Roeterseiland campus, bldg M room 1.01

The aim of this seminar series is to develop a conversation on how mobilities shape cities as well as to foster exchange and collaboration between scholars from different disciplines and practitioners working on urban mobilities at UvA and beyond.

In the seventh seminar, we’ll focus on politics of mobility and mobility justice, discussing mobile practices of specific ‘vulnerable’ groups and engaging with a broader theoretical framework of understanding mobility and justice, presented by Mimi Sheller.

Guest speaker Mimi Sheller (Drexel University, the US) will give a talk:

 Mobility Justice: Cities, Infrastructure, and Kinopolitics

Based on my forthcoming book Mobility Justice (Verso, 2018), this talk will present three core concepts. First, the idea that cities and mobilities are inextricably linked, each producing the other. Second, the idea that there is a kinopolitics of infrastructure – that is, a political struggle over the infrastructural shaping of (im)mobilities, or the ways in which infrastructures mobilize and demobilize. And third, I will conclude with the idea of the mobile commons as a political movement for mobility justice. I will argue that dynamic constellations of urban mobility and communication exhibit uneven topologies, turbulence, disruptions, differential speeds, and frictions, which at the same time offer handles, channels, and frequencies for interruption “from below” or glitches from within. Through kinopolitical struggles over “infrastructuring” the excluded majority create fissures and new possibilities for connection, which potentially may have important effects on urban space, on scalar relations, and on the governance and control of mobility regimes. Building on the work of Anna Nikolaeva and others, the mobile commons refers to access to the cooperative social territories and shared infrastructures of movement (both material and immaterial) – i.e., the pathways, ways, and means of moving, sharing, and communicating, which have been cooperatively produced by human relation to others, both human and more-than-human, through common passage, translation, and co-usage over time. The commons, in other words, is not land or resources as such, but is an action and a verb – a movement to make life in common, a commoning. Ultimately I seek to show how shared mobility commons suggest forms of autonomous social cooperation outside of capitalism, and beyond or beneath the limits of national borders, existing as an undercommons in the interstices of planetary urbanization.

Mimi Sheller

Mimi Sheller, AB Harvard University (1988), MA (1993) and PhD (1997) New School for Social Research, is a professor of sociology and founding Director of the Center for Mobilities Research and Policy at Drexel University. She is the current President of the International Association for the History of Transport, Traffic and Mobility (2014-2017), and co-editor of the journal Mobilities, which she co-founded in 2006. She is author and co-editor of nine books, including most recently the monographs “Aluminum Dreams: The Making of Light Modernity” (MIT Press, 2014) and “Citizenship from Below” (Duke University Press, 2012); and the co-edited volumes “The Routledge Handbook of Mobilities” (2013) and “Mobility and Locative Media” (2014). As founding co-editor of the journal Mobilities, Associate Editor of Transfers: Interdisciplinary Journal of Mobility Studies, co-editor of “Mobile Technologies of the City” (2006) and “Tourism Mobilities” (2004), and author of several highly cited articles, she helped established the new interdisciplinary field of mobilities research (source: Drexel University)

 Programme

13.45 – 13.50    Opening by Anna Nikolaeva (CUS, organizer of the seminar series)

13.50 – 15.10    Presentations

Hanna Murray-Carlsson, Radboud University Nijmegen

 ‘The city center might be technically accessible, without being accessible to me’: A Relational Time-Geographic study of the mobility of visually impaired people

Martin Šimon, Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic

Homeless mobility seen through GPS tracking data: what can we learn from less cool urban nomads?

15.10-15.30     Coffee break

15.30-17.00     Mobility Justice: Cities, Infrastructure, and Kinopolitics by Mimi Sheller

Comments and discussion

 Discussant: Tina Harris, Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology  (CUS/UvA)

17.00               Drinks

Seminar is free and open to anyone. Please let us know if you are coming by sending an e-mail to urbanstudies@uva.nl

 

Abstracts of presentations:

The city center might be technically accessible, without being accessible to me’: A Relational Time-Geographic study of the mobility of visually impaired people

Hanna Murray-CarlssonRadboud University Nijmegen

In societies where mobility is a prerequisite for participation in society, the low mobility of  visually impaired people is a pressing issue. Quantitative data concerning the mobility of this group as well as data on how visually impaired persons experience mobility already exists. However, qualitative and quantitative insights have not been brought together into a model of how visually impaired peoples’ mobility experiences result in mobility patterns. Furthermore, though we know much about quality of mobility experiences, there is less information about what constitutes a satisfying pattern of mobility. The aim of this study was therefore to explain how mobility experiences result in mobility patterns, and to describe the qualitative and quantitative components of a good quality of mobility for people with a visual impairment.

The weekly mobility patterns of 14 visually impaired adults living in the town Västerås, Sweden were mapped and discussed with the participants .To bring together the qualitative and quantitative aspects of mobility in the analysis, the study takes a novel approach to time geography. In addition to emotions (McQouid and Dijst, 2012) I bring embodiment to time geography and understand all time-space constraints as being interpreted and negotiated by the individual in relation to the social and physical environment. This allows for a view of impairment as “neither simply subjective, nor medical, nor a part of the built environment, but a state of perpetual being that is relational, contingent, material and temporal” (Sawchuk 2014, 447). Such a relational approach goes beyond the dualistic debates on disability/impairment and highlights how the body as well as the physical environment and social structures shape opportunities for mobility.

Homeless mobility seen through GPS tracking data: what can we learn from less cool urban nomads? 

Martin Šimon, Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic

Abstract: The aim of this presentation is to examine spatially explicit mobility of homeless persons in urban areas. To our knowledge, there has not been any thorough attempt to explore spatial behaviour of homeless people with GPS location devices. The research uses mixed methods approach: it combines GPS tracking method with mobility interviews. The explicit spatial mobility of homeless men and women is measured by GPS location device. The GPS data are further contextualised by the interviews with homeless people (n= 80) about their daily mobility. Groundwork for interviews are printed maps of participants´ spatial mobility for each day (n=598). The study offers a novel understanding of links between use of space and mobility behaviour of homeless people, which can inform current welfare policies related to the poor. Technology enabled insight into daily life of homeless people can influence the way we approach homelessness, but it also can challenge the terminology and tools we use for our understanding of mobility. Do our tools (developed for homed populations with mobilities driven by work and by leisure) hold well also for vulnerable and elusive population of homeless?

 

Looking back at seminar # 5 Mobility, Cycling and Equity with Rachel Aldred

written by George Liu and Anna Nikolaeva

On 23 February 2018 the seminar series Cities & Mobilities featured the talk by Rachel Aldred from University of Westminster on “Mobility, Equity and Cycling”. You can see the full lecture on the website of the Centre for Urban Studies.

Cycling was the theme of the presentations for the day, covering topics from bicycle streets and learning how to cycle to cycling equity. The discussion touched upon more general problems of cities, where the spatial distribution of public space and public safety, for example, represent broader issues that relate to cycling, mobility, and the city. We concluded that our conversation should always relate to better cities for everyone could be built. If you want people to get out of the car or not to get into it in the first place, what kind of social and spatial environment would help them make that choice? If cycling is the mode which makes you interact with your social and spatial environment most, what kind of environment you would want to be exposed to? How does safe, inviting, pleasant environment looks for women and men, kids and elderly etc etc?

The first presentation by Matthew Bruno focused on how participatory governance processes can undermine innovations designed for specific users. Bruno uses a bicycle street in Eindhoven to illustrate how public participation resulted in the deployment of a practice-based innovation, the bicycle street, for a context in which it was not originally designed for. The idea of the first bicycle street was to use existing low volume, low speed streets to fill gaps in the cycle networks at minimum cost using paint, signs, and minimal traffic calming. However, the Eindhoven example of the “Kruisstraat” is an example of where a bicycle street was implemented despite high car traffic volumes, leading to stressful and potentially dangerous situations for people riding bicycles. Despite the flaws in the design of the new bicycle street, it is still better than the former situation. Roland Kager made an acute observation that much bicycle traffic actually goes to and from train stations, and the bicycle street is one innovation that can be implemented to facilitate people commuting using the bicycle train combination.

The second presentation by Samuel Nello-Deakin asks, “can we go beyond internet GIFs illustrating the distribution of road space between various road users? Is there something useful we can do with this information?” Nello-Deakin suggests cross-city comparisons may give us relative benchmarking of how different cities distribute their space in relation to mode share. However, the very idea of space ownership is contentious. Using Bruno’s example of the bicycle street, we can ask if that is car space or bicycle space. This distinction is clearly not binary, and the use of streets in cities change across time. If we cannot agree on what space belongs to whom, then we wonder if quantifying space actually provides a valuable contribution to understanding justice in the city. A thought-provoking session by Nello-Deakin indeed.

The third and final speaker for the first half of our event was Angela van der Kloof who talked about how cycling knowledge in the Netherlands is passed on from parents to children and in schools. She illustrates her case brilliantly using the bicycle child seat as an example. If a parent doesn’t know how to use child seats, then they don’t cycle with child, which means their children is then missing the experience of riding on a bicycle with their parents. We could use intervention to encourage parents to cycle with their children. How about information or try-out session for child seats? Information in multiple languages? Having role models and ambassadors for child seats? The meaning of this parent-child activity is popular yet not given reflection among the Dutch. Marco te Brömmelstroet warns that research asking people to reflect on meaning may break down the taken-for-granted meaning of parent-child cycling.

Finally, Rachel Aldred ties together all the presentations by offering a general overview of cycling from a British perspective. She shows that the promise and tragedy of cycling, especially in countries with lower levels of cycling is that people with the most to gain are losing out (i.e. other than able-bodied, risk-taking young men). To challenge the automobile as a symbolically and physically powerful object, our conversation must target groups and not individuals. We should think along the lines of, “what type of environment do women (or other groups) need to feel safe cycling”? A painted bicycle lane along a highway may be good enough for risk-taking male cyclists, but almost certainly exceeds the risk tolerance of a mother cycling with her child.

Hugo van der Steenhoven commented that in the Netherlands, children has to learn to cycle at a young age. He notes that cycling is a system. You have to learn to deal with traffic. You have to own a bicycle. You need someone to fix bicycle. People say “everyone cycles” in NL but it is not reality. Surveys show that some groups living in particular places clearly cycle more than others.

In the end, we all agreed that improving cycling is not just a transport issue. When we improve cycling, the goal should be to at the same time improve the experience of public space itself. Equality, dignity, empowerment, and freedom are all characteristics that the city can offer to its inhabitants. So too can the bicycle.

Here you can watch Rachel Aldred’s talk (scroll down for Seminar №5) as well as recordings of other lectures from the series.