Public Transport as Public Space in European Cities: Narrating, Experiencing, Contesting​

Public transport research remains dominated by economistic and technocratic readings and remains peripheral in the humanities literature. Yet, public transport embraces intense and intimate sites for encountering cultural diversity, facilitating social integration and negotiating public space. In this project, ‘Public Transport as Public Space in European Cities: Narrating, Experiencing, Contesting’ (PUTSPACE), we aim to humanise transport research by studying diverse narratives, experiences and contestations of public transport, as they have been unfolding in cities across Europe since the late nineteenth century. The project places public transport at the frontline of contesting what is, can be, or should be public in the city.

PUTSPACE examines public transport as one type of public space, challenging existing definitions of public space. The project will explore how public transport confronts citizens with social diversity, speaks of different types of ownership, surveillance, subversion, interaction and transformation of social norms. We articulate this conceptualisation through four objectives:

  1. to critically conceptualise and analyse what kind of public space public transport is;
  2. to understand urban transformations of public space in European cities – leading to increased social diversity and polarisation, liberalisation, privatisation and securitisation – by attending to public transport as particularly intense and contentious set of public spaces;
  3. to offer a located and historicised perspective on the transformation of public space by examining narratives, experiences and contestations connected with public transport in different European cities; and
  4. to contribute to public transport-related research, as well as to intervene in civic mobilising, planning and policy via a humanities-led analysis and conceptualisation of public transport.

The project brings researchers from across Europe together with transport practitioners, enthusiasts, civil activists and curators, benefiting from a strong involvement of Associated Partners. In so doing, the project aims to have an impact that is both academic and societal, humanising public transport research and practice.


The project “Public transport as public space in European cities: Narrating, experiencing, contesting (PUTSPACE)” is financially supported by the HERA Joint Research Programme (www.heranet.info) which is co-funded by AKA, BMBF via DLRPT, ETAg, and the European Commission through Horizon 2020. Humanities in the European Research Area (HERA) is a network of 26 national funding agencies committed to leading and developing funding opportunities for humanities researchers in Europe. This project has received funding from the  European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, the Seventh Framework Programme for research, technological development and demonstration and the Sixth Framework Programme for research and technological development. It is funded under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme grant agreement No 649307”.