Transport, mobility and critical urban studies

Session at RC21 Antwerp “Sensing the city”, 6–8 July 2020


Wojciech Kębłowski (Cosmopolis, Vrije Universiteit Brussel/Université Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium), wojciech.keblowski@vub.be 

Tauri Tuvikene (Tallinn University, Estonia), tauri.tuvikene@tlu.ee 

Silja Laine (University of Turku, Finland), silaine@utu.fi 

Contemporary cities are increasingly structured by how (im)mobility is experienced, narrated and contested. And yet, urban studies—particularly those building on critical roots of urban research—remain relatively disengaged from exploring transport and mobility. Transport policy/politics are much less discussed than, for instance, housing policy/politics, across leading urban studies journals such as IJURR (ten times less papers on transport than housing), Antipode (eight times less), Urban Geography and Urban Studies (four times less).

Therefore, in this session we invite novel contributions to building a stronger theoretical and empirical relationship between (critical) urban studies and transport studies. We rely on existing research that demonstrates how various transport policies may be developed as tools of uneven, “splintered” spatial development (Graham and Marvin, 2001), divisive top-down metropolitan politics and urban regimes (Enright, 2016), transport-induced gentrification (Deka, 2017), and are hence often mediated and resisted by bottom-up movements, unions and citizen initiatives.

Incorporating transport and mobility to critical urban research involves a variety of epistemological and methodological approaches. On the one hand, engaging critical explorations of urban mobility may follow the path of exploring urban political economy of transport, focusing on power relations, regulatory frameworks and regimes shaping particular transport policies and practices. Moreover, it involves exploring the question of social and spatial justice in relation to transport and mobility (Martens, 2017; Sheller, 2018). On the other hand, however, ways of moving are also related to different forms of sensing cities, with methods and insights from mobilities studies having currency for critical urban studies research (Bissell, 2018; Sheller and Urry, 2006). Driving, taking public transport, cycling or walking all have different sensorial experiences and are embedded variously in values of mobility experiences. Sweating in a hot metro car or clinging to a pole on a bumpy bus ride give these modes of transport a different value position from that experienced when using a cocooned and air-conditioned private car. Sensing the city, negotiating paths in the city by cycling or walking not just elate but also frustrate and anger, generating political affects. Cities and mobilities are also narrated differently from diverse political angles, generating incongruent sensorial and affective geographies of urban development and experience. Trams and metros are often used by transport planners and politicians to further a particular—”modern”, “European”, historically-minded or future-oriented—urban experience. Consequently, questions about the right to mobility as well as transport and mobility justice are yet to be properly embedded within urban studies taking into account the diverse epistemologies and ontologies of this field.  

Thus, we look for papers that in different ways bring together questions of movement and how such (im)mobilities relate to questions of urban redevelopment, justice, urban and mobility commons, public space and public sphere, unequal geographies, and forms of marginalisation. We are further concerned with how “sustainable” and “liveable” cities are generating inequalities despite their supposed contribution to more environmentally just societies. We invite research discussing alternative narratives of urban living from conceptually and geographically diverse perspectives by attending to questions of transport. Transport plays too central a role in city life to be left to transport engineers and planners alone. 

We look for empirically and/or conceptually oriented papers dealing with the following topics (but not necessarily limited to these) from geographical, historical, anthropological, activist, literary urban studies, artistic and/or other perspectives:

  • Political economy of urban transport
  • Everyday geographies of public transport
  • Urban and metropolitan transport regimes
  • Transport-related poverty, inequalities and (in)justice
  • Policy mobility of urban transport policies and practices
  • Urban boosterism and city branding related to development of transport infrastructure and policy (e.g. metro development, cycling, pedestrianisation)
  • Digitalisation, platform economies and unequal geographies of cities
  • Affective dimensions of transport planning
  • Right to the city and justice movements working on questions of transport
  • (Artistic) interventions to urban transport geographies
  • Urban histories and utopian transport thinking
  • Postcolonial/decolonial perspectives to urban transport geographies
  • Various forms of (re)presentation of unequal and (un)just geographies of mobilities

Please note that ALL abstracts for papers need to be submitted through the conference website via the following weblink: https://www.uantwerpen.be/en/conferences/rc21-sensing-the-city/call-for-papers/submit-your-abstract/ (deadline 15 March 2020). The session is listed as no. 53. Abstracts which were not submitted through the website cannot be selected for presentation at the conference. But please do send additionally a copy of the abstract to session convenors (wojciech.keblowski@vub.be, tauri.tuvikene@tlu.ee, silaine@utu.fi).


Bissell, D. (2018). Transit Life: How Commuting Is Transforming Our Cities. The MIT Press.

Deka, D. (2017). Benchmarking gentrification near commuter rail stations in New Jersey. Urban Studies, 54(13), 2955–2972.

Enright, T. (2016). The Making of Grand Paris: Metropolitan Urbanism in the Twenty-First Century. The MIT Press.

Graham, S., Marvin, S. (2001). Splintering Urbanism: Networked Infrastructures, Technological Mobilities and the Urban Condition. Routledge.

Martens, K. (2017). Transport Justice: Designing Fair Transportation Systems. Routledge.

Sheller, M. (2018). Mobility Justice: The Politics of Movement in an Age of Extremes. Verso.

Sheller, M., Urry, J., (2006). The new mobilities paradigm. Environment and Planning A, 38 (2), 207–226. 

The session stems from the project “Public transport as public space in European cities: Narrating, experiencing, contesting (PUTSPACE)”, which 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. More about the project here: http://putspace.eu/