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Indian Automobility and Auto-Space in Urban India: Whose Road is it Anyway?

Event Type
Department of Geography & GIS
Lecture Hall 2079 Natural History Buildubg
Dec 3, 2021   3:00 - 4:00 pm  
Tarini Bedi, Anthropology, University of Illinois at Chicago
This event is free and open to public
Department of Geography & GIS
Originating Calendar
Geography and Geographic Information Science

This talk provides some perspective on what I call Indian automobility. Most understandings of automobility remain tied to Western assumptions, patterns of driving, (sub) urbanization, and engagements with the road. However, given expanding automobilization in the global South, I reflect here on automobility and roads from a place and working- class, labor force of drivers who have long been embedded in this expansion—taxi drivers. Most discussions over driving and automobiles tie the proliferation of automobility to the rise of the middle class, consumption, and to the production of middle class subjectivity. Global automobile companies are aggressively trying to capture new consumers and their aspirations for (auto) mobility in countries like India and China at the same time that much of the Western world is experimenting with alternative forms of mobility.


While questions of automobility and class consumption are no doubt, important, in India, a very large number of those who drive and use the roads are people (overwhelmingly men), who drive as a form of labor and work—drivers who drive other people and things around on what emerges as something that might be called a road. Rather than simply accept that automobility in India produces worlds and spatial politics that mirror those where the automobile was invented, instead I try to understand these worlds through the conflicting demands of what I call “rights to the road” in Mumbai.  I look at this Indian automobility and the auto-spatial politics that it produces through the lens of the 20th and 21st century taxi trade in Bombay/Mumbai. I attune to the Bombay taxi as a vehicle in all its forms -- a thing driven, an economic and political connection, a way of understanding the urban state, a lever of politics, and finally and most importantly a contest over rights to the urban road.

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