Beyond transportation’s colonial legacy: the case of expert knowledges

Authors: Tim Schwanen*, University of Oxford
Topics: Transportation Geography
Keywords: transport, mobilities, coloniality, expert knowledge
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/10/2018
Start / End Time: 4:40 PM / 6:20 PM
Room: Studio 8, Marriott, 2nd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Through the creation of rail, road and port infrastructures, transportation planning by Western colonial powers has left a lasting imprint on the landscapes and economies of numerous countries across the world. Yet, this is not the only way in which (past) colonialism continues to shape contemporary mobilities of people and goods and transportation planning across Africa, Latin America and large parts of Asia. A second, less visible manner relates to the hegemonic expert knowledges that inform transportation planning across the global South. Often these knowledges are understood as universal and independent from time and place notwithstanding their deep roots in Euro-American thought and methodological practices. This is even true of much knowledge underpinning policy interventions touted as coming from the global South, such as Bus Rapid Transit. The hegemony of those expert knowledges means that transportation policy interventions informed by them can have unintended and problematic effects, for instance for vulnerable population groups in cities and rural areas in Africa, Latin America and Asia. This paper, therefore, draws on post- and decolonial thinking, and in particular the writings of Sylvia Wynter, to help to provincialise and decolonise prevailing expert knowledges about transportation systems and mobility practices. Departing from Wynter’s ideas on genres of the human, it will first rethink now globalised conceptions of transportation choices and behaviours and then begin to explore the implications of those redeveloped conceptions for the understanding of cycling activism and for the governing of informal modes of urban transport provision.

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