RGS-IBG 2017 CfP: Systems of (auto)mobility: Continuities, disruptions and futures

Paper session at the RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2017, London,
29 August – 1 September, 2017

Systems of (auto)mobility: Continuities, disruptions and futures

Convenors: Brendan Doody (University of Cambridge) and Debbie Hopkins (University of Oxford)

It has been over a decade since John Urry’s (2004) influential paper ‘The ‘system’ of automobility’ was published. In it he sought to account for the expansion and continuing ascendancy of the car and the ‘specific character of domination’ it entails (p. 27). Having explored the ‘awesome’ social, cultural and environmental consequences of the car he concludes by considering a number of ‘technical-economic, social and policy transformations that in their dynamic interdependence might tip mobility into a new [post-car] system’ (Urry, 2004, p. 33). For Urry, new fuel systems (e.g., batteries; hybrid; hydrogen fuel cells), new materials, smart vehicles, digitization, de-privatizing of vehicles (e.g., car clubs; car-hire schemes), new transport policies and new living, work and leisure practices would potentially become central elements of this new ‘vehicle system’.

In the intervening years since its publication, a number of the emergent elements identified by Urry have become evident. This has prompted a number of scholars to claim that the post-car system is on the horizon in the global North due to processes such as ‘peak car, rail renaissance, cycling boom, the rise of mobile information and communication technologies, and broader lifestyle and cultural changes’ (Cohen, 2012; Metz, 2015; Newman and Kenworthy, 2011; Schwanen, 2016, p. 155).

As Schwanen (2016, p. 155) and others (Wells and Niewenhuis, 2012) have observed such analyses are far by no means unproblematic and tend to fail to sufficiently account for the ‘capacity of automobility to endure’. The alarming growth rate of car ownership in the global South (especially China and India); the ability of car manufactures to delay more radical forms of change (i.e., electric propulsion; fuel cells); incumbent automobile manufacturers and car hiring companies such BMW, Dailmer-Benz, Hertz and Enterprise acquiring, merging and/or developing car-sharing schemes/car clubs; and the growing interest and momentum around autonomous vehicles are just a few examples.

Building on the late John Urry’s legacy, we are interested in critical approaches that explore dominant and emerging systems of (auto)mobility:

  1. How might we understand the continued centrality of the car in the Global North and the substantial growth in car ownership and use in the Global South?
  2. To what extent might new vehicles (electric, hybrid, self-driving, autonomous), materials (light-weight; super-strength) and technologies (automatic cruise-control; lane departure warning; radar; lidar) reproduce or disrupt existing car-dependent cultures?
  3. To what extent are emerging technical-economic, political and social transformations (smart technologies; automation; car-sharing and clubs; on-demand services; (re)-emergence of cycling) challenging, reaffirming or reconstituting (auto)mobile materialities, politics, cultures and identities?

We welcome papers dealing with issues related (but not limited) to:

–        New ways of conceptualising systems of automobility in the global North and global South;

–        Empirical studies of (auto)mobile materialities, politics, cultures and identities in the global North and global South;

–        Empirical studies of virtual, public and non-motorized (e.g., cycling and walking) mobility practices and their associated materialities, politics, cultures and identities in the Global North and Global South;

–        Changing mode(l)s of (auto)mobile access and ownership, together with their (cultural/economic/political/environmental) implications;

–        How these mode(l)s are being operationalised and negotiated in everyday life (e.g., time; space (domestic/commercial); digitally; energy, clothes);

–        Their potential to reproduce, blur, challenge and disrupt existing imaginaries, practices and cultures of (auto)mobility;

Applicants should submit an abstract (~200 words), including a preliminary title, to Brendan Doody (bjd47@cam.ac.uk) and Debbie Hopkins (debbie.hopkins@ouce.ox.ac.uk) no later than Friday 10th February 2017. The convenors will notify all authors of whether their paper can be accommodated in the session by Tuesday 14th February. Final confirmation of the session will be provided by the RGS-IBG conference organisers following the deadline for session proposals on 17th February 2017.

RGS-IBG 2017 CfP: Decolonising urban transport studies

Session title: Decolonising urban transport studies

Convenors: Wojciech Kębłowski (Université libre de Bruxelles, Vrije Universiteit Brussel), Tauri Tuvikene (Tallinn University) and Astrid Wood (Newcastle University)

Session outline

In line with the underlining call of the conference to decolonise geographical knowledge, this TGRG sponsored session ventures into studies of urban passenger transport and mobility aiming to ‘open them up’ to the critical perspectives developed and developing in the world of urban studies writ large. We aim to delve into this challenge in three parts. 

First, following the ‘usual’ understanding of decolonisation, the session welcomes research that begins with an explicit focus on the more unusual suspects of urban policies and practices. We therefore welcome papers that work on the questions of movement in ‘ordinary cities’ of both North, South, and post-socialism as well as different dimensions of ‘ordinariness’. This also raises questions of policy mobility, in particular when emerging between cities seldom celebrated as outposts of ‘cutting-edge’ policy models, along paths less travelled by transport ‘fixes’ and ‘fads,’ and ‘recipes.’

Second, the session seeks to decolonise urban transport studies from dominant technical framings that, on the one hand, perceive movement as a question of of utility, efficiency or economic growth that are supposedly achieved through ‘rational’ planning and decision-making, and, on the other, a matter of sustainable development to be advanced through primarily technological and behavioural innovations. We thus aim not only to discuss strategies towards re-politicisation of urban transport by anchoring them more explicitly within a series of political-economic considerations emerged in urban studies. 

Third, we propose to take on the challenge of ‘decolonising’ urban space and mobility by attending more closely to the alternative practices and knowledges of moving, which often challenge formal rules and planning. While such practices might designate informal ways of negotiating urban space, they are not necessarily different from or inferior to the formal and established forms of mobility, and provide a fertile ground to negotiate dominant narratives of urban transport geographies.

To respond to the challenges outlined, we look forward to receiving papers offering theoretical discussions and empirical studies alike, dealing with one or more research sites in the global South, North or post-socialist environment and answering to one or multiple topics raised in this call.

Submission procedure

Potential session participants should send an abstract of maximum 250 words to Wojciech Kębłowski (wojciech.keblowski@vub.ac.be), Tauri Tuvikene (tauri.tuvikene@tlu.ee) and Astrid Wood (astrid.wood@ncl.ac.uk) by 29th January. We will get back to you before 5th February.

Presenters are strongly encouraged to submit a paper for the Postgraduate Prize awarded by TGRG. The TGRG has a small prize for the best postgraduate presentation in any TGRG session at the RGS-IBG 2017 Conference. If you wish to enter for the Postgraduate Prize a full paper should be submitted to the Chair and Secretary of TGRG prior to the conference date for judging. For more information and to find out about entry criteria please contact TGRG postgraduate rep Clare Woroniuk (clare.woroniuk@newcastle.ac.uk).

‘New Technologies and Changing Behaviours’ short course at the University of Oxford (14 – 17 March 2017), part of the Global Challenges in Transport Leadership programme

We are currently accepting applications for the short course ‘New Technologies and Changing Behaviours,’ taking place 14-17 March 2017, at Kellogg College, University of Oxford.

 Globally, transport is undergoing important changes in technology and user behaviour. This course offers the latest thinking on how such changes can be understood, and what their interactions mean for the future of transport demand. It explores emerging contemporary mobility cultures in different global regions, the diffusion of new technologies and new perspectives on their role, changing behaviours and energy reduction, and the sociocultural dynamics of behaviour change. The course additionally offers an overview of new and emerging smart technologies and behavioural intervention programmes and provides insights into current projects and initiatives across the globe.

Key speakers include: Professor Emeritus David Banister, Professor Denise Morrey (Oxford Brookes University), Dr Debbie Hopkins (TSU), Dr Tim Schwanen (TSU), Toby Park (Behavioural Insights Team), Professor Graham Parkhurst (UWE Bristol), Professor Lorraine Whitmarsh (Cardiff University). The expertise of the speakers spans both developed and developing countries, and research as well as practice.

You can also apply for one of the other four-day courses on the programme. They cover different aspects of the sustainable transport challenge: transport governance and urban transitions (in June 2017), infrastructures, development and finance (in September 2017), and health and well-being (in December 2017). You can find out more at www.tsu.ox.ac.uk/course. Please note that each course can be taken separately, or in combination with others, allowing participants to tailor a flexible programme based on their interests.

The fees per course cover all materials, 21 contact hours, 3 nights’ en-suite accommodation, and all meals and refreshments during the course (including a formal networking dinner at Kellogg College, University of Oxford). In 2016/17, fees are as follows:

  • Private sector: £3,500
  • Public sector / NGO / Academic: £1,500
  • PhD student: £500

We are able to offer reduced rates for group applications, as well as alumni rates to those attending several of the Global Challenges in Transport courses.

The TSU’s Global Challenges in Transport courses are part of the Oxford Leadership Programme and are delivered in collaboration with Saïd Business School. The programme provides decision-makers from a range of sectors with the necessary skills and expertise, supported by the latest research evidence, to address the complex challenges of delivering sustainable transport solutions.

Please get in touch if you have any questions, or would like to request an application form.



RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2017

London, Tuesday 29 August – Friday 1st September 2017

Call for papers


Convenors: Debbie Hopkins and Tim Schwanen (TSU, University of Oxford)

Sponsors: Transport Geography Research Group (confirmed), Urban Geography Research Group (under consideration), Economic Geography Research Group (under consideration).

As centres of production and consumption, cities rely heavily on the mobility of freight for the provision of goods and services to residents, visitors, firms and organisations. Volumes of freight mobility are increasing and courier, express and parcel (CEP) services are growing rapidly with ongoing urbanisation and changes in consumption and shopping habits and delivery structures. Further change can be expected in light of the ongoing restructuring of logistics and supply chains and the rise of the smart city and vehicle automation. Yet the parcels, distribution centres, vehicles and pipelines that make up the systems of freight delivery often remain invisible in geographical studies of transport and mobilities. Similarly, policies to reduce the negative impacts of road freight transport are seldom focused at the city scale, and urban mobility is rarely prioritised in urban planning. In this session, we seek to address these gaps, through in-depth explorations of the social-spatialities of urban goods mobility. Topics of interest include, but are not limited to:

  • Innovations in urban freight and logistics — e.g., urban consolidation centres, drone delivery, electric and autonomous vehicles, cargo-bikes;
  • Freight and logistics in the ‘smart city’;
  • The political economy of urban goods mobility;
  • Geographies of new business models for CEP services in cities; and
  • The lived experience of freight mobilities.

We are seeking abstracts (c.250 words) for oral presentations to explore the socio-spatialities of urban goods mobility from wide-ranging perspectives.  Abstracts should include a title, and the names, affiliations and email addresses of all authors.


  • Deadline for submission of abstracts: Monday 6th February 2017
  • Responses from session convenors by: Friday 10th February 2017
  • The session convenors will communicate the RGS response as soon as informed by the organisers after the 17th February session proposal deadline
  • Deadline for reduced rate (‘early-bird’) registrations: Friday 8th June 2017
  • RGS-IBG International conference: Wednesday 30 August to Friday 1 September 2017

Abstracts should be submitted to Debbie.hopkins@ouce.ox.ac.uk by Monday 6th February 2017.

Call for Papers: Advancements in Mapping and Visualising Sustainable Transport Systems

This is a call for abstracts to be presented at the RGS-IBG Annual conference, 29th August to 1st September 2017.

To apply:

Send an abstract of up to 300 words to Craig Morton and Robin Lovelace.

You can find out more about this Call for Papers in this form – you can also apply by adding your abstract and details to this Word document (this is encouraged!):


Deadline: 5th February 2017

Any questions? Please email r. lovelace at leeds. ac .uk or in a comment below if so.  The abstract is copied below.

Continue reading Call for Papers: Advancements in Mapping and Visualising Sustainable Transport Systems

Congratulations to David Smith, the 2016 TGRG Undergraduate Dissertation Prize Winner.

We would like to congratulate David Smith for his achievement in winning the TGRGs best undergraduate dissertation prize.  David recently earned his BA in Geography at the University of Oxford.  For the prize, David will receive books to the value of £150 from Edward Elgar.  His dissertation abstract can be found below.  Comments from the judges include: “This ethnographic study of a Welsh heritage railway is detailed and conceptually ambitious. David demonstrates familiarity with concepts in economic and cultural geography, and blends that with mobilities concepts to develop his concept of ‘working mobilities’ in the context of heritage transport. His thesis is also beautifully written, which helped David’s work to stand out above the other ten candidates, all of whom had undertaken interesting and varied work, demonstrating the breadth of interesting topics and approaches that can be used in modern transport geography.”

“Working Mobilities”: Labours, Movements and Moorings at the Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railways

This dissertation attends to the different kinds of work that enable mobility to take place. Drawing together ideas from both economic and cultural geography as well as mobilities scholarship, the term ‘working mobilities’ is coined and developed to refer to the labours, practices, performances and personal implications of transport work. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork undertaken over nine weeks at a heritage railway in Snowdonia during the summer of 2015, the analysis is arranged around three main themes: working, moving and mooring, in order to expand on this hitherto overlooked facet of mobilities.

The first, ‘working’, applies Linda McDowell’s scholarship on ‘body work’ into a heritage railway setting, finding it to be a combination of both old and new forms of labour. Physical work is involved in facilitating mobilities on a literal level – shovelling coal and cleaning floors, for instance. Meanwhile, ‘new’ forms of labour are present too – the body itself becomes a performance through helping to produce particular atmospheres. But skills and knowledges are important too – places are comprehended multi-sensually through combinations of official and tacit knowledges, whilst specific skills are learnt, again directly enabling the smooth operation of mass mobility.

Next, ‘moving’ explores the relationship between those working mobilities and the equipment they use. A series of micro-movements by human subjects combine to form significant, meaningful movements on much larger scales, such as those gestures which signal that all is ready for a train to proceed. Meanwhile, the vehicles of mobility themselves hold complex, multi-scalar subjective meanings to those who work mobilities, and even when apparently insignificant, retain the capacity to move us emotionally. One particular example is examined in detail.

Finally, ‘moorings’ examines the importance of the relationships of fixity and movement which exist for railway workers, through three registers; spatially, socially, and temporally. Each of these can only be considered relationally, but each is important in providing structure and meaning to the people who work mobilities, and thus enabling them to carry out their duties. Examples include the importance of stationary, as opposed to mobile staff – for instance signallers – and the depth of attachment that comes about through long-lived connections to forms of mobilities – continuities through the life course.


For more information regarding the undergraduate prize please contact the TGRG secretary, Simon Blainey.

TGRG: the forum for transport geographers worldwide.