Moving past sustainable transport studies: towards a critical perspective on urban transport

Wojciech Keblowski, Frédéric Dobruszkes, Kobe Boussauw

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1 Citation (Scopus)
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Abstract

This article introduces a virtual special issue that carries the same title. We open our editorial by observing that the contemporary transport debate continues to find strong inspiration in the notion of “sustainable” development, which strongly resonates among academics and practitioners alike. While placing important environmental issues on the agenda, sustainable approaches to urban transport exhibit a number of serious limitations, as, as it has insufficiently engaged with diverse social, political and economic dynamics that shape how transport is planned, regulated, organised, practiced and contested in urban contexts. To respond to this gap, we propose to develop an emerging “critical” perspective on urban transport, which considers it it to be socially constructed and contested, underpinned by structural power dynamics, class relations, gender and patriarchy, ethnicity and race. Building on critical urban theory, we argue that being critical about urban transport involves approaching it as a phenomenon that reproduces complex social and spatial processes, and acts as a crucial component of capitalism. On the one hand, this means analysing transport policy, practice and infrastructure through the lens of capitalist dynamics observed in particular urban contexts. On the other, it entails exploring the complexity of processes, institutions and interests that make up a city through its transport. While critical research on transport and mobility may be on the rise, it still constitutes a rather marginal research area. Therefore, the objective of the virtual special issue is to advance the critical agenda of transport research. The diverse contributions to this virtual special issue offer a number of avenues for thinking critically with and through urban transport as part and parcel of capitalism. Our authors discuss theoretical and methodological frameworks for studying transport, and offer empirical analyses of specific policies and practices, inquiring into their socio-spatial impact, political-economic embeddedness and the power relations and regulatory frameworks by which they are shaped. What emerges from this anthology is that there is no singular or universal way of being critical about urban transport. Unravelling and analysing power and ideology underpinned and reproduced by transport in urban settings is by no means an exercise that hinges on a particular theoretical lens or focuses on a specific social group or factor. As this endavour is far from complete, we outline several directions for further critical research. Notably, we suggest to diversify spaces and scales of analysis by exploring long-distance travel, to diversify research objects by analysing freight and logistics. We also note that future research could consider diversifying social theories and epistemologies through which transport is perceived, to contribute to a decolonial turn in transport studies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)74-83
Number of pages10
JournalTransportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice
Volume159
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - May 2022

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