Moving in informal circles in the global North: An inquiry into the navettes in Brussels

Wojciech Keblowski, Lela Rekhviashvili

Onderzoeksoutput: Articlepeer review

5 Citaten (Scopus)


The concept of informality has been largely dismissed in discussions about urban mobility in the global North. To address this, we explore the case of the navettes, informal vans that operate in the unlikely and unfriendly formal transport landscape of Brussels. Relying on qualitative fieldwork, we examine their economic model, low profitability, labour conditions, and the conflicts and legal struggles over their regulatory endorsement. By approaching the navettes as informal urban mobility practice in the global North, we attempt to bridge geographical and conceptual divides between research into urban informality and critical perspectives on urban transport and mobilities. We thereby deconstruct the dominant framing of informality as a “Third World” problem by showing that a range of supposed “negative externalities” of flexible transport are not necessarily addressed by the State’s regulatory and administrative capacity. Drawing on informality literature from global South and East, we argue that in Northern cities such as Brussels, where precarious transport workers like the navettes drivers are ignored and criminalised, while corporate “digitalised”, “shared” and “circular” mobility solutions are endorsed, (in)formality is a site of conflicts over what is considered (un)fair, (un)just and (il)legitimate. As as result, we demonstrate how diverse experiences and theorisations of informal mobility in the global South and East can inform inquiries into transport practices in the global North.
Originele taal-2English
Pagina's (van-tot)251-261
Aantal pagina's11
Nummer van het tijdschrift1
Vroegere onlinedatum2020
StatusPublished - nov 2022

Bibliografische nota

Funding Information:
This paper has benefitted from critical conversations with a great deal of fellow researchers and friends—none of whom, needless to say, bears any responsibility for the arguments presented above. We would like to thank the colleagues who participated in the summer school and writers' workshop of the Marshrutka project, during which this paper emerged. We are particularly grateful to Tonio Weicker, Wladimir Sgibnev, David Bassens and Luke Dempsey for providing generous feedback on early drafts of this paper. More broadly, we are indebted to transport and mobilities scholars from global East and South, whose critical reflections have enabled us to explore the navettes in dialogue with debates outside the North. Moreover, we would like to acknowledge our funders. Wojciech Kębłowski‘s research was supported by Innoviris, the Brussels Institute for Research and Innovation (grant numbers 2014-PRFB-16 and 2017-PRFB-17). Lela Rekhviashvili’s work was supported by a Volkswagen Foundation (grant number 89816).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020

Copyright 2022 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


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