SCA2014: Work in Motion: Ethnographies of Transportation Users and Infrastructures

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At the November 2013 annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association, a panel on the horizons of transportation research brought together ethnographers who explore the coexistence of formal/informal, legal/extralegal, official/unofficial flows and dispositions in transportation field sites. Yet in the program offerings at the annual meetings of the National Academies of Sciences’ Transportation Research Board in January 2014, questions about the life of users and infrastructures had little presence. Transportation researchers tend to focus on physical infrastructure and engineering projects as static forms with predictable ends rather than the people, goods, and meanings that circulate through and (re)produce these systems. Ethnographers, with our unique attention to the processual nature of everyday life that seems to remain the same while in flux, can provide insight into the works in progress that constitute transportation landscapes. Our ease with cutting across scales between the infrastructural and the everyday contributes a critical perspective that can unsettle what other researchers take for granted. Anthropologists bring to the study of transportation the recognition that more travels through the street/waterway/trade network than sanctioned goods and behaviors; so do ideas, meanings, values. The papers presented together here will consider the role our work as ethnographers can play in better understanding that adapting to the unexpected is part of the labor of transportation.