Mixed Mobilities: Taxi Drivers and Day Trippers in Kunming, China

Mixed Mobilities: Taxi Drivers and Day Trippers in Kunming, China

Beth E. Notar - Associate Professor of Anthropology, Trinity College

Friday, April 3, 2009 - 12:00pm to 1:30pm
Room 105, Department of Anthropology See map
10 Sachem Street
New Haven, CT 06511

In the context of the restructuring of the economy, the re-shaping of urban space, and a new culture of consumption, this paper examines the mobility and views of mobility of two different groups of drivers in the southwestern Chinese city of Kunming: taxi drivers (who drive to earn a living) and “day trippers” (who drive primarily for weekend leisure excursions). The paper highlights the contradictions of “automobility” – where new forms and ideas of mobility emerge along with new boundaries and conceptual limitations. The paper argues that most taxi drivers, formerly laid-off factory workers or displaced farmers, do not view automobility as a means to upward social mobility but as a way to stave off further marginalization, and even as a form of entrapment. In contrast, middle class “day trippers” view car ownership, driving and riding as a pleasurable way to illustrate their status and distinguish themselves from others. Due to their different embodied practices, taxi drivers and “day trippers” have come to conceptualize the relationship between “the city” and “the country” in unexpected ways. The paper forms part of a larger project called “Auto biographies: Narratives of Cars and Mobility in Kunming, China.”

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