Mimi Sheller


On her book Mobility Justice: The Politics of Movement in an Age of Extremes

Cover Interview of April 24, 2019

The wide angle

We are experiencing a triple crisis: urban crisis, climate crisis, and migration crisis. The first involves the demographic explosion, congestion, air pollution, and growing social inequality; the second, global warming and the urgent need for post-car and post-carbon transitions; and the third, the failure of current border regimes, the deaths of refugees at sea and in deserts, and the rise of racist ethnocentrism, border walls, and detention camps. Mobility Justice treats these three crises as intertwined realities demanding coherent responses grounded in the kinopolitical struggle for greater mobility justice across multiple dimensions.

This approach grew out of my work with John Urry and Kevin Hannam on the “new mobilities paradigm.” Over the past decade, we developed this new, interdisciplinary or post-disciplinary approach, which involved new theoretical and methodological innovations in both the social sciences and humanities for studying the complex movements of people, objects, and information. With the emergence of critical mobility studies, we noticed that gender, age, race, and disability are shaped by control over (im)mobilities. The least “able bodied” face major hurdles in accessing urban space and moving around, being “disabled” by built environments that prevent assisted mobility. The mobilities of some require the immobilities or coerced mobilities of others, who are often racialized, gendered, and sexualized.  At the same time, the mobilities of the most privileged groups, who I call the kinetic elite, rely on the use of larger vehicles, extensive air travel, and greater energy consumption, all of which contribute to pollution, waste, and global warming that have greater impacts on the lower income regions of cities and the less developed regions around the world.

As I was finishing the book, I also became aware of existing social movements and advocacy groups such as The Untokening and People for Mobility Justice, who were developing similar ideas through a more grassroots community-based process of convening conversations. There seemed to be a growing recognition that mobility justice is one of the most important approaches for improving the lives of the Black, Indigenous, and People of Color, who are most at risk from the current mobility system. For example, low-income, minority and migrant populations in American cities experience the greatest harm, injury, and death from unjust mobility systems. They are most likely to be excluded from access to convenient and safe forms of transportation and suffer the highest rate of pedestrian deaths from motor vehicle collisions. They are exposed to greater air pollution and health impacts of climate change.

My background in Caribbean Studies led me to make these connections. I was aware of the exploitation of labor to produce plantation commodities and low-wage factory exports; the extraction of resources such as oil and bauxite (for aluminum); the environmental impacts of tourism on the region; and the coloniality of climate change that exposes Caribbean populations to devastating hurricanes and traumatic recovery processes that Naomi Klein calls “disaster capitalism.” The analytical approach of Caribbean critical theory helped me to see the wider implications for critically analyzing the colonial, racial, and patriarchal perspectives built into contemporary mobility regimes in North American cities and nation-states. We are all implicated.