Enabling assemblages: a public transport system held together by embodied practices
Muñoz Zech, Daniel Ignacio
Transantiago was a promise. Inaugurated in 2007, it was a system supposed to be a ‘world class’ solution to the public transport needs of Santiago de Chile. Order, regularity, and predictability were the core elements of its agenda, aimed at modernising the mobilities landscape of the city. However, Transantiago ended up encountering many issues that turned this pristine idea into a much messier outcome. Among them, the bodily diversity of actual passengers, and the practices with which they produced local orders, did not match Transantiago’s expectations of ‘standard shape’ users who follow a delocalised, abstract rational behaviour. This mismatch affected the experience of the users as well. Pressured by the need to travel using an overcrowded service on the one hand, and being directed by disciplinary devices on the other, the users of Transantiago became a frenetic tide that not all are able to navigate. Some users – those of older, slower, or more fragile bodily configurations – tend to be left behind, implicitly excluded, disabled, and rendered immobile. This thesis describes different instances of disabled and older people navigating the challenging spaces of Transantiago. Ethnographic work and video analysis reveal a complex scenario in which passengers and system encounter each other and actively produce a precarious order that is held together through ordinary practices. I argue that this holding together is achieved through a constant work of everyday mutual adjustment. Just as Transantiago continues to unfold different technologies that would enable the sorting of people, users adjust and repurpose materialities, learning how to make their bodies ‘fit’. In Santiago’s public transport, disabled and older users engage in everyday struggles in order to deal with lack of accessible spaces, coordinate with other passengers, and interact with restrictive, exclusionary devices. Led by modernistic ideals of universality and standardisation, Transantiago was conceived as a system that would provide a ‘one-size-fits-all’ transport service for the inhabitants of Santiago. In practice, however, Transantiago has faced the ‘trouble’ of dealing with differently-abled users, who are varied in shape and size, and who bring their own capacities with them in their encounter with the public transport. Conversely, passengers and staff unfold practices of coordination and adjustment that compensate for Transantiago’s shortcomings, propping it up through everyday interaction.