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Taiwan Research Programme
London School of Economics and Political Science
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Professor Stephan Feuchtwang

Dr Fang-Long Shih

Place-making, Mobility, and Identity: the politics and poetics of urban mass transit systems in Taiwan

With Anru Lee (City University of New York)

Series: Seminar on Taiwan in Comparative Perspective

Date: Tuesday 16 June 2015, 6pm-8pm

Location:  Room KSW.1.01, 20 Kingsway, LSE

Discussants: Dr Christine Han (Institute of Education) and Dr Doreen Bernath (Leeds Beckett University)

Chair: Dr Fang-Long Shih (LSE Taiwan Research Programme)


This paper argues that a mass rapid transit system as a component of urban infrastructure traversing a particular locality and the meanings and interpretations that it helps to engender are mutually constitutive. I address the issue through an ethnographic inquiry into the construction of the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) system in Kaohsiung, the second-largest city in Taiwan, taking my departure from the discrepancy between enthusiasm for the coming of the Kaohsiung MRT and the underutilization of this mass transit system after its grand opening, and I examine the circumstances under which this discrepancy was produced. Specifically, I ask how mobility was discursively constructed and represented leading to the completion of the Kaohsiung MRT. I draw inspiration from Sheller and Urry (2006), who assert that there is no increase in mobility without extensive systems of immobility, because all mobilities entail specific and often highly embedded immobile infrastructure. As such, they propose that mobility is always located and materialized; it occurs through mobilizations of locality and rearrangements of the materiality of places. While I take to heart Sheller and Urry’s point of the concurrent existence of mobility and immobile infrastructure, I further expand the notion of locality in this paper. That the Kaohsiung MRT is an urban infrastructure embedded in a particular metropolitan area is reflexive of the meanings and implications of mobility that it has facilitated to shape and generate.

About the Speaker

Anru Lee is a faculty member at the Department of Anthropology, John Jay College of Criminal Justice of the City University of New York. She is the author of In the Name of Harmony and Prosperity: labor and gender politics in Taiwan's economic restructuring (SUNY Press 2004) and co-editor of Women in the New Taiwan: gender roles and gender consciousness in a changing society (ME Sharpe, 2004). Her current project investigates mass rapid transit systems as related to issues of technology, governance, and citizenship. Her most recent fieldwork looks at the urban mass transit systems in Taiwan in the context of the country's struggle for cultural and national identity.

About the Discussants

Christine Han is a Lecturer in Education at the Institute of Education, University of London.  She received her DPhil from the Department of Educational Studies, University of Oxford, after which she was an Assistant Professor at the National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.  Her publications include ‘Wartime Enemy or ‘Asian’ Model: an examination of the role of Japan in history textbooks in Hong Kong and Singapore’, ‘Politics, popular culture, and images of Japan in Taiwan’ (with I-Yun Lee), ‘The portrayal of the Japanese occupation in Singaporean textbook  narratives’ (with Khatera Khamsi), ‘Curriculum patterns in citizenship education: a cross-national study’ (with Janmaat, May and Morris).  Her research interests include citizenship education in Singapore and East Asian societies, ‘Asian’ values and democracy, and democratic participation in comparative perspective.

Doreen Bernath is an architect and a theorist across disciplines of design, technology, philosophy, visual art and cultures. Doreen completed her PhD at AA London with the award of RIBA LKE Ozolins Scholarship. The thesis went on to be one of the four finalists for 2011 RIBA President’s Research Award for Outstanding Thesis. She studied BA and MA at University of Cambridge, then for many years practiced professionally in London, Shanghai and Taipei. Since 2006, she taught extensively and participated in research projects in universities across UK, Germany, Costa Rica, China and Taiwan. Her publications explore specialised topics ranging from representation, digital media to transcultural studies. She is currently teaching fellow in Masters and PhD programmes at AA School of Architecture London, UCL Bartlett School of Architecture, and senior lecturer at Leeds School of Architecture. She is a founding director of DEZACT and SpaceMedia Int.