Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2020
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Assembling Automated Subways: Historical Processes and Anticipated Futures of Subways in Three Global Cities

Cities are imagining the future of driverless public transit systems to provide the crucial public service of transporting an increasing number of urban residents. Today, automation is a term that creates anxiety, suggesting technological progress but also a jobless future. I propose to research the causes behind the automation of public transit jobs using comparative-historical and interview-based qualitative methods in Paris, Seoul, and New York. My dissertation project asks, what explains the anticipation and realization of automated subway lines? To what extent do the history of labor relations among workers and employers, and political strategies of the city government affect automation decisions? How have regulations governing transit workers changed over time, and how does this reflect the valuation of their work? How does the urban community influence the adoption of automated subways, and what determines who has a voice? Rejecting the technologically determinant understanding of automation as a power-neutral and apolitical process, I start with the premise that automation is a power-laden and socially negotiated process that is "assembled" through historically contingent developments and the anticipated futures of social actors and technical tools. Through this heuristic, I focus on discussions surrounding automation in three cases: 1) the automation of a privately-operated metro transit line in Seoul, South-Korea, 2) the automation of two publicly operated lines in Paris, France, and 3) the decision not to automate subway jobs in New York, United States. The dissertation will address three main themes – labor relations in automation processes, the value of public employment in legal frameworks, and the community contribution to infrastructure of the city – in order to contribute a global comparative analysis on technology adoption in the field of sociology and the interdisciplinary fields of urban studies and science and technology studies.