Written by Harriet Phipps

Friday, May 27th, 2022

In this post, authored by Fei Yu, Fei discusses her recent presentation on Mimi Sheller’s mobility justice and autonomous vehicles.

Fei Yu, who is a PhD student in CeMoRe,  gave a virtual presentation about Mimi Sheller’s mobility justice and autonomous vehicles at PUTSPACE Conference in Brussel, Belgium, 21st, April 2022.

This conference Public Transport as Public Space was organised as part of PUTSPACE, a research project that involves Tallinn University, Leibniz Institute for Regional Geography in Leipzig, Åbo Akademi University in Turku and Université Libre de Bruxelles. Both the conference and the project explore what makes public transport a type of public space, and for whom.

The conference aimed to gather diverse contributions that humanise and politicise knowledge about public transport by exploring narratives, experiences and contestations of public transport.

If you would like to know the details about the conference, please visit the conference website: https://putspace.eu/brussels-2022/

Fei virtually presented her research at PUTSPACE conference

Fei Yu was a virtual presenter in the thematic session titled Public Transport Meets Autonomous, Connected, Cooperative Mobilities on 21st, April 2022. There were five studies concerning the topic of autonomous vehicles in this session.

Fei’s empirical research explores how Mimi Sheller’s (2018) concept of mobility justice applies to autonomous mobility or ‘autonomobility’ systems in the context of China. The overarching research question is: How may autonomobility shape citizens’ future mobile lives in cities that are testing autonomous vehicles in China? To answer this question, the study applies Mimi Sheller’s mobility justice and Foucauldian conceptualization of modern power as theoretical frameworks. It revisits the relationship between humans and cars by exploring new ‘autonomous emotions’, and issues of mobility justice in the autonomous vehicle (AVs) pilot locations in China. The project aims to have an insight into the social inequalities and mobility justice/injustice due to the emerging autonomobility system. The study will include users and developers of AV, and people who do not use AV.  The research uses mobile methods that include interviews, go-along video observations, and mapping locations and galvanic skin response (GSR).

The research reveals an emerging ‘autonomobility system’. Previous studies of AVs have largely ignored the social implications of this emerging autonomobility system that is challenging mobility (in)justice (Cass and Manderscheid, 2018; Blyth, 2020; Bissell et al., 2020). Mobility in general, and autonomobility in particular, are understudied in China. Where studies exist, they take a transport focus. Fei’s use of the new mobilities paradigm brings an important socio-technical perspective based on the suggestions from Blyth (2020) and Bissell et al., (2020) for future autonomous mobilities research:  1) this research is more than just a user-focused study of the sociotechnical transition. Rather, the insight of unequal power relations between AV users and AV developers could reveal the key dimensions of autonomobility (in)justice that are being embedded into this emerging system; 2) it could identify the gap between mobility in practice and design choices made by developers; 3) this qualitative research could envisage human impacts of AVs technologies. Specifically, the research aims to understand people’s emotions (Sheller, 2004; Spinney, 2015; Nold: 2018). Here are the emotions of passengers in AV ridings.  Fei uses go -along with Galvanic Skin Response sensors (GSR) to enable passengers’ bodies to ‘speak for themselves’ and to “stage emotions as articulate propositions that can move us to create future mobilities”(See Spinney, 2015: 242; Nold, 2018:14).

Fei’s work extends Sheller’s (2011; 2018) mobility justice argument. Sheller’s concept does not address transportation or automobility in detail, and we know very little about the specific inequalities, justice and injustice relating to the emerging autonomobility system. Moreover, Sheller’s mobility justice is a western theoretical framework. Fei’s thesis will develop theoretical and empirical understanding of social inequality and mobility justice in the emerging autonomobility system in China.


Bissell, D., Birtchnell, T., Elliott, A. and Hsu, E.L., 2020. Autonomous automobilities: The social impacts of driverless vehicles. Current Sociology, 68(1), pp.116-134.

Blyth, P.L., 2020. Autonomous mobility justice in the situated Finnish context: A Foucauldian perspective on technology, power, and morality. Energy research & social science, 70, p.101574.

Cass, N. and Manderscheid, K., 2018. The autonomobility system: mobility justice and freedom under sustainability. In Mobilities, Mobility Justice and Social Justice (pp. 101-115). Routledge.

Sheller, M., 2004. Automotive emotions: Feeling the car. Theory, culture & society21(4-5), pp.221-242.

Nold, C., 2018. Bio Mapping: How can we use emotion to articulate cities?. Livingmaps Review4

Spinney, J., 2015. Close encounters? Mobile methods, (post) phenomenology and affect. Cultural geographies22(2), pp.231-246.

Sheller, M. (2011), ‘Creating sustainable mobility and mobility justice’, in C. Gay, S. Landriève and A. Kovalevsky (eds), Mobile / Immobile: Quels choix, quels droits pour 2030? (Mobile/Immobile: What Choices, What Rights for 2030?), Paris: Forum des Vies Mobiles, pp. 113–23.

Sheller, M., 2018. Theorising mobility justice. Tempo Social, 30(2), 17-34.

If you have any questions about the research, please email:

Key contact: Fei Yu, CeMoRe PhD Student, f.yu3@lancaster.ac.uk

My supervisor:

Professor Monika Buscher

Dr Nicola Spurling

If you would like to know the updating of this research,

Please follow Centre for Mobilities research at https://www.lancaster.ac.uk/cemore/

Please take part in the intellectual party (Summer Conference) 2022 in Lancaster University. Please consult by the email:  cemore@lancaster.ac.uk

If you are interested in mobility justice and other mobilities relating issues, please look at the articles or books below:

Büscher, Monika, Malene Freudendal-Pedersen, Sven Kesselring, and Nikolaj Grauslund Kristensen. 2020. Handbook of Research Methods and Applications for Mobilities. Edward Elgar Publishing.

Sheller, M., 2018. Theorising mobility justice. Tempo Social, 30(2), pp.17-34.

Fei is working with Monika Buscher on an article on Autonomobile Emotions for the Applied Mobilities Journal Special Issue Applied Mobilities in Turbulent Times: transdisciplinarity, creativity and mobility justice.

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