Cars are celebrated as the technical and symbolic epitome of modernity but are also heavily implicated in the making of climate change, imbricated within a seemingly all-powerful global capitalist system. What can an anthropological analysis of traffic in urban areas tell us about the enduring strength of this system? While cars in Beirut are both desired and necessary to move about, strong feelings of frustration are taking shape among residents and commuters who face the ever-congested roads of the capital city daily. This mounting frustration indexes an emerging ‘structure of feeling’ towards everyday automobility that has created explicit and concrete desire for alternative mobilities, particularly public transport, which scholars of automobility had pronounced dead. In this light, while cars remain objects of desire, in Beirut as elsewhere, an ‘excess’ of automobility – of modernity, we might say – is in fact weakening the dominance of cars, exposing a potential brittleness previously undetected. Acknowledging this process forces us to reconsider our modernist assumptions about the inevitable predominance of cars and offers hope for alternative mobility futures.
Stefanelli, A. (2021). ‘Excesses’ of modernity: mundane mobilities, politics, and the remaking of the urban. Social Anthropology, 29(4), 1049-1063. https://doi.org/10.1111/1469-8676.13027