Canadian Anthropology Society (CASCA)
Invited - Oral Presentation Session
This paper addresses the complexities of conducting field research about public infrastructure systems that are the focus of conflict between citizens and governments. It reports on a mobility justice project conducted in Bell Island, a rural community in Newfoundland that has been contending for years with a precarious mobilities context created by ongoing stoppages and malfunctions in the provincial public ferry system. The fieldwork took place in the midst of a lengthy and flawed implementation of planned changes for ameliorations to this service, including through the purchase of new ferries, changes that have not as yet solved long-standing problems. When ferries in one location break down due to unanticipated mechanical problems, communications and faith in the possibility of improvements to public transportation are undermined and sometimes also break down. In this context, there is an incessant information flow, deriving from formal communications from government officials; calls, emails and meetings between a local ferry users advocacy committee and government representatives; as well as rumors that are communicated face-to-face, telephonically, and through social media. Individual Bell Islanders’ narratives focus on the continual contingency planning necessary in the face of immediate and near future ruptures to daily life. In addition to referencing potential near-future solutions, bureaucrats and politicians frequently reference distant time horizons, employing an indefinite, anticipatory discourse.