Society for East Asian Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
This paper focuses on recurring Priority Seating controversies and other etiquette-related incidents on the Taipei Metro (MRT), and explores how these occurrences present opportunities to gain insight about the social life in which one develops the sense of self as city resident and, by extension, as a member of a larger whole such as the nation or society. I argue that the Taipei MRT is instrumental not only to the reconstruction of a collective identity but also the development of a renewed political subjectivity, with which the Taiwanese establish themselves as autonomous, law-abiding citizens vis-à-vis a historically authoritarian state. Hohne (2015) reminds us in his discussion of the early days of the NYC subway that modern urban infrastructures are powerful devices for helping to establish and maintain subject formations. Through this process individuals are constructed as desirable, predictable and conforming subjects, which allows them to be integrated into certain social-economic-cultural orders. Contemporary urban mass transit systems such as the Taipei MRT continue to be a constitutive element of the social-spatial order of the city. The Taipei MRT is a central device for uniting the city. In the process, however, it also brings to light the different ideas about rights and responsibilities pertaining to individuals as members of a modern society. An ethnographic inquiry into the MRT etiquette is instructive in this context, as the different notions of propriety are played out in public on a daily basis through the conformity to and conflicts over MRT guidelines and manners.