Society for East Asian Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
Infrastructure plays the commonly recognized role of facilitating the mobility of people, goods and information, but the knowledge and working practices of supporters of infrastructure, which could influence the everyday configuration of infrastructure, are understudied. One such typical example lies on ride-hailing (ridesharing) and conventional taxi as different configurations of urban transport infrastructure.
With idle private cars, GPS and order-matching algorithms, ride-hailing has become an emerging popular configuration of urban transportation infrastructure. In contrast, taxi drivers claim that conventional taxi is a better configuration, given that they obtain more sophisticated spatial-temporal knowledge of the city than algorithms do. In this sense, there emerges a contestation between different configurations of urban transportation infrastructure, behind which is the contestation between the tacit, “pedestrian” and relational spatial-temporal knowledge and working practice of taxi drivers, versus the digitized and “panoramic” knowledge and working practice generated by algorithms.
This paper discusses such a contestation by tracing the knowledge and working practice of drivers. Based on half-year fieldwork in Xi’an, China, it looks at how taxi drivers support the conventional configuration of urban transportation infrastructure through their daily working practice, and how ex-taxi drivers who became ride-hailing private car drivers confront with and adapt into the working practice imposed by algorithms and therefore support a new configuration of urban transport infrastructure. By presenting this comparison, conflict and negotiation, this paper contributes to the discussion on how digitization influences infrastructure supporters’ knowledge and working practice, and in turn the configuration of urban infrastructure.