Laura Kemmer is doctoral candidate in urban anthropology at HafenCity University Hamburg and associate fellow at the Center for Metropolitan Studies, Technical University Berlin. She has been PhD fellow with the Graduate School “Loose Connections” between 2015 and 2017. Her supervisors are Alexa Färber and AbdouMaliq Simone. She studies the emergence of urban collectivity, through the lens of Deleuzian affect and assemblage. Her work concentrates on “promising things”, micropolitics of movement, and access to public transport in Brazil. Recent publications include “Free Riding Rio: Protest, Public Transport and the Politics of a Footboard”, City&Society (submitted), “Standing by the Promise” (with AbdouMaliq Simone), Environment and Planning D (submitted), and “Locating Affect. On the Ambivalence of Affective Situatedness” (co-edited Vol. with Steffen Krämer et al.), Distinktion Journal of Social Theory (forthcoming).
Latin America’s oldest e-tram and the emergence of urban collectivity
This PhD project starts and ends with Bonding: In August 2015, when I began fieldwork, the oldest electric tramway of Latin America (port. bonde) had just been partly re-installed after a four years absence from the steep streets of Santa Teresa neighborhood, Rio de Janeiro. Shortly after I left the city in Mai 2016, the bonde was suspended again. At the moment, Brazil was shaken by a deep political and economic crisis and post-olympic Rio turned its attention away from the construction site that had messed things up for a whole neighborhood and kept a highly heterogeneous set of actors in a state of constant preparedness for the street to open up and let streams of water find their way downhill, for spontaneous protest actions, for transport deviation signs, for politicians to pay unexpected visits. While it had never been quite sure whether and how the bonde would come back, the rails seemed to be waiting to vibrate under its weight again, inhabitants followed their track in a yearly march to commemorate the accident that led to its first suspension, and its footboard covered the walls of Santa Teresa to remind of a device that for over a century allowed for “free riding” in a public transport infrastructure.
What connected the very different residents, spaces, desires, and things were no more than promises—of access to the city, of togetherness, of affordable transport—without any guarantee that these promises would be realized. Failure has been identified as central feature of the Urban (Amin and Thrift, 2002); and this is clearly expressed through the constant breakdowns of its infrastructures, which generate infinite loops of destruction, rebuilding, renovation and repair (Simone, 2015). In contrast to recent efforts to both conceptualize and govern urban futures, a research into their “failed promises” suggests to concentrate more on dissolutions and connections than on structures or representations. Infrastructures in this sense, point to the presence of multiple temporalities, from anticipation and endurance to delay, suspension or abrupt breakdown. Analogous to promises, infrastructures assemble a vast set of actors independent from their realization or functioning/fulfillment. The process of bonding that such (dis-)connecting entails lies at the heart of my project, which draws from the case of a single tramway line to ask which formations of collectivity emerge around urban transport infrastructures.