The Politics of the Third Rail

This academic journal article traces the relationship between the planned space of the New York City (NYC) subwayand the individuated resistance of its riders.

March 17, 2005, 5:00 AM PST

By Chris Steins @urbaninsight

Using Michel de Certeau's theories about urban tactics and strategies as expounded in The Practice of Everyday Life, author Garrett Ziegler of Columbia University shows how the ridersof the NYC subway have resisted its organizing and totalizing discourse, inserting "rhetorics" of individuation into the industrio-corporate machinery, thus challenging the production of anonymous subjectivity striven after by urban planners and city officials. The author shows how the popular reaction to the subway developed over three stages: the early years (1910-1945), marked by the conceptualization of the subway as a manifestation exodus of the technological sublime; the middle period (1945-1970), notable for the emergence of urban fear at the sight of the city’s inhabitants draining off in to the freshly built suburbs; and the later years (1970s-1980s), where theaftermath of the urban becomes fully recognizable and the structuralizing power of the subway is most overtly challenged. In short, this article shows how de Certeau's ideas of everyday resistance to dominant systems of power, which he takes to be articulated through a rhetoric of pedestrian activity, are updated to encompass individuals caught up in the depersonalizing rationalist mechanicsof mass transit.

[Editor's note: Sage Publications has provided access to this article for free for a period of 30 days.]

Thanks to Chris Steins

Wednesday, March 16, 2005 in Space & Culture


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