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Global cars: a transnational urban research on vehicle informal economies (Europe, Africa and South America)


Cars are in the center of urban and environmental issues around the world. Cars entangle global economies, from the mainstream to the margins. Social research paid scarce attention to them. Our project departs from describing informal, illegal and criminal activities related to the second-hand car economies (street mechanics, trade and theft of parts, car theft and trafficking, resale of second-hand vehicles) between Latin America, Europe and Africa. More than an international comparative research, our team want to develop a multisitued empirical research, at the intersection between urban and transnational scales. We assume that transnational mobilities inscribed in second-hand car economies reveal the reconfigurations of work in a postFordist context, as well as the mechanisms of social inequalities, conflicts and violence reproduction. We also assume that the automobility regime integrates legal, informal and even criminal practices and goods in the same market. From those empirical practices we propose to study the sociopolitical rationalities underlying those economies, as well as looking at their concrete effects to urban space and the reconfigurations of public action with regard to informality. Our research project proposes the hypothesis that different coexistent normative regimes (state legibility, criminal or religious frames, informal businessmen logics etc.) govern the gray zones between legal and illegal car economies. This project seeks to go beyond certain interpretations of informal and criminal economies in cities, both in the Global South and the Global North. Global economies, informal and criminal activities related to car economies are taken in our project not as part of 'the underworld' of the megacities, but rather an important component of the urban landscapes worldwide. Although these economies are thought to be marginal, and are mostly ran by working class operators, they are also an important part of globalized value chains. To do so, this project brings together several research traditions and groups that are rooted in different national and socio-political contexts. We propose multisited ethnographies in Sao Paulo, Santos, Paris, Naples, Genova, Dakar, Conakry, Abidjan and Benin City. Our empirical material will be analysed in order to reconstruct five empirical and analytical cases: I) exchanging stolen cars by cocaine in Brazil-Bolivian border, II) exporting cocaine to Africa and Europe by Santos Port; III) cars and drug trafficking between Sao Paulo and West Africa (Dakar), IV) autoparts, vehicles and migration, between Europe and West Africa; V) laundering money between Naples and Benin City; VI) parts and vehicles traffic from the Abidjan's hub. Each empirical case discusses a different point where stolen vehicles, second-hand vehicles, or pieces make their stops: poor peripheral urban districts, car dealerships, legal and illegal scrapyards, car part shops, police stations and state agencies that regulate vehicle trafficking, as well as insurers, car auctions and national border areas. The journey of stolen cars, second-hand parts, mechanicians and related people and objects reveals some unexpected empirical connections between rich and poor territories, people and institutions. The team will conduct biographies of individuals involved in the second-hand car economy, paying attention to their mobility ; an analysis of urban landscapes and their transformations in relation to this economy, observations and interviews to analyse the functioning of hubs and spaces through which parts and vehicles transit, interviews with institutional and associative actors in charge of regulating the activity (police, local development, social action and migration, social and solidarity economy, popular economy). (AU)

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