JIRÓN, Paola. 2010. Mobile Borders in Urban Daily Mobility Practices in Santiago de Chile. International Political Sociology 4 (1): 66–79.

In cities today, the possibility of being confined is not only applicable to fixed areas, like work or home, but it may also occur while moving. This is because high levels of mobility, long distances, and extended hours of daily travel, along with monotonous and difficult mobility experiences may lead some to ‘‘miss'' the city, in a tunnel-like manner.

This paper argues that although the possibility for expanding places by daily mobility exists, increasingly urban experiences in cities like Santiago de Chile, involve a simultaneous tunneling or confining effect, reducing the possibilities of encounter and interaction, which are the essence of urban experience.

This paper discusses how mobility relates to place making and to urban inequality and then analyzes the way place enlargement and confinement occur.

The consequences of mobility are here presented in terms of the possibility of restriction or expansion to places or as mobile place confinement or enlargement. Mobile place confinement refers to the limitations individuals face to signify places while moving, whereas mobile place enlargement refers to the possibility to create, signify, or access places while moving or through mobility.

Mobile Place Confinement and Enlargement

Mobility implies giving meaning to the practice of moving from one place to another and suggests the possibility of places being appropriated and transformed during this practice, generating what I term as mobile places and transient places.

The first refers to those places that people signify while traveling on them: cars, buses, metros, trains, or bicycles. In transport and urban planning, the time spent on these is usually perceived as dead time.

However, not everyone experiences it as dead time; on the contrary, for many, the moments spent on different transport modes are crucial to their everyday existence (Jirón 2008).

Transient places, the second form of place generated through mobility, involve those fixed spaces, which people signify while moving through them. They are not places of permanence, but places of transit and transition.

Those most commonly studied include markets (Cresswell 2006), bus stops, petrol stations (Normark 2006; Sabbagh 2006), airports, parks, and streets (Duneier 1999).

Transient places are fixed spaces with intense mobility going through them.

In The Weight of the World, Bourdieu (1999) identified confined places as those spaces where people with financial, cultural, and social capital tend to self-segregate, while those with scarce resources are confined to places they often do not choose.

Under the mobility lens, a double sort of exclusion can be detected for those with limited capital: spatial fixation in vulnerable areas combined with limited urban access possibilities.

In terms of spatial configuration, this situation may lead to parallel cities within cities, where people overlap, but seldom meet, separated by social, cultural, economic, and physical boundaries, which define the routes, speeds, times, forms, means, and destinations people can circulate and socialize.

The boundaries referred to here may involve physical obstacles, including visi-ble natural or man-made walls or infrastructure that limits access. However, these obstacles may also be economic, social, or cultural and may act as impediments to spatial access in a city.

Given that places are made through power relations that construct the rules that define boundaries (McDowell 1999), people develop strategies to either encounter other people, places, or objects or to perpetuate this overlap, that is, strategies to avoid others.

For example, on public transport, people are required to see, smell, listen, and touch one another; for many; this is an uncomfortable experience and if the possibility for eliminating it from their daily routine exists, they are likely to adopt it, for instance, by using the car. For others, public transport may be an opportunity to expand their place event possibilities even if this occurs in a minimal way; encountering other people, places, and objects becomes relevant in their lives.

Differentiated Access to Places: Boundaries and Borders on the Move

Access to fixed and mobile places requires various acts of negotiation, to restrict, condition, or facilitate this access.

The following section is based on ethnographic work that examined urban daily mobility experiences of selected residents of three different income neighborhoods in Santiago de Chile.

The initial interviews involved discussing issues regarding who they were, where they came from, how they came to live in their current neighborhood, their daily routines, and their journeys for which we used maps of the city and time budgets to trace these and talk about them. The second stage involved shadowing them on a regular weekday.

Place Confinement When Traveling with Children

A lady at work lives in Cerro Navia8 and has a baby. Three months after having the baby, she went back to work and had to take the baby by bus to Mapocho,9

then take another bus to El Salto,10 because that's where the nursery is, then she would come back to Quilicura, then back to El Salto to breastfeed, and then return to pick her up. She would walk some times to save money and avoid taking so many buses

The combination of inadequate transport systems, dispersed location of services and fixed daily activities, limit the options available for women (or men) with children. They resolve this problematic combination by simplifying traveling modes, thus solutions include not using the services or walking when destinations are close by, thus reducing the time and space scope of movement. Another option is to organize the use of public transport around times when they are less crowded, thus restricting the places, times, and distances they have to go to and often forgoing employment possibilities. Alternatively, those with means make use of cars or taxies, avoiding contact with others and make their journeys easier. However, one of the most common strategies, particularly for lower income women, is immobility or simply not going out unless strictly necessary, thus confining themselves to their neighborhoods.

Feeling Out of Place

Restriction to certain places has much to do with the sense of belonging and feeling familiar or similar to others.

“There are places in the city that I don't go to not because they're dangerous”.

“It's not a matter of not being able to get there but the place just doesn't attract me”.

“I don't have friends there. At my new university there will probably be more posh people, I guess I'm going to be the only one from La Florida, the only dark one, I don't think there'll be other dark people there”.

A similar situation occurs to Bernardo and Alicia, from the lower income neighborhood, who skip places according to class identity, because they feel that they do not belong there and because they are not accessible.

People look at you differently; they look at the way you dress, even if they are very messy to dress themselves, in shorts and sandals, but they look at you differently, because over there, you can tell by the skin. We feel it.

Part of the consequences of the extreme segregation in cities like Santiago includes the discomfort of not belonging, of encountering people different to oneself is common. This discomfort is often confused with security issues and solved by erecting fences, living in exclusive areas and procuring more and better security systems.

Seldom are these issues dealt with by negotiating difference. Often ideals of integration are recommended as ways in which inequality will decrease whereby through residential proximity or mixed communities in terms of tenure or income, social integration might take place (Sabatini and Salcedo 2005). However, social integration rarely occurs, as people tend to find ways to avoid each other and develop different circuits.

The Tunnel Effect

Another situation that requires previous negotiation and restricts access to certain mobile places involves issues of security and fear.

“I got my phone stolen on the bus, I had just bought it”.

“I think people know who they are and that they are violent, I mean if you say something or let others know, they have a knife and they just point it at you; people are scared of getting cut. So you can't let the person next to you know that they're being robbed”.

For Ana, this situation generates mobile place confinement, as she does not have other choices of transport due to her destination and her financial resources.

This also means that she avoids traveling when it is not strictly necessary. She is restricted in terms of routes, modes, and travel times, as because of fear, people tend to look the other way, avoiding conflict, as though they were not there.

The difficulty faced by the elderly through the journey is seldom recognized in urban interventions.

The hardships do not only refer to having a seat on the bus or Metro, it involves pavement in poor conditions, raised sidewalks, short traffic light duration, wide streets to cross, limited visibility of signs, bus stops without seats or shelter, poor lighting, bus steps, metro stairs; but it also involves temporal and organizational restrictions.

When it involves their teenage children, both men and women are very concerned about safety issues.

‘‘She could walk, but it's not safe, we don't want her to, for the risk it means”.

The city becomes restricted in specific ways for specific people, creating specific ‘‘tunnels'' depending on the social characteristics and possibilities.

This generates a tunnel for the poor, a tunnel for the elderly, a tunnel for women, a tunnel for the rich.

These are spaces of homogeneity, not necessarily of integration, but often of isolation. Each tunnel becomes a strategy to avoid each other, passing by each other, but never actually meeting

Place Confinement in the Car: Skipping Town

The stress of dealing with traffic makes people organize their days according to the hours where traffic is lower

“I usually concentrate on the cars crossing by, I concentrate on the lights, I don't get distracted by the outside.''

“I don't really notice what's outside.''

Those with the possibility of skipping the city are mainly middle- and high-income residents. Car availability and job flexibility allow them to choose to skip the city.

Lower income residents, however, have limited options and skipping is less possible:

By skipping town, tunnels differentiated by income are created. Not only is the city extremely segregated two dimensionally, but when looking at it under a mobility lens, a third dimension of inequality and division appears. Separate route, modes, means, times, places, companions, and queues begin to appear

The Mobile Experience of Incarceration or Expanding Places on the Move

Daily mobility is a major dimension of social exclusion, as through mobility people become disconnected, isolated, divided, fragmented, or confined. Some people move freely and easily from where they live, while others simply stay.

For many of the women interviewed, leaving the house starts being a way of changing their life, of opening their independence

Going out is important for many women, having a routine outside their house, making money, even if it means going out to do the same thing at someone else's house: clean and take care of children.

Having money means more independence and it makes working very important. The journey is a crossing for them, a gateway to something different;

Although urban laborers cross the city at least twice daily, their knowledge of it can be minimal, especially for lower income groups because they seldom look outside. Although the same route is taken daily, passengers barely know where they are, the names of the streets, or what lies out-side the bus.

Although they cross the city almost daily, they also skip it, completely confined inside the bus.

Younger people face the possibility of moving in a different manner. Access to mobile phones and especially the Internet allow them to coordinate meetings and expand their places on the move.

Technology helps them choose how and where to connect, despite their lack of financial means.


Accessing places is clearly uneven according to gender, household responsibilities, and income. Mobility barriers may be physical, but these are also enhanced by temporal, organizational, financial ones that make traveling even more difficult for women with small children or the elderly.

Mobile places and transient places are introduced as new places of socializa-tion and through them; the possibility to expand places further arises. The places for encountering difference today in Santiago include work, school, metros, buses, hospitals, markets, shopping centers, and not necessarily the neighborhood.

Mobility may also be a locus for encounter, conflict, negotiation, and transformation, thus requiring further research as a space of socialization.

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