Traffic and Trauma in India
Each day in Mumbai, nearly 7 people die on the city's municipal train system, as their feet become stuck in gaps between the platform and the train, or their bodies lean out the train's open doors and slam into poles. From January to April 2014, for instance, 682 commuters died in accidents -- a rise compared to previous years attributed to increased crowding. Meanwhile, on the city's clogged roads, motorbikes weave through traffic and often collide with cars, pedestrians, trucks, and even persons sleeping on the side of the road. As a result, India is among global leaders in traffic-related injuries, but beyond limited epidemiological data, social science research has yet to adequately engage this lethal phenomenon.
While traffic has been studied in urban anthropology as a problem for urban development and politics, the proposed research instead studies traffic as a problem that manifests in bodies. Further, while medical anthropology has studied traumatic injuries as a bodily effect, this project studies traffic itself as both process and effect. The objective for this CAREER proposal is thus to analyze how urban infrastructures and bodies interrelate through the case study of traffic injuries. This objective will ground ethnographic research by the PI in India, based in Mumbai, which examines the ways that roads and railways work as the contexts, causes, and consequences of bodily injury. This objective will also ground educational efforts at Duke University, including course development and student-led research on car culture at Duke and in Durham.
Over the course of the 5-year project period, the PI will study traffic injuries from three perspectives. First, the PI will conduct community-based study of commuting practices and experiences of traffic-related injuries. Second, he will conduct observations at trauma wards of 2 local hospitals, to understand how traffic injuries are understood and acted upon in healthcare settings. Third, he will interview experts in traffic science (such as engineers and urban planners) to understand how traffic injuries become a problem for urban officials to solve.
The educational activities component of this CAREER proposal involves two activities to be based in Durham, NC that will be symmetrically integrated with the PI's research in Mumbai. The first activity is course development by the PI for his undergraduate and graduate teaching, which will elaborate key concepts relevant to the project in concert with the PI's general teaching responsibilities in Cultural Anthropology and Global Health. Second, the PI will lead a team of student researchers on a "Car Cultures" project at Duke and in Durham. This team of students will use qualitative methods to study the cultural meanings and values attributed to cars on campus, mobility patterns of students in the Durham area, and perspectives on mobility from North Carolina traffic officials and Emergency Medical System response personnel. They will meet frequently and develop and monitor their project in various symposia and workshops. Their research will elucidate the contexts, causes, and consequences of traffic and traffic injuries in a site in the US, allowing for comparison between the Mumbai and Durham case studies. Grounded in two different settings, the PI's research in India and the student research in the US will identify and elaborate overlaps and gaps, with the aim of expanding a cross-cultural understanding of traffic and traffic-related injuries. Per NSF CAREER requirements, the educational component of this overall project will be evaluated on two fronts: by the PI in Year 3, and by an independent student evaluator in Year 5.