Action research for mobility commoning: theoretical-methodological insights from Amsterdam


  • Jonne Silonsaari University of Amsterdam
  • Marco te Brömmelstroet University of Amsterdam


mobility commoning, action research, transformation




Questions on the interconnections between mobility, social justice and transitions have evolved from transport equity to transport justice and again to mobility justice, gradually expanding the understanding how just mobility systems should be imagined and enacted (Verlinghieri & Schwanen, 2020). Mobilising these insights is deemed instrumental in the shift from composed ‘reformist’ studies towards more radical ‘transformative’ approaches to question underlying structures and conventions of mobility planning, governance and politics (Cox, 2023; Karner et al., 2023). Still, theoretically sound, action-oriented and participatory research remains scarce.

Mobility commoning has been suggested as a key concept for imagining and enacting just mobility futures. Yet, its contents and functionings are subject to different interpretations. Sheller (2018) for example discusses mobility commoning as a result of social movement activity and local civic initiatives. Nikolaeva et al. (2019), on the other hand, have discussed it mainly as a set governance shifts, ‘such as communal decision-making practices, openness to new forms of perceiving the right to mobility as well as the right to immobility (the right not to be displaced), the awareness of the social production of mobility and the power relations inherent in it, as well as the commitment to creating equity and working in the interest of the public good’ (ibid., 353). We argue that these insights are very much complementary and introduce a novel operationalization of mobility commoning by explaining how it can be pursued in collaboration among governance actors, and local civic actors and social initiatives through action-oriented, participatory and reflexive research. We explain why these types of research designs can question the underlying deliberative, procedural and epistemic injustices created through exclusive top-down expert led design and policy processes (Sheller, 2018).

We describe our approach with two projects from Amsterdam. First, we discuss our findings from an ethnographic and action-oriented research project focusing on the Amsterdam cycling programme social initiatives targeting a marginalised group that is often sidelined in mobility policy and planning: racialised lower-class youths in the urban peripheries. These results highlight that even an advanced system of velomobility, such as the Dutch might be underpinned by deep mobility injustices, and how both, immature and advanced cycling cities should engage with local communities and diverse groups to assemble velomobile commons. Second, we describe an ongoing project facilitating neighbourhood co-design processes for street experiments and transformations.

We conclude that even though such a synthetic notion of mobility commoning is a promising approach, it needs to be based on radically democratic deliberation, procedures and epistemics that account for local knowledge on how commons are assembled in the interactions of different material, spatial and socio-cultural elements. Based on our arguments we wish to engage with the audience to debate the role of research and researchers as change agents for inclusive and just mobility futures.


Cox, P., 2023. Vélomobility is to degrowth as automobility is to growth: prefigurative cycling imaginaries. Applied Mobilities, 8(3), pp.265-285.

Karner, A., Bills, T. and Golub, A., 2023. Emerging perspectives on transportation justice. Transportation research part D: transport and environment, 116, 103618.

Nikolaeva, A., Adey, P., Cresswell, T., Lee, J.Y., Nóvoa, A. and Temenos, C., 2019. Commoning mobility: Towards a new politics of mobility transitions. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 44(2), pp.346-360.

Sheller, M., 2018. Mobility justice: The politics of movement in an age of extremes. Verso Books.

Verlinghieri, E. and Schwanen, T., 2020. Transport and mobility justice: Evolving discussions. Journal of Transport Geography, 87, 102798.