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Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 2010, volume 28, pages 270 ^ 289


Passenger mobilities: affective atmospheres and the sociality

of public transport
David Bissell

Research School of Social Sciences, The Australian National University, Canberra, ACT 0200,
Australia; e-mail:
Received 14 April 2009; in revised form 20 July 2009

Abstract. This paper takes as its starting point the centrality of nonrepresentational registers of
communication and comprehension to understanding how everyday experiences of travelling with
others by public transport unfolds. Drawing on extensive primary research, it explores how different
affective atmospheres erupt and decay in the space of the train carriage; the modes of affective
transmission that might take place; and the character of the collectives that are mobilised and cohere
through these atmospheres. Acknowledging that these atmospheres have powerful effects, this paper
focuses on the trajectories of particular misanthropic affective relations; and how such negative
relations emerge from a complex set of forces which prime passengers to act. Yet this call to action
is often met with a reticent passivity that transposes these negative affective relations, often in ways
that intensify their force. In expanding the realm of that which is often taken to constitute the `social',
the paper concludes by considering how the demands of collective responsibility fold through
contemporary understandings of community.

1 Passenger communication
Travel can be an isolating experience. One of the most ubiqitous ways of thinking
about the experience of railway travel during the 19th century was the idea that the
body became ``an anonymised parcel of flesh which was shunted from place to place,
just like other goods. Each of these bodies passively avoided others'' (Thrift, 1996,
page 266). Yet mobilities are rarely experienced alone or in isolation from other people.
Indeed, one of the figures that unite many different types of mobility is that of `being
with'. In the process of travel, we temporarily submit ourselves to become part of a
mobile collective. To become a passenger always involves a `being with'. One of the
central themes running through research on mobilities is how being mobile with other
people mobilises a series of relational practices. Car travel might involve finely honed
interactional textures between driver and passenger (Laurier et al, 2008), or improvisational choreography between the driver and other car drivers (Katz, 1999). Research on
walking in the city has similarly pointed to the skilful tactics developed by pedestrians
to accomplish moving through the urban environment (Edensor, 2000; Middleton,
2009). Similarly, others have looked at the myriad of diverse practices that are enacted
in order to become a passenger, such as packing, preparing, and moving with luggage
(Bissell, 2009; Watts, 2008), or purchasing tickets (Dodge and Kitchin, 2004), through
to the various mobile practices that passengers at transport terminals undertake, particularly at airports (Adey, 2008; Cresswell, 2006; Fuller and Harley, 2004; Gottdiener, 2001;
Lloyd, 2003; Pascoe, 2001). Indeed, travelling by public transport, particularly by train
and bus, is often characterised by the sheer density of people being transported together
in close proximity.
These relations between people on the move are, of course, diverse and must be
differentiated (Crang, 2002). The relationships between a driver and passenger in the
context of a car journey might differ significantly from the unacquainted passengers
travelling together by plane, which itself contrasts with the sense of familiarity that
might develop between passengers who commute by the same bus, tube, or train on a

Affective atmospheres and the sociality of public transport


daily basis. Many researchers have described how the degree of acquaintance that
characterises these relationships, to a large part, mediates the type of communication
that takes place between passengers. Whilst friends travelling together might interact in
particularly playful, less-inhibited ways with each other (Symes, 2008), where passengers
are travelling with people with whom they are unacquainted with, verbal communication
tends to be curtailed (Schivelbusch, 1979). Indeed, the tension that exists between the
isolation of travelling unaccompanied with the parallel imbrications within a collective of
other passengers has been explored from a number of different perspectives. The juxtaposed alienation and `being-with'what Fujii (1999) describes as `intimate alienation'
that might be symptomatic of individual travel is a potent theme that runs through many
of Edward Hopper's canvases which depict spaces of transit (Slater, 2002). Such tensions
are described well by Schivelbusch (1979) who describes how, whilst the railway carriage
initially transformed the experience of the private individual into a mass public, ``the faceto-face relationship ... becomes unbearable because there no longer is a reason for such
communication'' (page 80).
Whilst verbal communication with proximate unacquainted passengers might be
curtailed, many researchers have looked at how people travelling unaccompanied can
maintain social contact at a distance. Both Urry (2003) and Wittel (2001) point to how
social life is increasingly `networked', taking place through new technologies of communication (see also Green, 2002). Whilst they argue that such sociality at a distance is
juxtaposed with moments of face-to-face copresence, these technologiesparticularly the
mobile phone and Wi-Fi-enabled laptops (see Mackenzie, 2006)have transformed
the scope and reach of social life on the move (see Green, 2002; Jain, 2006). Yet this
alleged decline in verbal communication between passengers certainly does not preclude
the significance of being with others whilst on the move. Indeed, some might argue that
such a trend is symptomatic of the sociocultural context within which these observations
were situated and might be rather different outside of an Anglo-European context
(see Diski, 2004; Edensor, 2004). But just because communication might not be vocal
does not mean that other forms of communication are less significant. What I want to
suggest in this paper is that there are other equally important registers of communication
at play which have often been overlooked in research that has investigated the sociality
of passengers travelling together.
This paper takes, as its starting point, the centrality of nonrepresentational modes
of communication and comprehension to understanding how everyday experiences of
travelling with others on public transport unfold. Rather than focusing on the narrowly
discursive or symbolic constitution of text and talk, or how conversational practices
and interjections might facilitate the practical dimensions of travel, as is often the case
in car travel (Laurier, 2005), this paper highlights how precognitive, prediscursive
affective registers of communication whilst travelling on public transport can significantly impact on the journey experience and what passengers can do. `Affective' rather
than `emotional' since to think through the `emotional' dimensions of experience
presumes the existence of a body that is able to reflexively interpret and make sense
of her or his world. If emotion is concerned with the subject, affect on the other hand
is not bound to particular individual bodies. Attending to affect in spaces of public
transport is hugely important since it prompts us to consider what passengers can do
rather than what passengers are assumed to be. Rather than addressing the figure of
the passenger through a series of taken-for-granted assumptions that often render them
inert and lifeless, such as the `PAX' of planners and modellers (1) (Cresswell, 2006),
starting from the perspective of affect allows us to consider the affective relations that
(1) `PAX' is the abbreviation used by the airline industry to refer to `generic' passengers in an
aggregate manner.


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emerge between passengers and, consequently, the capacity of different passengers to

affect and be affected. As Conradson and Latham put it, affect might be understood
as the ``energetic outcome of encounters between bodies in particular places'' (2007,
page 232). As such, the frustrations and irritations, the delights and excitements which
are so often a part of travelling with other unacquainted travellers, begin to flicker into
view and mediate this experience much more explicitly.
Exploring relations between passengers through affect rather than more discursive
analytical approaches is useful since it expands the realm of what constitutes the
`social' above and beyond that which has traditionally been taken to be the `human'.
Where others have focused on the presence or absence of conversational textures or
other explicit interaction as a way of considering social formations, thinking through
affect draws attention to the importance of considering some of the nonhuman forces
that mobilise and mediate these relations.(2) Affect decentres the individual passenger
from analysis, and instead prompts us to think about how different configurations
of objects, technologies, and bodies come together to form different experiences of
`being with' whilst on the move. Indeed, thinking through affect helps us to attend to
and account for the changeability of different journeying experiences, particularly those
that are experienced on a routine basis.
Since affect emerges as a relation between bodies, objects, and technologies, it has
distinctly spatial characteristics. Indeed, many geographers inspired by nonrepresentational theory have highlighted the transverse qualities of affect in that it travels between
things. Following others, we might consider how particular spatialised affective fields
emerge through the transmission of affect. Conradson and Latham suggest that such
`affective fields' reflect ``the coming together of people, buildings, technologies and
various forms of non-human life in particular geographical settings'' (2007, page 238).
These affective fields are ``temporary configurations of energy and feeling that arise but
then dissipate, before perhaps being re-animated elsewhere'' (page 238). Such affective
fields might also align with the idea of an `affective atmosphere' which McCormack
describes as being ``something distributed yet palpable, a quality of environmental
immersion that registers in and through sensing bodies whilst also remaining diffuse,
in the air, ethereal'' (2008, page 413). Or, as Bohme suggests, atmospheres ``seem to fill
the space with a certain tone of feeling like a haze'' (1993, page 114). Yet these affective
atmospheres are perceived and sensed through the body. As Urry argues, ``atmosphere
is in the relationship of peoples and objects. It is something sensed often through
movement and experienced in a tactile kind of way'' (2007, page 73).
In this paper I argue that communication and the formation of different sociabilities in technologies of transit take place in part on an affective level through the
formation and dissipation of different affective atmospheres. Whilst these atmospheres are invisible, nonrepresentational, they form part of the ubiquitous backdrop
of everyday life on the move. However, rather than being inert, background, or
ephemeral phenomena, atmospheres are forceful and affect the ways in which we
inhabit these spaces. As such, affective atmospheres are central to everyday conduct
whilst on the move since different atmospheres facilitate and restrict particular practices and, in doing so, precipitate particular structures of feeling (Williams, 1977).
Where Foucault (1977) describes the disciplining effects of material spatial arrangements, the immateriality of atmosphere might serve as an equally powerful disciplinary
force. As Edvardsson et al suggest, ``perception of an atmosphere defines what one
must cope with, and suggests directions for how to behave within a social setting''
(2003, page 378). The emergence of particular affective atmospheres has the capacity to
(2) However, many have addressed the nonhuman without invoking affect (for example, see Ingold,
2002; Law, 2004; Murdoch, 1997).

Affective atmospheres and the sociality of public transport


modify passengers not only on a psychological but also on a biological level.(3) As

Brennan notes, whilst the transmission of any affect, whether positive or negative, is
social or psychological in origin, it ``is also responsible for bodily changes, as in a whiff
of the room's atmosphere, some longer lasting. In other words, the transmission of affect,
if only for an instant, alters the biochemistry of the subject. The `atmosphere' or the
environment literally gets into the individual'' (2004, page 1). Affective atmospheres
therefore modify passengers' possible field of actions, changing their capacity to feel
and act. Finally, and a word of qualification, it is also essential to note that, in spatialising
affect through the notion of atmosphere, affect is not reified as a `thing'a determinate
and determining presence that would have the dangerous effect of ushering in structuralism through the back door. Far from `thingy', affective atmospheres must be understood
as the relational potential for things to act or change in a particular space. Possibly the
most effective way of grasping the idea of an affective atmosphere is therefore to think
of it as a propensity: a pull or a charge that might emerge in a particular space which
might (or might not) generate particular events and actions, feelings and emotions.
The following section of this paper describes how different arrangements of travelling-with generate different affective atmospheres. The third section moves forward
to consider how particular misanthropic atmospheres emerge and have the capacity to
produce new collectives and cultivate particular dispositions. The fourth section considers how such charged dispositions might be pacified in various ways. The paper
concludes by considering how more convivial arrangements might be allowed to
emerge, but how the imbrication with different collectives opens up new spaces of
ethical negotiation.
Whilst this paper speaks to spaces of public transport more broadly, the empirical
spaces of this paper focus on railway travel. Research was undertaken as part of a
three-year research project on everyday practices of railway travel in Britain. This
research was primarily undertaken along the East Coast Mainline between London
and Edinburgh between 2005 and 2007 and, for the excerpts drawn on in this paper,
involved semistructured interviews with forty-six passengers in addition to extensive
autoethnographic participatory observation on many different trains along this line
and at different times during the day.
2 The emergence of affective atmospheres
Writings on temporarily dwelling amongst other unknown passengers within the space
of the railway carriage have tended to explore the intricacies and issues relating to
verbal communication. Published in 1862, The Railway Traveller's Handy Book provides the uninitiated traveller with a series of helpful suggestions for interacting with
other passengers, particularly highlighting topics of conversation which should be
avoided: chiefly politics, religion, and, perhaps unsurprisingly for the time, railway
accidents. Indeed, the anxieties often associated with conversational social interaction
with unknown others is one of the key themes that emerges through Simmel's (1950)
writings on strategies of preserving `personal space' most notably through a blase
attitude towards others. Similarly, Goffman's (1971) writings on social codes and rituals
that come into play in conversational interaction provide another useful way of considering how unknown others conduct themselves based on an allegiance to a particular
accepted moral order. Yet the sociality of the railway carriage is conditioned as
much by affective communication as by these more discursive modes of interaction.

Of course, I am not implying the existence of a Cartesian divide between body and psyche. This
is merely to invite us to think about how affects might impact upon or reveal themselves through
the body in a number of different ways: shooting through both noncognitive feelings and
expressions, and shaping the event of cognitive thought.


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Whilst practices of conversation certainly contribute to the emergence of particular

affective atmospheres that condense within the railway carriage, other more affective
registers of communication play a pivotal role in the creation of social formations.
Thrift, drawing on the work of Gabriel Tarde, argues that one of the most significant modes of affective communication is that of ``imitative contagion'' (2008,
page 231) which helps us to understand not only how particular affective atmospheres
coalesce, but also how they are diffused through and touch bodies. Such an understanding relies on thinking about bodies as being susceptible but accepts that much of
this susceptibility takes place at a semiconscious level. This therefore disrupts the idea
of individualistic agentive, mindful, and regulated communication, towards thinking
about modes of communication that we are less aware of and have less control over.
Of course, the semiconscious operation of such communication introduces a significant
dilemma: namely, how can we recognise let alone narrate and attend to such events?
Yet three events from the railway carriage each point to how particular affects might be
communicated and transmitted, in part, through contagion. This movement and transmission of affect are crucial in understanding how particular affective atmospheres
erupt and coalesce in the space of the carriage, and, crucially, how particular collectives
First, much has been written about the use of the railway carriage as a mobile office
where travel time is put to use to engage in work-related practices (Holley et al, 2008;
Lyons and Urry, 2005; Urry, 2007). Through this literature it is often suggested that the
time ^ space of the railway journey is an ideal environment within which passengers can
carry out work. Whilst much has been said about how the increasing prevalence of
locative technologies (Green, 2002), together with `hotdesking' infrastructures (Brown
and O'Hara, 2003) and `open offices' (Harrison et al, 2003), can help people undertake
increasingly footloose working practices, considerably less has been said about how the
affective atmospheres within the railway carriage might be instrumental in facilitating
such practices.
Through interviews with passengers, many hinted at how an effective working
environment is made possible not only through a range of object materialities mobile
phones, personal digital assistants, laptops, tables, and so forth but the practices of
others. This passenger who travels regularly between Newcastle and London hints at
how processes of mimesis work to facilitate his own work:
Leo: ``I think in first class, I think the people who travel first class on the main
tend to be business travellers. Not always but usually and they're quite focused.
They've got stuff to do when they get on the train. And they just get on and do
it and then get off again really. Sometimes you get groups of people who travel
together in first class but they tend to be business travellers.''
Me: ``Do you find that that almost focuses you a little bit?''
Leo: ``Probably, but I'm quite a focused person anyway when I need to be.
Because I've got quite limited time so I know I've got to get something done
within a certain time so I do it. But being with other people who are all working
I would say helps me stay fixed on the task in hand. I'm less ... I'll be less tempted
to sit back and chill.''
Through this account, we get a sense that in addition to the focused attitude that he
approaches his travel time with, the busyness of other passengers assists in sustaining
his own practices. This is not conscious, reflective emulation of what others are doing,
but rather that the practices and demeanour of other proximate passengers, together
with the quietness of the carriage, generate an affective atmosphere that effectively
primes him to act in a particular way. In this instance, he is primed to continue
working rather than engaging in a different activity. The affective atmosphere is

Affective atmospheres and the sociality of public transport


transmitted in part through the visual apprehension of other passengers, but is also
sensed through less-agentive modes of communication. Furthermore, it is worth considering how the temporal unfolding of such atmospheres might be very particular to
the time ^ space of the railway journey. Since the railway carriage comprises a multiplicity of individual itineraries, many people might not be `sharing' a journey, but have
multiple overlapping journeys. As such, regular transformations in the atmosphere
might occur as different passengers alight and join the train at different places, making
the railway carriage a very different work environment to more stationary locations.
Second, in other circumstances, the transmission of certain affects which assist in
generating a particular atmosphere are intensified depending on the time of travel.
Energetic affects related to excitement and expectancy might characterise the space
of the railway carriage on a Friday evening as recounted by this passenger:
Luke: ``Yeah. In fact I quite enjoy travelling for that reasonon a Friday. Just 'cos
I know ... it's usually quite full there's usually a bit of an atmosphere. Sometimes,
particularly when I get to York and I change from York, there's nearly always
you know, kind of, not groups of drunks, but groups of blokes who are out for
a drink in Leeds and that's kind of interesting, for me. It makes you feel like,
`right, it's the weekend, I can relax now.' ''
As Ahmed (2004b) suggests, particular affects might intensify as they circulate. Therefore, whilst the habitual rhythm of the working week might have already primed the
body to feel in a particular way, here we get a sense of these positive affects being
augmented in the railway carriage as they move between Luke and his fellow passengers, prompting him to feel more uplifted and relaxed. Considering that the face is one
of the most important sites of affect, or ``affect in process'' (Thrift, 2004, page 61),
affect here might be communicated through common, involuntary facial expressions
such as contented smiles (see also Ekman and Rosenberg, 1997). These infectious
affects might be complemented by excitable speech and chatter, perhaps punctuated
with bursts of laughter. The sensing of a particular euphoric atmosphere here therefore
emerges through the eruption and circulation of these dynamic affects and the impressions that they leave on the body. These affective atmospheres make a difference to
how the journey is experienced which one can imagine as being rather different on a
Monday morning.
Third, a different and rather less positive type of affective atmosphere might erupt
in the space of the railway carriage when the train stops unexpectedly. As the itinerant
predictability of travel time gives way to an erratic and faltering trickle of information
from the train staff, the emergent condition of uncertainty gives rise to a series of
negative affects associated with frustration and annoyance. In the event of the delay,
the comfort associated with anticipated schedules and sequences of events are brutally
scrambled and the routines and habits which enable regular passengers to travel
without much reflective thought are ruptured:
``The wait here seems like an eternity. People are looking around, making eye
contact with each other, sighing. Eyebrows raised and hands nervously on neck.
We're going to miss our connection. I can feel adrenaline coursing around my
body; waves of frustration are hitting me; but I feel strangely inert. I don't want
to make conversation. My eyes are staring into space and I feel paralysed''
(autoethnographic participant observation, Ely ^ Norwich, 4 April 2006, 20:16).
Following Spinoza, the affective atmosphere that emerges in the unexpected stop is
both kinetic and dynamic (see McCormack, 2008). Kinetic affects emerge as the slowing and eventual halting of the train cause a change in the disposition of passengers.
The slowness of the train here becomes out of sync with the desired or expected
speed of passengers, their itineraries and aspirations, which generates negative affects


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associated with frustration. Again, these affects might be registered through a series of
involuntary facial expressions: raised eyebrows and pursed lips, for example. Kinetic
affects communicated by the stopping of the train are augmented by dynamic affects
that erupt between passengers, giving rise to a particular affective atmosphere within
the train carriage. This transmission of affect between bodies literally changes their
biochemical properties: the release of adrenaline and particular neurotransmitters,
tensed muscles, quickening heartbeat, the sinking feeling in the stomach, flushed face,
beads of sweat forming on the forehead, all of which again change the capacity of the
passenger to affect and be affected.
In each of these three events the most significant communication between passengers
and other bodies takes place through affective rather than discursive, conversational
registers. Importantly, this communication does not take place on a wholly conscious
or interpretative level. As Wegner notes, we live in a ``suggested society'' in which ``the
causal influences people have on themselves and each other, as they are understood,
capture only a small part of the actual causal flux of social relations'' (Wegner, 2002,
page 314; cited in Thrift, 2008, page 240). Affects in the railway carriage emerge through
the coming together of specific object materialities, technologies, bodies, and practices
at particular times and in particular spaces. These affects are infectious. In these events,
passengers do not consciously choose to feel in a particular way. The quietude of the
working carriage, the joy erupting in the Friday evening carriage, the anxiety flaring up
in the delayed carriage move through passengers semiconsciously, and in doing so, modify
their capacity to affect and be affected. In each of these cases, as affect is transmitted
between bodies, the affective atmosphere of the carriage is intensified as it ripples out over
Importantly, and contrary to the modernist illusion of the bounded and contained
self, the emergence of these atmospheres generates significant collectives. Where the
sociality of the railway carriage has traditionally focused on the presence (or absence)
of conversational interaction between individual passengers, focusing on affective
communication and the emergence of affective atmospheres forces us to think through
`the social' as not being reduced to or taken to be the product of particular individuals.
Brennan (2004), taking inspiration from work on crowd dynamics (see Bion, 1961;
Le Bon, 1952; McDougall, 1920), draws our attention to the significance of these
affective ties that bind groups together. These affective ties ``involve subjects and
objects, but without residing positively within them'' (Ahmed, 2004a, page 119). This
is ``a sociality without determinate borders'', as Massumi puts it (2002, page 9), where
divisions between things become difficult to make out. These affective relations that
generate collectives envelop changing chemical compounds, technological apparatus in
the form of the carriage, complex circuits of infrastructure that enable mechanical
movement to occur, and so on. Yet, if one is pushed to think through the relations
between bodies, these affective atmospheres have the capacity to bring passengers
together. As Conradson and Latham note, ``within a collective, affect may also work
to align and mobilise individuals into certain formations'' (2007, page 235). We might
think of how communally experienced adversity through the event of the delay galvanises the `passenger body' where the eruption of frustration in the carriage generates
shared dispositions. This temporarily aligns individuals with each other, intensifying
attachments to one another, and reduces the distance between them.
3 Splintered collectives
To return to the opening claim, `being with' is a hugely significant characteristic of
train travel. The train carriage is an intense coming together of people and things in
close proximity. In many ethnographic accounts of public transport, it is the diversity

Affective atmospheres and the sociality of public transport


of unacquainted bodies that inhabit and move through these spaces that lends them a
particular feel but which also gives rise to particular modes of `being with' [compare
Auge (2002) with Hutchinson (2000), for example]. It is a place where people submit
themselves for a multitude of reasons, echoed in Schivelbusch's (1979) assertion that the
train assists in democratising space. Infinite difference is shot through the `passenger
body'. Yet this `passenger body', understood as a collective of individuals, objects, and
technologies, can be approached from a number of different angles. Within the railway
industry the passenger body is often dissected according to the three purposive typologies of `business travel', `commuter travel', and `leisure travel' (Passenger Focus, 2009;
see also Lyons et al, 2007). Indeed, others have devised more elaborate passenger
profiles identifying groups such as the ``functional traveller, day tripper, train lover,
leisure ^ hedonistic traveller, and family traveller'' (Pas and Huber, 1992). Further still,
others have discussed how `class' might operate as a particular mode of social splintering when travelling by train (Lofgren, 2008). These categorisations may themselves be
hugely affective, prompting passengers to behave in certain ways or conform to a
particular repertoire of performances and comportments. But this of course is dependent on the extent to which passengers can and do reflexively interpret their travel
practices according to such classifications. Whilst much social science research on
travel time mirrors industry's and policy makers' propensity to condense this diversity
to a series of rather crude aggregates (for example, see Wardman, 1998), thinking through
the emergence and impact of affective atmospheres prompts us to think through how
other collectives might materialise; and the implications that this has on understanding
The events in the previous section highlight how the emergence of particular
affective atmospheres has the capacity to bring people closer together. As Ahmed
notes, ``emotions work by sticking figures together ... a sticking that creates the very
effect of a collective'' (2004a, page 119). In such events we might consider how particular suspicions or anxieties emergent from the assumption or perception of `difference'
between individual passengers might be temporarily disrupted and overridden. Here
the power of affect lies in its capacity to open up bodies, intensifying positive relations
between them. Reflecting on the examples in the previous section, we might consider
how particular affective collectives might emerge through generational belonging,
which might be enhanced through specific materialities such as alcohol. Yet the
appearance or assumption of such an affirmative collective seems to belie much of
what is often written about the prosaic experience of public transport. We rarely
encounter passengers who testify to the joyfulness of the daily rail commute. Indeed,
Conradson and Latham (2007) point out that the rather more harrowing side of
London's `buzz' might present itself in the frustrations and discontent that emerges
though long and repetitive commutes by public transport. In this instance, the fatiguing
effects of routine travel might deplete the capacity of the body to experience more
positive affects.
The experience of being with others in spaces of public transport often generates
particularly uncongenial relations between passengers [see Holmes and Reeves (2003)
for a satirical take on this]. But why should this be so? Thrift (2005) suggests that
dysphoric affects more generally stem from and are associated with feelings of unease and
foreboding that other writers have argued are increasingly symptomatic of urban living
(Davis, 2002). Accounting for such misanthropy, Thrift notes that ``a certain amount of
dislike of one's fellow citizens is, given the social-cum-biological-cum-technological
make-up of human beings, inescapable: the ubiquity of aggression is an inevitable
by-product of living in cities'' (2005, page 134). Indeed, one could see how it is easy
to translate such understandings to the space of the train carriage where ``certain kinds


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of violence'' might have ``become engrained in our `nature' '' (Thrift, 2005, page 134). There
might be an instrumental dimension to this. Over time and engrained in habit, such a
misanthropic disposition might constitute a strategy for dealing with the stresses and
strains of travelling with others. In order to secure the comfort of a seat, or to make
sure one is at the front of a queue in order to get to one's destination quicker, for example,
then small acts of violencecutting up, barging, pushing, and shovingmight have to
take place which disrupt more congenial choreographies of movement as illustrated by the
passenger, Jack, below:
``After doing this journey for what ... eight years now, other people just sort of melt
into the background. You're just focused on getting to work, and if I didn't make an
effort to get to the door to get a seat, someone else would and they'd get a seat
instead of me. Sometimes I agree, it's not pretty, but everyone's the same really.
If you don't make that effort you're standing for the whole journey.''
Yet such a wilful misanthropy conceals how the fatiguing effects of everyday life
can change the body's capacity to affect and be affected. Indeed, this points to an
important consideration about how affective atmospheres are differently experienced
by `individual' passengers. Whilst there is no strict division between individual and
environment, Brennan argues that ``we may influence the registration of the transmitted
affect in a variety of ways; affects are not received or registered in a vacuum ... . Thus,
the content one person gives to the affect of anger, or depression or anxiety may be very
different from the content given to the same affect by another'' (2004, page 6). As such,
the body of the passenger burnt out by the demands of an exhausting day might have a
much greater capacity for irritation than a different body which might be less enervated.
Put simply, the fatigued body might have a lower threshold to be irritated. This differential susceptibility to be affected is therefore conditioned by the particular person's
imbrication into other relations of practice and performance.
Such misanthropic dispositions might reveal themselves through particular events
in the railway carriage. Indeed, many of my research respondents who were regular
passengers when prompted had little trouble in identifying aspects of dwelling with
others in the railway carriage that grieved them. Their inventories often included
practices that they found intrusive, such as other people's mobile phone conversations
and the olefactory displeasures of experiencing other people's pungent food. Indeed,
Fisher argues that such events ``mark out the radius of the will'' (2002, page 171), where
irritation and anger emerge as a response to one's own perceived worth. Indeed, it
might be tempting to see irritability as ``the response of the will when it is baffled and
unable to achieve its goal'' (Fisher, 2002, page 14). But an understanding that prioritises the maintenance and preservation of a wilful, bounded individual obscures how
such experiences are registered, apprehended, and responded to by collectives that
transcend individual bodies.
Frustration here is transmitted through contagion and is distributed across various
passengers. As Hemmings suggests, ``it is transferred to others and doubles back,
increasing its original intensity'' (2005, page 552). Similarly, such an instrumental understanding seems to fail when other passenger grievances are encountered. At the other
end of my respondents' inventories were repeated a series of seemingly incidental acts of
nail clipping, sniffing, sighing, coughing, tapping fingers on the table; through to the
bare presence of other people. This suggests a move from considering a particular event
of violation to highlighting the importance of latent disposition and orientation in the
formation of particular collectives. Significantly, these are not acts of violence that can
be disciplined and quiesced through institutional channels as such. Indeed, to claim that
the mere existence of others generates affects associated with misanthropy suggests
that these negative affective atmospheres that emerge in the railway carriage are rather

Affective atmospheres and the sociality of public transport


more complex than merely the erosion or intrusion of personal space. Far from the
formation of collectives, such events demonstrate the ability of affects to splinter and
distance passengers. Illustrating the complexities of affective transmission, Brennan
argues that ``the act of directing negative affects to the other severs my kin tie with
her by objectifying her. I make her into an object by directing these affects toward her,
because the act marks her with affects that I reject in myself ... . I assume that she does
not feel as I do'' (2004, page 119).
Misanthropy as a particular disposition is not just a product of the stresses and
strains of commuting; passengers are also primed to act in particular ways through
other prompts. There are many other bodies of influence that can shape the passenger
equally forcefully. Indeed, these other communicative registers that run concurrent
to discursive registers rely on the transmission of affect. Affects are attached to ideas
and this does not happen by chance. Rather, these affective signals are intentionally
engineered into these materials so that they achieve maximum effect. This is powerfully
illustrated in a poster (figure 1) displayed at one large railway station. Whilst posters
and publicity material are generally regarded to operate in a principally discursive
manner, they also carry a powerful affective charge which then plays a role in influencing the type of atmosphere that emerges. This particular poster, intended to reduce the
proportion of commuters who travel with season tickets that cover only a small part of
their total journey where ticket checks are infrequent, demonstrates how a particular
brand of authoritarian capitalism engineers affect as a strategy to maximise revenue.(4)

Figure 1. `Dodger', Norwich station, December 2008 (author's photograph).


Such affects that are in part generated through the perception of financial injustices also hint
at how other affective intolerances might be intensified by the high cost of rail travel.


D Bissell

Crucially, these materials have the capacity to reconfigure the affective relations
between passengers. Using affectively charged words such as `dodger' splinters the
passenger body along different collective lines. In constructing the binary between
the dodger as `other' and the implied `respectable' passengers, the dodger is framed
as a common threat. But the problem here is that there is no visual identifier which
marks these passengers out. Indeed, the absence of visibility potentially serves not to
splinter the passenger body between `good passengers' and `bad passengers', but introduces the possibility that any of our fellow passengers might be fraudulent (see Ahmed,
2004a). The affective relation between passengers might therefore emerge as one characterised by suspicion and mistrust. Indeed, we could extend the reach of such affective
engineering to include the range of incessant audio announcements at stations and on
trains that ask passengers to report any `suspicious behaviour' to members of staff.
This poster attempts to change passengers' disposition to each other: a call to action,
priming the passenger to act and respond to unacquainted others that privileges these
assumptions. Indeed, the power of this negative affect lies in its inability to be located
in any particular body. As Ahmed suggests, ``it is the failure of [affects] to be located in
a body, object or figures that allows [affects] to (re)produce the effect that they do''
(2004b, page 124). It is these atmospheres of suspicion and mistrust generated in part
by such objects and signs that serve to open up distance between passengers.
Understanding the effect of these misanthropic affects is hugely important in
considering being with unacquainted others in the spaces of public transport. Whilst
affective atmospheres are not interpreted in the same way by all passengers, affect
works to align bodies together in particular ways, giving the impression of different
collectives. Indeed, these collectives often emerge and cohere in the face of particularly
misanthropic practices. Furthermore, these affective dispositions to some extent can be
strategically engineered and intensified by transport providers through particular
powerful discursive media. It is these negative affects associated with anger, mistrust,
and frustration that prime passengers for action.
4 Collective passivity
But very often, nothing happens. Very rarely, in the face of negative affects that
condense and cohere in the carriage, is a resolution achieved that quells such negative
affects. The leaky personal stereo continues to agitate; the irksome mobile phone
conversation is still in full sway; the whiffy fast-food odour remains suspended in the
air; and the ticket is still invalid. Further still, other practices have the capacity to
generate more intense negative affects of anger, frustration, or even fear (see DfT,
2008). The etching on the window with a knife; the wisp of smoke from a lighted
cigarette; the utterance of frequent obscenities exacerbated by the six cans of lager
each serve to augment the negative affects which touch others in the carriage.
These intense, angry, negative affects, a ``high-spirited, active, and energetic response
to the world'' (Fisher, 2002, page 15), mobilise and prime the rest of the passenger
body for action who witness and are punched by these affects. Yet no response comes.
Why is this? How to account for such a reticence to act?
In part, this might be construed as falling short where we have a responsibility to
respond to these affects. Indeed, such an imperative to respond to these affective
ingresses is demanded explicitly by service providers' visual materials, instructing
passengers to `trust their senses'.(5) For some a failure to respond through action
might emerge from a lack of trust in one's ability to cognitively reflect on sensory
registration. Such a figure might share aspects of Aristotle's ``in-irascible man'' (sic)

In the wake of the July 2005 tube bombings in London, Transport for London has run a
high-profile poster campaign instructing passengers to ``trust your senses''.

Affective atmospheres and the sociality of public transport


who ``lacks confidence in his own judgements and perceptions and will have a tendency
to accept the judgements and perceptions of others as correct'' (Homiak, 1999, page 307).
Whilst the uncomfortable atmosphere might be experienced as a distinctly irked collective,
in part intensified by the raised eyebrows, huffing, pursed lips, and other gestures of
recognition, if other passengers are not intervening, doubts emerge as to whether the
registration of such affects are touching others as forcefully; doubts that are testified to by
this passenger:
Me: ``So did you ask them if they wouldn't mind turning it off [their stereo]?''
Carol: ``Um, I'd have liked to have had the courage to. But I didn't and I suppose
I didn't want to make myself look, I don't know, like a target for them to have
a go at me with. And other people might be thinking that I've overreacted and
then I'm the one with the problem. So it's then I was thinking `is it just me?' But I'm
sure they would have been thankful thinking about it now so going back to your
earlier question, maybe it was me not being a responsible train traveller.''
This is an impasse brought about by unease of mutual incomprehension, but one where
passivity is still equated with apathy. Here it is important to recognise how affects
that emerge through these events do not conform to the same hierarchical schema that
assesses events from a legal perspective. The affective intensity that erupts through such
events is not necessarily proportional to the magnitude of their apparent severity.
Qualitative differences between events have the capacity to affect in different ways.
Thus, whilst smoking on trains is taken to be a serious criminal offence, regulated by
systems of institutional governance, repetitive tapping of fingers on a table or passengers pressing their feet against the back of one's seat might generate much more intense
aggravation precisely because there might be less justification for retaliation. The
affective field generated by different practices might spread throughout the whole
carriage, as in the case of loud music; or touch only a single passenger, as in the
case of feet pressing against the seat. Similarly, the force of such negative affects might
be mediated by the extent to which the practices that give rise to them are perceived as
malicious or inadvertent. Whilst clearly a problematic dualism embedded within a
particular understanding of intentionality, this relies on the extent to which the perpetrators are aware that they are affecting others. This might be further mediated by a
host of other variances, from regular passengers through to occasional travellers,
generation divides and so forth. Different travellers might harbour different assumptions of what practices are deemed `acceptable', if we were to follow Goffman (1963).
Alternatively, such negative affects might emerge through the frustration of being
affected by something seemingly so inconsequential, or the irritation associated with
the injustice of being the only person apparently touched by such an affect.
And yet Aristotle's in-irascible man is characterised by weakness and ``does not feel
anger when he should'' (Fisher, 2002, page 173). Since waves of anger are certainly
present in these events, this reticence to respond to the affective charge of anger might
emerge through other affects which present themselves. The processes of cognitive
reflection that temper action might be infused with more fearful affects that are
transmitted in part through media discourses. Reports of such atrocious events
as people being pushed onto railway tracks in response to confronting so-called
`antisocial behaviour' loom large in the public consciousness (Hines and Yeoman,
2008), serving to create a ``distributed space of expectancy existing as a diffuse field
of potential'' (McCormack, 2008, page 423). The circulation of such discourses therefore carries an affective charge, heightening their expectancy and mobilising affects
of fear. In this case it is these affects of fear that disrupt the call to act. As Fisher
suggests, in fear ``we are overwhelmed by something outside ourselves or by something
that we believe may damage or destroy us'' (2002, page 15). When we speak of being


D Bissell

`gripped' by fear, the body is held ransom to this affect and its potential for action
is curtailed. Even with this excuse of self-preservation, apathy is not necessarily an
unethical disposition. Actively choosing to be passive, where apathy as described by
Kant as ``the state of no passion'', might be a highly desirable disposition ``when passion
is understood not as joy and pleasure but as waves of negative affect'' (Brennan, 2004,
page 129). Being with others in the railway carriage might be all the more pleasant if
they are intentionally ignored and blotted out, perhaps through an Goffmanesque
``involvement shield'' (1963, page 40) involving reading material or the ubiquitous
personal stereo (Bull, 2007) to maintain ``civil inattention'' (Goffman, 1963). If we
were to follow Bauman, we might conclude that such intentional strategies of passivity
assist in `` `desocializing' the potentially social space around, or preventing the physical
space in which one moves from turning into a social one'' (1993, page 155). In doing so
``joy and enjoyment may intensify when feeling is not blunted by the [negative] affects''
(Brennan, 2004, page 129).
Yet both Bauman's and Goffman's understanding of what constitutes the `social' is
limited to the interactional configurations of bodies and the performances that they
undertake. Here, the `social' is a visible construct that can be `read off ' from bodies
through the management of their conduct. Expanding the remit of what constitutes the
social to include prepersonal affects enables us to consider how, even through passivity
where bodies might not be engaged in intentional, active practices, intense negative
affects still have the capacity to temper the lived experience of being with others.
Furthermore, these dynamic affective atmospheres that coalesce and collapse in the
train carriage do not necessarily map neatly onto the onset and cessation of particular events. Whilst the rowdy mobile phone conversation might generate particularly
intense negative affects during the duration of the conversation itself, these negative
affects do not necessarily dissipate at the end of the call. Instead, they have the
capacity to simmer long afterwards. After being told off for using her telephone too
loudly, Helen describes how particular negative affective relations remained long after
the event itself:
``But I was ... ohhhh, I was seething! [angrily] You know, I felt like a naughty child.
Oh yes. I was seething for quite some time. And I put my headphones on and 'cos I
was seething about her and I was seething about him sitting in front of me as well.
You know, I was watching him to see if he was going to have some misdemeanour
that I could have a go at him with.''
In her case a field of expectancy persists long after the event itself. The belittling
experience of being `told off ' by a fellow passenger generates a particularly negative
shameful affect, illustrated by her allusion to feeling like a `naughty child'. Shame
generates a particular set of relations between bodies. As Ahmed suggests, ``when
shamed, one's body seems to burn up with the negation that is perceived; and shame
impresses upon the skin as an intense feeling of the subject `being against itself ' ''
(2004b, page 103). This vulnerability through exposure is intensified as the event of
shaming is being witnessed by others. Her desire to detect a practice that would justify
retaliation illustrates an attempt to transform shame into a different affect, thereby
rearranging the relations between bodies. Yet the potency of shame can rise only if the
body cares about the interest of others. As Probyn writes, ``shame illuminates our
intense attachment to the world, our desire to be connected with others, and the
knowledge that, as merely human, we will sometimes fail in our attempts to maintain
those connections'' (2005, page 14).
For the witnesses, and particularly if a verbal intervention is not forthcoming, this
virtual field of expectancythat the event itself, such as a mobile phone call, has the
potential to actualise again at any timemight hold the body in a restless suspense.

Affective atmospheres and the sociality of public transport


But there is a temporal arc implicated in these affective fields. Whilst Fisher (2002)
makes a rather clear-cut distinction between `occasioned' event-like passions and underlying `dispositional' passions, a distinction between the affects emergent from the event
itself and their haunting presence in the aftermath might be a useful way of considering
how intense negative affects remain relatively stubborn, perhaps decaying only slowly
over time. As Fisher notes, ``anger acts instantaneously and cools with time'' (2002,
page 181, emphasis added). Conversely, a stream of multiple events that generate
frustration might serve to increase these negative affects over time. Indeed, routine
exposure to such events that generate negative affect might serve to alter the body's
disposition towards other passengers more generally. Yet the expectation that such
events will occur might bring about a more or less tolerant disposition: either a tolerance
of other passengers, or a steady gathering force of hatred for other passengers.
In short, the precise shape of affective emergence and modulation is unpredictable.
There are, however, ways that affects might be kept in check to prevent them from
taking such a firm hold of the body. Attending to the event and subjecting it to
reflection might be a way in which ``one lets go of the affect by examining its course
or allowing the course of other, calmer feelings to assert itself '' (Brennan, 2004,
page 128). Indeed the passenger above actively attempts to exorcise the negative affects
when she follows her earlier expression of anger with the admittance: ``but I was like
`this is stupid!' Calm down.'' Alternatively, such affects might be purposively channelled
in other directions. The cathartic effect of testifying to one's frustration and anger
through conversation with others might combine with other spaces that bear witness
to these affects, such as the letters columns of free newspapers, often distributed at
railway stations. Indeed, a challenge for cultural theorists and transport planners alike
is to consider how such spaces can be better `ventilated', to use Sloterdijk's term (2005,
cited in Thrift, 2006), which can dissipate negative affects more effectively, and foster
new modes of being together.(6)
5 Collective affects
In an age of increased carbon conscience, and in an attempt to encourage a `greener'
mobile future (see Urry, 2008), the imperative of switching from reliance on automobilities
to public transport is a common thread that weaves through much contemporary government ideology. Whilst the comfort of habit is often invoked as a trenchant hurdle that
needs to be broken down, such idealistic mantras often fail to acknowledge that the
reticence of such a switch for many might be tempered by the necessity to surrender
particular freedoms that have often been associated with automobility throughout the 20th
century. Such freedoms, particularly within the context of urban driving, are often
more illusory than they are substantive (Katz, 1999; Michael, 1998). Yet the supposed
flexibility and autonomy of the car driver contrast markedly with the masochism of the
railway passenger who must acquiesce not only to the regulatory fixity of timetables
and scheduling (Morse, 1998) but offer herself or himself up to become part of a mobile
In the face of widespread and rapid social change and technological innovation,
particularly during the latter half of the 20th century, it is intriguing to consider how
the spatial configuration and arrangement of the railway carriage remain a resolutely

Perhaps the most explicit recent attempt to dissipate such negative affects is the Transport for
London campaign Together for London (TfL, 2008), designed to promote a greater sense of
awareness of how particular practices generate such affects. This promotion of positive practices
contrasts with the approach of other transport operators such as Sydney's CityRail whose recent
campaign aimed to highlight the undesirable ``beastly behaviour'' of passengers through eight
stylised caricatures (RailCorp, 2008).


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modernist assemblage. As de Certeau describes, ``the unchanging traveller is pigeonholed,

numbered and regulated in the grid of the railway car, which is a perfect actualisation
of the rational utopia'' (2002, page 111). Unacquainted bodies still jostle uneasily against
each other together on rows of seats that face each other. Schivelbusch's (1979) observations on the mild discomfort of being with unknown others in the 19th-century railway
carriage, together with much writing on the status of the individual within the crowd
at the turn of the 20th century, particularly through Simmel and Benjamin, still hold
a surprising degree of analytical legitimacy today.(7)
Consequently, it is perhaps easy to appreciate how `the passenger' as an ``anonymised parcel of flesh'' (Thrift, 1996, page 266) has become the dominant unit of analysis
for social scientific thought which has attended to the embodied experience of being on
the move (although see McCormack, 2008). Yet invoking such an analytical figure at
once implies the existence of a bounded, autonomous, reflexive, self-determined `individual' whilst at the same time downplays the significance of other materialities and
forces that do not conform to this schema. Consequently, social scientific thinking
about the sociality of mobilities has tended to privilege the discursive registers of text
and talk that flicker through and across different intersecting networks (Larsen et al,
2006; Urry, 2007). Where materialities beyond bodies are invokedmost notably
technological apparatuses and infrastructurestheir role is primarily functional and
instrumental in extending the scale, frequency, and spontaneity through which such
discursive (and often overtly productivist) socialities can take place. Within this
version of sociality, spaces of public transport might be characterised by their relative
absence of sociality.
Yet what this paper has demonstrated is that there are communicative registers
at play within these spaces that transcend the limiting grammars and vocabularies
of discourse. This opens up and expands the remit of what constitutes the `social' by
reconfiguring the relations between technologies, matter, and bodies. More specifically,
in this paper I have argued that attending to and understanding affective registers
of communication at play within spaces of public transport that transcend individual
bodies allows us to consider how particular hybrid constellations of bodies and objects
are generated and sustained that eschew the dualistic conventions of the human/nonhuman. Far from incidental, these powerful but often overlooked affective modulations
have the capacity to generate significant material effects. Put simply, affective atmospheres that coalesce and collapse, erupt and dissipate within the railway carriage can
significantly temper the experience of the railway journey. Through the movement of
affect, dispositions become fostered and bodies become primed to act in different ways.
But in contrast to much work on the sociality of mobilities, such atmospheres are
not the outcome of conversational practices; rather they emerge through the complex
interplay of technologies, matter, and bodies.
But where does this leave us in thinking about passengers? Recognising that these
autonomous affects give rise to particular collectives and social formations is not saying
that becoming a passenger absolves the body of responsibility; that particular dispositions will inevitably cohere and condense. This is certainly not to advocate the notion
that we should be ``unalloyedly nice'' to all things at all times (Thrift, 2005, page 140).
Equally, it is not about suggesting that we should attempt to engage in morewhat
have traditionally been construed as`sociable' practices with other passengers. Many
passengers might indeed seek solace from the quietude and anomie of solitary travel.

Although the type of closed-off railway compartment that draws Schivelbusch's attention is, of
course, very different to the configuration of most modern railway carriages in the UK with their
centre aisles and (increasingly in the UK) airline-style seating.

Affective atmospheres and the sociality of public transport


Indeed, as Laurier and Philo remind us, people have ``a right to be left alone in public''
(2006, page 199). On the other hand, the emergence of negative, misanthropic affects
that are very often the hallmark of travelling by public transport might be one of
the powerful contributing factors that make it a less-than-desirable option, deterring
people from making the switch from private forms of transport.(8) Preventing commonly diagnosed forms of antisocial behaviourparticularly malicious or explicit acts
of destructivenessis an imperative of public transport providers; and embodied in the
UK government's wider Respect Agenda (Home Office, undated) and Respect Action
Plan (Home Office, 2006). Yet, in addition to presuming the existence of a normative
framework for `desirable' social conduct, such attention overlooks the low-grade
malice that often simmers in these spaces, erupting and rendered visible in small
acts of violence. This is significant because, over time, exposure to and imbrication
within such affectual atmospheres has the capacity to wear the body down. Whilst
often held to be symptomatic of the kinaesthetic ``reeks and jiggles'' of submitting to
the technology of transport itself, as Hutchinson (2000) puts it, lethargy, weariness,
and fatigue might equally emerge from the routine misanthropism that seems to be
such a characteristic part of the public transport experience.(9)
Coexistence; being-with others is an integral aspect of railway travel. Yet dwelling
within the transient community that characterises spaces of public transport is arguably something that we need to understand better. Whilst it might be easy to suggest
that, since passengers are united in their motivation to travel from A to B, travelling on
public transport constitutes a common experience, such an instrumental characterisation obscures the diversity that is shot through the passenger body criss-crossed
with multiple expectancy, use of travel time, rationale, thresholds, and so on. As such,
aspirations of positive belonging motivated by assumptions of unity, agreement, and
common-being (for example, see Mackenzie and Dalby, 2003) are inherently unsatisfactory. Following from Nancy's (1991) discussion of the ``inoperative community'',
Welsh and Panelli are keen to stress how the collective of community should valorise
``togetherness'' over ``sameness'' as ``community cannot be a construction but is the
event-of-being-with, or that which constitutes being'' (2007, page 351). In part, this
might be about recognising the fluid relations that passengers have with the transient
community of the railway carriage: specifically, an oscillation between the need to be
part of a community, perhaps during the event of a delay, and the ``surprise and satisfaction when relative independence from community is reaffirmed'' (Panelli and Welch,
2005, page 1608).

Interestingly the Great Britain National Passenger Survey (a longitudinal survey undertaken by
Passenger Focus for the Department for Transport which consults over 50 000 passengers every
year on issues of satisfaction) does not give passengers an opportunity to discuss aspects of their
journey experience that are mediated by other passengers. This may revolve around the perception
that `social' problems are outside the remit of what train operating companies can intervene in.
(9) Whilst it might be all too easy to make general claims here, I am, of course, wary of holding up
the empirical evidence of these passengers who travel along the East Coast Main Line as exemplary of the experience of railway traveland indeed `public transport' as a collectivemore
generally. The overwhelmingly negative sentiments expressed by research participants throughout
this paper might be testament to an amalgamation of social-cum-economic-cum-political factors,
such as how the perceived high cost of railway travel mediates expectations of the journey, for
example. Such sentiments contrast with other research on railway travel that has tended to extol
the virtues of the physical separation of work and home (Mokhtarian and Salomon, 2001). The
particularity of these opinions also inevitably reflects the particular range of passengers I talked to
which reflects my sampling strategy (which included recruitment on web-based discussion groups,
contacts with businesses in the northeast of England whose workers travel to London, and snowballing from these and university-based contacts). It could be anticipated that research conducted
on other lines would generate a series of alternative experiences.


D Bissell

But this invokes the illusion of an individual, reflexive passenger with a capacity for
responsibility; to ``act autonomously according to conscience'' (Diprose, 2008, page 619).
Yet, as this paper has described, a greater attention to affective modulations and their
force that transcend the individual takes the onus of responsibility and primary ethical
agency away from individual passengers towards a more collective rendering of responsibility that envelops humans and non-humans within the emergence of affective
atmospheres. Here, the sociality of the railway carriage is tangled up as much with the
agentive force of music players, signage, paper tickets, and seat backs, as with `individual' bodies. In this respect, the spaces of public transport present an arena for an
ethics in process to emerge, rather than hostage to a prescriptive, circumscribed
`morality'. Such ``a caring for belonging'' (Massumi, 2002, page 255) is visible in the
light-touch gestures of generosity that flicker between passengers and objects (see also
Laurier and Philo, 2006). These events of kindness, which Brennan (2004, page 124)
describes as ``the refusal to pass on or transmit negative affects and the attempt to
prevent the pain they cause to others'', illustrate a collective sense of conviviality, but
one that operates through affective registers.
But what about the injustices that are narrated through the folds of this paper?
Thrift (2005) hopes for a transposition of negative affects of misanthropy to more
enabling, positive affects associated with kindness and compassion. Yet I would suggest
that the response to particular negative atmospheresaffects associated with frustration, irritability, or angeralso render visible a care for life and a demand to respond.
Being imbricated within such affective atmospheres reveals an interest in the event.
Events of being rattled, shaken, or knocked therefore contain within them an ethical
potential, opening up opportunities for repair and offering a potential to redraw and
negotiate the field of what might be possible. Reminiscent of Ranciere's `politics of
disagreement', the sociality of public transport is therefore a collective accomplishment.
To be sure, I am certainly not condoning or valorising events of injustice and hurt.
Rather I am suggesting that these spaces of negotiation are ``sites of ethical responsibility'' (Popke, 2009, page 84) with the capacity to redraw our ethical orientation, and
potentially enhance our affective capacities.
Acknowledgements. I would like to thank the four referees and the journal editors for their
extremely generous and perceptive comments which have helped to tighten the paper. This paper
has also benefitted hugely from the input of staff and students at Manchester Metropolitan
University's Manchester Institute of Social and Spatial Transformations seminar series, and the
School of Geography and the Environment seminar series at the University of Oxford.
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