Indigènes into Signs

Incorporating Indigenous Pedestrians on Colonial Roads in 1920s and 1930s French Indochina

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In Colonial Indochina, the introduction of motorized transportation led French authorities to focus their attention on the issue of pedestrian walking. The political and economic imperatives of the colonial state shaped the modern phenomenon of traffic, which isolated the indigenous body as a sign of otherness. The unruly indigenous pedestrian expressed a discursive and experiential crisis that questioned colonialism itself. This article invites us to examine the political potential of walking by considering Henri Lefebvre's notion of dressage and its limitations in a colonial setting through various examples, from French accounts of indigenous walking in daily activities to political disruptions of traffic by pedestrian demonstrators and the incorporation of indigenous bodies in road safety policies. Repeatedly, colonial subjects eluded, criticized, or undermined the rules of the road and the colony by the simple act of walking.

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Interdisciplinary Journal of Mobility Studies

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