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Jonas van der Straeten: Sustainability’s “Other”: Coming to Terms with the Electric Rickshaw in Bangladesh. [Abstract]

The transition from fossil fuel-powered to electric mobility is widely discussed as a trajectory towards more efficient, affordable, and sustainable transport infrastructure. Widely ignored in academia, this transition has occurred earlier, faster, and more profoundly in Bangladesh than in Europe or the US but under conditions almost diametrically opposed. Without any national policy to support it, the transition has been driven by the country’s informal economy. However, rather than being framed as a potential technology for “greening” public transport, electric rickshaws are subject to controversies, bans, and exclusion from policies for electric vehicles. This article explores the reasons behind this discrepancy. It unpacks the preconditions, sites, agents, and practices underlying rickshaw electrification in Bangladesh and situates the conflicts surrounding it in a wider institutional context. It shows how in these conflicts, national-level policymakers and business elites mobilize imaginaries of sustainability against electric rickshaws and rely on strategies of “othering” them in (eco-)modernist narratives of social change. Based on the case study, the article points to open questions for the current decolonization agenda in global debates on sustainability transitions and infrastructure.

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