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Libraries’ Winter ScholarSip Explores Mobilities Research with Guest Speaker Mimi Sheller

March 26, 2019

Do you ever wonder why so many cities seem to be organized around cars versus alternate forms of transportation like bicycles, public transit or walking?

Mimi Sheller, PhD, certainly does. Dr. Sheller, Drexel professor of sociology and the Director and Founder of the Center for Mobilities Research and Policy, spoke about mobilities research at the Drexel Libraries’ winter 2019 ScholarSip event, held March 18, 2019 in Drexel’s Academic Bistro.

“Mobilities Research is known as the ‘new mobilities paradigm,’” Dr. Mimi Sheller explained during the event. “I first got involved in this field when I was working at Lancaster University in England... At that time, one of the topics driving [my interest in the new mobilities paradigm] was the question of sustainable mobilities—thinking about the sociology of movement and why societies were organized around automobility and how a shift might happen beyond that.”

But mobilities research isn’t just about how we get around in cities. Dr. Sheller explained that this field of study also looks at how the world is influenced by different mobilities “that are sometimes about freedom of movement, but sometimes about inequality and coerced movements.” It looks at who has the mobility to stay within or leave a place and how power relationships may inform those choices. Men and women seated at round tables raise their beverage glasses in cheers.

During the discussion, Dr. Sheller spoke about the interdisciplinary nature of mobilities research and how she engages artists, designers and the public with her work through conferences, workshops, film screenings and exhibits.  

For example, Dr. Sheller helped curate LA Re.Play, an art exhibition that demonstrated the relationships between physical and digital spaces using smartphones, GPS and other mobile technologies.

She has also held interactive events to educate the public about the importance of drone delivery in remote communities. During one event, attendees had to fly paper airplanes to a “hospital” – a representation of how drones can help deliver medical supplies quickly and safely during an emergency.

Dr. Sheller hopes involving Drexel students in mobilities research will increase awareness of mobility issues. For example, she currently teaches a course called the Connected Mobilities Lab in which Drexel graduate students work on projects about new communication technologies and changes in mobility in Philadelphia.

Last term, one student looked at the potential impact of shared electric scooter services in Philadelphia, and another student did a case study on mobility inequality in Philadelphia. One other student created an interactive urban planning board game called “Transit on a Human Scale,” in which players develop public transportation infrastructure and then must use their transportation routes to get to work. 

Dr. Sheller’s talk ended with a lively Q/A session, during which the audience asked questions about the state of public transit in Philadelphia and the challenge of managing communication barriers between academic and community audiences.

To view this ScholarSip event recording online, visit

About ScholarSip
ScholarSip is an annual event series hosted by the Drexel University Libraries that seeks to nurture Drexel’s intellectual life and cross-campus community through informal gatherings where faculty and professional staff exchange ideas sparked by greater awareness of interdisciplinary research.

This year, the Drexel Libraries will go behind the scenes of the Drexel-style of civic engagement during its 2018/2019 ScholarSip event series: Communicating Research to Inspire Citizen Engagement.

During each quarterly event, a distinguished Drexel professor will offer “food for thought” on their experiences and insights of communicating their interdisciplinary research with various populations. They will explore with other faculty and professional staff the implications of their work and the challenges they face to bring knowledge and understanding of their research to audiences beyond their disciplines.