Documenting the work & lives of Chicago cabdrivers

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My name is Tracy Luedke, of Northeastern Illinois University here in Chicago. I am a professor of cultural anthropology.

As a cultural anthropologist, I am interested in the ideas, activities, and relationships that make up people’s experiences of the world. I have done field research in Mozambique (in southern Africa), studying and learning about the networks and organizations of traditional healers and their practices.

I became interested in the lives and working conditions of Chicago taxi drivers through my contact and communications with one of my students, Peter Ali Enger, who is the Secretary of the UTCC and who has been a student at Northeastern for the past seven years.

I was also asked to serve on the Board of Directors of the UTCC last year, and I happily accepted. The work of taxi drivers is central to the transportation systems of major urban areas, & drivers’ work lives are good examples of present-day labor conditions in a globalized world.

However, taxi drivers’ experiences are often hidden—the general public typically does not know much about what it is like to drive a taxi and scholars rarely study it.

Peter and I have started a new research project that we hope will help to overcome this lack of information. We plan to document the everyday lives of drivers, both in the work they do in their individual careers and when they come together as a community.

Interviewing drivers about their experiences in the taxi industry will be a central part of our research activities. We welcome the participation of a wide range of drivers with varied experiences. Participation is entirely voluntary and we will schedule research activities when it is convenient for participants.

The goal of the project is to produce a book that will be useful to those involved. We hope it will be useful to drivers themselves, as a record of their work.

We hope it will also be useful to UTCC in their ongoing efforts to organize drivers and to defend drivers’ rights. And we hope it will be useful to other individuals and organizations who work in support of human rights for the global workforce.

Finally, we hope it will help to positively change public perceptions of cab drivers, by giving voice to their stories and humanizing their struggles.