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Accepted Paper:

Denying Support at a Digital Toll Machine: Contested Sociality of a Bulgarian Road Stop  
Michael Anranter (University of Vienna)

Paper short abstract:

This paper analyses the refusal of help to customers operating a toll machine at a rest area. It focuses on the social and administrative unravelling of roads and service areas to question the interpersonal relations at a social transport infrastructure.

Paper long abstract:

In 2019, Bulgaria introduced a digital toll system for first- and second-class roads. When I conducted participant research at a rest stop near the Bulgarian-Romanian border at the turn of 2019/ 2020, many drivers still seemed unsure of how to use the designated toll machine set up at the service area. Some did not have a credit card; others were overwhelmed with language settings and terms of conditions. In most situations, the drivers expected me to help them. But that is exactly what I was advised not to do. Later, when COVID-19 started to spread in Europe, the toll machine was moved from inside the shop to outside. Everyone seemed happy to further reduce their support for the purchase of vignettes.

Taking the vignette order as a starting point, this contribution explores why petrol station employees denied this specific road- and traffic-related assistance to motorists. Conceptualising service areas as a social transport infrastructure linking the hinterland to the road network in a socially meaningful way, I analyse the refusal of assistance as boundary work necessary to delineate duties and responsibilities in a relationship of tension amidst a state agency and customers. A key aspect is that digital devices appear to reinforce the dominance of state agencies over the road network, while authority and control remain contested in this specific, postsocialist context. Finally, I argue, the toll decouples service stations from the road network and calls into question the sociality of petrol stations by altering workers' individual empathy and solidarity.

Panel P005b
Infrastructuring Solidarity and the Commons: Prefigurative socio-technical articulations of a post-capitalist world II
  Session 1 Thursday 28 July, 2022, -