Unsettled crossings

Underpass journeys in an English town


  • Sergen Bachceci
  • Ben Bradford
  • Evi Girling
  • Ian Loader
  • Richard Sparks


Aesthetics, governance, mobilities, sense of place, unease


What kinds of ‘sensory configurations’ (Thomas, 2010), and moral orders, are created in places that are simultaneously formed and rendered marginal by infrastructures of hegemonic automobility? In this paper, we explore this question with reference to one micro-site we have encountered in our current study of security and everyday life in an English town – Macclesfield in Cheshire. That site is the Gas Road underpass, a key pedestrian route between the town centre and the east of the town on the other side of its busiest road. Underpasses are generic urban artefacts, mundane features of necessity, of light and darkness, of entry and exit, of solitude and transient encounter. This residual place is for many users one to be passed through, often quite quickly, without particular engagement. It is, on the other hand, also a regular gathering point for the homeless and young people, and a focus for intervention by local authorities, responding to concerns about public drinking and other undesired activities. The underpass provokes concerned talk among residents about the safety of those who (have to) use it, and unsettled debate among local decision-makers over how to beautify, illuminate, regulate, or otherwise improve it. In the paper, we use film, photographs, interviews and in situ observation, to explore the contested ways in which this place is sensed. We argue for a situated understanding of how this residual space unsettles the town’s sense of place, and for acknowledgment of how history and landscape shape the local meanings of such places and journeys.

Author Biographies

Sergen Bachceci

Sergen Bahceci is a Lecturer in Anthropology at Goldsmiths, University of London.

Ben Bradford

Ben Bradford is Professor of Global City Policing and Director of the Centre for Global City Policing in the Department of Security and Crime Science, University College London.



Evi Girling

Evi Girling is Senior Lecturer in Criminology in the School of Social, Political and Global studies at Keele University.



Ian Loader

Ian Loader is Professor of Criminology at the University of Oxford and Honorary Professorial Fellow in the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Melbourne. He is Editor-in-Chief of the Howard Journal of Crime and Justice.


Richard Sparks

Richard Sparks is Professor of Criminology at the University of Edinburgh and was (2006-16) a founding co-director of the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research. He was formerly convenor of Howard League Scotland. In 2019 Richard was awarded an honorary doctorate by KU Leuven.