The Pedestrian Crossing as Social Gift

In "On The Ethics of Pedestrian Crossings", first published in 2000, Ghassan Hage tells the story of Ali, a Lebanese migrant to Australia, who arrived in a traumatised state, and spent time crossing and re-crossing roads in the busy Sydney suburb where he came to live.

Hage's essay reflects on the existence of pedestrian crossings within the regulation of social generosity, rules that may be implemented differently while remaining technically intact.

The "ethical structural fact" of the pedestrian crossing is then the instrument that circumscribes and thus forecloses on the possibility of Absolute Hospitality.

This relates to Derrida's suggestion that the First Violence to Foreigners is that they learn to speak the language of the place where they are. On the other hand: Deliriously Anonymous.

The conditional generosity of these everyday interactions between pedestrians and drivers who are strangers to each other also relates to the invention of jaywalking as a modern crime. link


There are of course a multitude of ways in which pedestrians and drivers negotiate a pedestrian crossing. There are drivers who would simply stop for the pedestrian no matter what, except maybe if they are taking someone injured to a hospital. There are drivers who see crossings as a place to compete with pedestrians over who gets to cross first.There are drivers who stop in a matter of fact manner and drivers who expect to be thanked. But of course the same driver can behave at a crossing differently according to the mood they are in, if they are in a hurry or not, if they slept well or not, and maybe according to their previous experience of stopping at pedestrian crossings. For, of course, just as drivers stop in different ways, crossings are also crossed differently by pedestrians. There are pedestrians who express gratitude and pedestrians who cross arrogantly. There are pedestrians who cross absent mindedly and those who are very conscious of the traffic. There are those who cross treating cars as enemies and those who cross trying to cause minimal disruption to the traffic.

But this plurality of modes of interaction in all their richness should not conceal what is underlying them and what constitute by far the single most important aspect of the phenomenon: a pedestrian crossing is an ethical structural fact.

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