Paul Gilroy observed in 2001 that there were “surprisingly few” discussions of automobiles in histories of African American vernacular cultures, in spite of their “epoch-making impact.” He argued that a “ distinctive history of propertylessness and material deprivation” had led to a disproportionate African American investment in automobiles. This article considers how car culture has also operated as a salve for the “indignities of white supremacy” for Indigenous Australians, though on very different terms.
Since its inception, this journal has been at the leading edge of publishing research that rethinks mobilities from a humanities perspective. We learned much in the process. A plenary panel held at the T2M conference in Drexel University in September 2014 reflected on the experiences of our editorial team and announced our plans to organize our future work through a number of broad portfolios. Each invites/dares our contributors to take our thinking into new territory.
Transfers seeks to broaden the geographical, empirical, and theoretical reach
of mobilities scholarship. Our editorial team especially aims to foster innovative
research from new locales that moves our field beyond the social sciences
where the “new mobilities paradigm” was first articulated. Th is journal
is part of a growing intellectual project that brings together theoretical developments
and research agendas in the humanities and the social sciences. Our
ambition is to bring critical mobilities frameworks into closer conversation
with the humanities by encouraging empirical collaborations and conceptual
transfers across diverse disciplinary fields. Th e articles presented in this special
section forward those aims in several ways.
Georgine Clarsen and Gijs Mom
This is the twelfth issue of Transfers, and perhaps it is time to stop calling it a “new” journal! Our “baby” is growing up, thriving in an expanding landscape of interdisciplinary mobilities research. Transfers is maturing into a robust vehicle for global conversations.
Our rather ambitious mission has been both conceptual and empirical: to “rethink mobilities” and provide publishing opportunities for innovative research. For us, that has been exemplified in our commitment in several areas. Most importantly, we fly the flag for the new theoretical approaches that continue to move the field beyond the social sciences, where the “new mobilities paradigm” was first articulated. We position ourselves as part of a vibrant intellectual project that bridges theoretical developments and research agendas in the humanities and the social sciences.
Gijs Mom and Georgine Clarsen
The recent wave of refugees into Europe is—apart from a heartrending drama of human suff ering—a lesson in mobility. We increasingly find that current forms of mobility are diffi cult to analyze without taking such public dramas into account: it seems that more than ever the politics of mobility are crying out for the mobility student’s attention. While in Europe a gulf of ambiguous empathy was triggered by the ultimate expression of immobility (a shocking image that so quickly moved around the world of a little Syrian boy called Aylan Kurdi lying facedown on the beach, his head pointing toward the sea, as if his last wish had been to go back), the fl ows, the streams, the “swarms” of refugees were nothing less than the very embodiment of movement. Swarms, in this context is not meant to be a pejorative term or invoked in the service of nationalist agendas, but refers to the insight that certain forms of collective mobility seem to follow a kind of inherent behavioral logic, the group acting as if it is organized but without an actual leader.
Georgine Clarsen and Gijs Mom
This issue we mourn the untimely death of John Urry, our much-loved friend and colleague. John’s role in the emergence of mobility studies, our robust and multidisciplinary field of scholarship, is well-known. Based at Lancaster for most of his working life, John was central to launching new ways of thinking and researching, not only in his own discipline of sociology but across the social sciences and humanities. The breadth and scope of John’s scholarship is evident in his extensive list of publications. They date from the early 1970s, gathered momentum over the past two decades, and will continue into the future with material still in press.
Gijs Mom and Georgine Clarsen
Fostering conversations (and even better, interdisciplinary collaborations) between mobility historians and media historians is a high priority for this journal. Three years ago in Transfers 3, no. 1 (spring 2013), Dorit Müller and Heike Weber, as editors of this journal and guest editors of a Special Section on Media and Mobility, made a plea to study “the intense correlations between media and transport technologies,” which had been fatefully split at the end of the nineteenth century. On that occasion, we also announced a “portfolio” on Media and Mobility (for more details, see this journal’s website), which was designed to stimulate the writing and publication of such crossover scholarship. We wait in hope for a courageous and curious historian who ventures an analysis of the car as a medium of communication, to name just one possible example.
Georgine Clarsen Gijs Mom
The title of this journal, Transfers, merits explication, as it attempts
to engage a multitude of scholarly fields, applications, practices and
conceptual frameworks. For us, Transfers invokes the movement of
people, things, and information through time and space, but it also applies
to the transit of concepts between fields of scholarship. The practices of
technology transfer are an example of the former, while the latter can be
seen at work when the concept of mobility is used to refer to both social
(or “vertical”) mobility and physical (or “horizontal”) mobility. Social
mobility, for instance, comes into play when the possession of a car leads
to higher status, or when the train compartment becomes a medium of
social exchange or the display of social hierarchies rather than simply a
vehicle of physical transport. Interdisciplinarity, the key scholarly mode
of this journal, always involves the movement of ideas across disciplinary
borders, unsettling them in (we think) productive ways. Transfers, in other
words, connects adjacent fields of scholarship as much as it connects
geographical areas between which technologies move. It is crucial to
understand that during this process, people, technologies, concepts, and
goods in movement are transformed and transform their environments in
turn. This is not an automatic or passive process: as people move, people
Peter Merriman, Georgine Clarsen and Gijs Mom
Gijs Mom, Georgine Clarsen and Cotten Seiler
At Eindhoven University of Technology, which has a modest reputation for collecting contemporary art, an exhibition of large machines and poetic video clips by father and son Van Bakel invites passersby to reflect on mobility. Gerrit van Bakel, who died more than a quarter century ago, became known for his Tarim Machine, a vehicle that moves at such a low speed that it almost does not matter whether it moves or not. The propulsion principle—for those who love technology—rests on the dilatation energy of oil in tubes propelling (if propelling is the right word …) the contraption a couple of centimeters over a hundred years or so, as long as there is change in temperature to trigger the dilatation. Emphasizing his father’s insights, Michiel van Bakel, exhibits a video clip of a horse and rider galloping over a square in Rotterdam, where the position and camera work are operated so that the horse seems to turn around its axis while the environment rotates at a different tempo. Mobility, these Dutch artists convey, is often not what it seems to be.