This summer a small airplane was suspended between high trees on a lane in a posh neighborhood of Amsterdam. Part of a display of contemporary art, the plane is one of Joost Conijn’s self-built contraptions in which he flew all the way to Africa, regularly reporting on his “performance” in one of the Dutch national newspapers. In Western histories of mobility, voyages to Africa—on foot, by ship, in litters carried by indigenous people, in trains, by car or motorbike, and in planes—symbolized in the popular mind an aggressive colonialism. Such trips demonstrated Western superiority as much as they involved utilitarian journeying or reconnaissance of land to be conquered. Anxious about staying aloft, Conijn mimicked in his adventures the pioneering spirit of colonial exploits while at the same time giving them a postcolonial twist. In his case, the return to Africa was a self-consciously humble venture, one that threw into comic relief assumptions of western superiority and the right to unfettered mobility. At the same time as his low-tech vehicle questioned the rationality of mass tourism in supersize Boeings, it reminded us of an era after the car began to be domesticated, when aviation promised to be the more advanced successor of individual motorized transport.
Using Peter Merriman's recent book as a trigger, this review-cum-polemic argues that mobility history is facing a scholarly crisis in the midst of other mobility-related fields that are blossoming. The core of the diagnosis is a lack of debate on a central question that is painfully missing. The article suggests as a remedy the opening up of the field along the paths of transmodality, transdisciplinarity, and especially transnationality. The national bias of much historical scholarship is a hindrance to its future blooming.
In his reply to my diatribe about the crisis of transport and mobility history, my friend Peter Merriman casually drops the term “modernist” three times (one time in combination with “desires”), as if to suggest that mine is a backward struggle. He seems to ask: haven’t we now moved into the postmodern condition, beyond the illusions of grand narratives and all-permeating questions, into a meadow of a thousand blooming flowers? Apart from the fact that Mao was more modest than Merriman (Mao used ba¯i, a hundred, not qia¯n, a thousand, my Chinese teacher here in Shanghai explains to me, and he used “blossoming” rather than “blooming,” though the difference between the two escapes me with my limited mastery of English), Peter might be right: I confess I am an antimodernist modernist. Like Deng Xiaoping, for whom this term was coined by the Chinese historian Wang Hui and with whom (for several reasons) I don’t like to be compared, I like to stir things up to keep us awake. I need to ask questions—often with a vengeance. Perhaps the main difference between Peter and I is that I dare to use the word “us.” I feel a member of an association, while Peter might be considered a monad in a network. While I bask in the illusions of a community of scholars, Peter advocate a mild postmodernism, perhaps feeling more at home in a fragmented environment, of which even the mobile practices of the Australian Pitjantjatara form a part. Do we have a case of Gesellschaft versus Gemeinschaft here?
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
Gijs Mom and Nanny Kim
How topsy-turvy can the world of mobility become? Th e London cab has recently been revived by a Chinese automotive group,1 General Motors had to be rescued by the American taxpayer, and BMW is converting its cars to electricity. In Delhi, after a rape and murder of a woman in a bus, rickshaw pullers introduced “safe for women” rickshaws.2 In Brazil riots against corruption and poverty started in a bus, out of outrage at increased ticket prices.3 In Rio de Janeiro there are three bus accidents per day, in part caused by drivers racing against each other.4 How can we understand the plethora of confusing messages from a world of mobility that seems to spin out of control, more so with every new decade? New Mobility Studies tries to make sense of this turbulence and as editors of Transfers we seek fresh approaches that are not afraid of transgressing boundaries. Th is issue, in which we present scholarship beyond the immediate reach of Western mainstream mobility studies, is an example of such boundary crossing.
Mimi Sheller and Gijs Mom
Th is issue sheds new light on one of the classic concerns of mobility studies: transitions in forms of personal transportation. Mobility transitions are arguably one of the key issues of the twenty-first century, as societies around the world face the pressing questions of climate change mitigation and adaptation. A better understanding of recent and historical transitions not only in vehicle technologies but also in urban forms could be crucial to guiding future transition dynamics. At the same time, a deeper appreciation of historical transitions in transportation can also inform how we think about the present: what methods we use, what factors we take into consideration, and what theoretical perspectives we employ.
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.
Heike Weber and Gijs Mom
The final months of 2014 have seen many critical events in respect to mobility:
Apple introduced its Apple Watch, a cyborg technology that adds a novel,
substantially corporeal layer to our “always on” connectedness—what Sherry
Turkle has termed the “tethered self.”1 Moreover, it is said to revolutionize
mobile paying systems, and it might finally implement mobile body monitoring
techniques into daily life.2 Ebola is terrorizing Africa and frightening the
world; its outbreak and spread is based on human mobility, and researchers
are calling for better control and quantifi cation of human mobility in the affected
regions to contain the disease.3 Even its initial spread from animals to
humans may have had its origin in human transgressions beyond traditional
habitats, by intruding into insular bush regions and using the local fruit bats
as food. Due to global mobility patterns, the viral passenger switched transport
modes, from animal to airplane. On the other hand, private space fl ight
suff ered two serious setbacks in just one week when the Antares rocket of Orbital
Sciences, with supplies for the International Space Station and satellites
on board, exploded, and shortly after, SpaceShipTwo crashed over the Mojave
Desert. Th ese catastrophic failures ignited wide media discussion on the challenges,
dangers, and signifi cance of space mobility, its ongoing commercialization
and privatization, and, in particular, plans for future manned space
travel for “tourists.”4
Deborah Breen and Gijs Mom
“Mobility crisis”: These are the words used by Anumita Roychoudhury, the
executive director of Delhi’s Centre for Science and Environment, to describe
the growing pollution in India, especially in large cities like Delhi, as a result
of the dramatic increase in the use of motorized vehicles in the past two
decades. Although the population of Delhi and its surrounding cities more
than doubled (to twenty-two million) between 1991 and 2011, she points out
that registered cars and motorbikes increased fivefold, to eight million.1 Th is
growth, along with increased but poorly regulated construction, underinvestment
in public transport, and local and national policies that privilege automobiles
at the expense of other forms of transport, has resulted in pollution
rates that are now, according to a World Health Organization report, the worst
in the world.2
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.