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Stéphanie Ponsavady

True to our original mission, this new issue of Transfers brings together a plurality of disciplines, from history to anthropology and literary criticism. It showcases reactions to the current pandemic as well as far-reaching reflections on the meanings of mobility. Bracketing our issue, two articles engage with the history of mobility. Drawing our attention to the extent of the automobility system, in “The Freeway Journey: Landscape and Mobility in the Southern Auto Industry,” John E. Mohr questions the economic and social costs of developing the I-85 highway corridor through the American South. Hugo Silveira Pereira interrogates “The Past, Present, and Future of Peripheral Mobilities in Portugal” through a history of the Portuguese narrow-gauge railway system that spans over a century.

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Forced Immobility

Undocumented Migrants, Boats, Brussels, and Islands

Godfrey Baldacchino


Over April and May 2020, some 425 undocumented male migrants, mainly of Sub-Saharan origin, making the perilous crossing by boat from Libya toward Europe across the central Mediterranean, were saved and taken aboard by Maltese search and rescue vessels. However, instead of being immediately ported and disembarked, they were transferred to four “pleasure boats” and left bobbing on the high seas, some for forty days, while the Maltese government sought out other European countries who might be willing to take in some of them. This article uses this episode to foreground the manner in which boats and ships are serving as floating islands, also in international waters, producing a modern form of forced immobility and arrest.

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The Freeway Journey

Landscape and Mobility in the Southern Auto Industry

John E. Mohr


The I-85 highway corridor through the American South has emerged as a key artery for the global auto industry over the last three decades. An influx of foreign capital has transformed the region into one of the world's prime automobile manufacturing hubs. The easy mobility offered by I-85 and its tributary networks has been central to the economic and social transformation of the region. However, there are distinct limits and costs to this transformation that are frequently downplayed in the name of a technologically utopian approach to development. The I-85 corridor has facilitated the development of the auto industry in the American South, but it has also contributed greatly to the increasing capitalist exploitation of its people.

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Getting Behind the Object We Love the Most

Cars: Accelerating the Modern World Victoria and Albert Museum

Robert Braun and Richard Randell

Recounted through artifacts, primarily automobiles, but also photographs, video, text, and automobile related installations, Cars: Accelerating the Modern World presented a history of the automobile from its beginnings—a restored 1896 Benz—to an imagined future represented by a “flying car.” The exhibition promised to help us navigate possible car futures based on what we can learn from the past.

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Multilocality and the Politics of Space in Protracted Exile

The Case of a Palestinian Refugee Camp in the West Bank

Dorota Woroniecka-Krzyzanowska


This article employs the concept of multilocality to analyze the politics of space under the condition of protracted encampment. Rather than adopting a common synchronic approach to how refugees relate to space, the theoretical lens of multilocality grasps the diachronic dimension of protracted camps understood as places that encompass multiple attachments across time and space: the remembered and imagined places of origin, sites of residence in exile, and future geographies of hope or anticipation. Based on ethnographic fieldwork in al-Am'ari, a Palestinian refugee camp in the West Bank, I analyze multilocality as a political practice whereby local residents and organizations nurture the refugee identity of their communities, resist the permanence of protracted exile, and manifest the necessity for political change.

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Novel Reviews

Anna-Leena Toivanen and Joanna E. Taylor

Michèle Rakotoson, Elle, au printemps (Saint-Maur: Sépia, 1996), 122 pp.

Kathleen Jamie, Surfacing (UK: Sort of Books, 2019), 240 pp., £7.99.

Kathleen Jamie (ed.), Antlers of Water: Writing on the Nature and Environment of Scotland (Edinburgh: Canongate Books, 2020), 232pp., £20.

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Pandemic Drones

Promises and Perils

Julia M. Hildebrand and Stephanie Sodero


When the novel coronavirus moved around the planet in early 2020, reconfiguring, slowing down, or halting everyday mobilities, another transport mode was mobilized: the pandemic drone. We highlight the increasing prominence of this aerial device by surveying international media coverage of pandemic drone use in the spring of 2020. To address a range of pandemic drone affordances and applications, we organize manifold cases under two broad categories: sensing and moving with the pandemic drone. Here we ask: what roles do, and could, drones play during the pandemic? Following the empirical examples and related mobilities research, we theorize the drone versus virus and the drone as virus. As such, the work identifies avenues for mobilities research into pandemic drones as a growing mobility domain. Moreover, in thinking through the pandemic drone, we demonstrate creative extensions of mobilities thinking that bridge biological and technological, as well as media and mobility frameworks when multiple public health and safety crises unfolded and intersected.

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Past, Present, and Future of Peripheral Mobilities in Portugal

The Portuguese Narrow-Gauge Railway System (1870s–2010s)

Hugo Silveira Pereira


In the Portuguese railway system, narrow-gauge lines were an important part of the network, accounting for a fifth of the extent and roughly a sixth of the traffic. Portuguese historiography about these railways focuses on partial aspects of their evolution and does not provide a general critical overview of their history. In this article, I propose the analysis of Portuguese narrow gauge as a Large Technological System connecting the Portuguese center(s) to its periphery(ies) in different stages of its evolution, from its implementation to its decline. Using available literature and unpublished statistical data of operation, I demonstrate how narrow gauge was unable to compete with automobility and ceased to be an alternative for long-distance transportation, but is resurfacing with different uses and goals.

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Place Making in Transit

Literary Interventions at the Airport and in the Underground

Emma Eldelin and Andreas Nyblom


Spaces of transit and transportation are often thought of as one-dimensional and as defined by their functionality and rationality, but recent literary texts challenge such preconceptions by representing those spaces as multidimensional and meaningful. In this article, we examine literature through the lens of place making, seeking to understand in what ways literary representations are involved in renegotiations of transit space. Addressing two generic spaces of transit—the underground and the airport—we analyze a body of texts generated through initiatives relating to the London Underground and Heathrow Airport respectively. Arguing that literature contributes to a processual understanding of place, we conclude that literary texts should be considered as instances of place making, and thus deserve serious consideration in research.

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Your “Eyesore,” My History?

People and “Dead” Cars in a Remote Aboriginal Community

Kate Senior, Richard Chenhall, and Daphne Daniels


In this article we visit a car junkyard in the small Arnhem Land outstation of Nalawan in the top end of Australia's Northern Territory. Using both a mobilities paradigm and recent theorizing of waste from the global south, we will argue through our ethnographic observations that the wrecked cars become mobile, reassembled, and reconceptualized in a range of surprising ways. Though now immobile, the stories they encapsulate continue to circulate and reverberate with the complexities and tensions of Indigenous mobilities.