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Introduction

Precarious Connections: On the Promise and Menace of Railroad Projects

Peter Schweitzer and Olga Povoroznyuk

Abstract

This introduction attempts to situate railroads, which have rarely been the object of ethnographic attention, within current debates of anthropology and related disciplines. While mobility is certainly one dimension of human-railroad entanglements, the introduction calls to explore political, social, material, and affective lives of railroads in Europe and Asia as well. Often, connections provided by railroads are precarious at best: enveloped in state and local politics, they appear to some as promise and to others as menace. Planning, construction, decay, and reconstruction constitute the temporal and material life cycle of these infrastructures. Attending to particular ethnographic and historical contexts, the introduction aims to demonstrate how railroads, these potent symbols of modernity, continue to be good to think with.

The version of record is December 2020, though the actual publication date is May/June 202.

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Ernst van der Wal

Abstract

This article examines how photographic interviews can be used to represent the life stories of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender refugees. Transnational and cross-border movements have a significant impact on the photographic and narrative self-representation of such refugees. By focusing on the example of a photographic interview project, The Story That Travelled, this article demonstrates how ideas surrounding community, citizenship, and transnational mobility are interpreted and visualized by refugees who have fled their countries of origin because of their sexuality and/or gender. In addition, this article considers how digital technologies impact lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender refugees and their experience and negotiation of borders.

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Deborah Snow Molloy and Robert M. Briwa

Ann Petry, The Street (London: Virago, 2019), 416pp., £9.99 (soft back)

Luis Alberto Urrea, The Devil's Highway: A True Story (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2004), xxi +239 pp. $16.99 (paperback).

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On the Trails of Free-Roaming Elephants

Human-Elephant Mobility and History across the Indo-Myanmar Highlands

Paul G. Keil

Abstract

Humans and elephants have historically shared the forested mountain ranges of Zomia, a geography defined by the regular movement of people and an ecology shaped by the movement of its elephant population. This article will examine how free-roaming elephant pathways facilitated human mobility in the highlands defining the Indo-Myanmar border. It will analyze the more-than-human agency that emerges when following elephant trails and the varying role this forest infrastructure might have played in the social and political history of the region. The article will explore two historical examples. First, the migration of a Lisu community in Upper Myanmar who utilized elephant paths to navigate their passage. Second, how the British Empire exploited a network of elephant-human tracks to subjugate the peoples living in Mizoram, northeast India. In these regions the patterns of migration, history of colonization, and identities and practices of communities must be understood in relation to wild elephants.

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Railway Territorialities

Topology and Infrastructural Politics in Alpine Italy

Mateusz Laszczkowski

Abstract

This article examines transportation infrastructures’ capacity to produce and transform social space through a focus on the contested history of railway development in Valsusa, Italy. I draw on participant observation and interviews with local residents and activists during ethnographic fieldwork in 2014–2015. I first describe how railways helped form modern sociality in Valsusa in the twentieth century. Subsequently, I explore contrasting topological effects of a projected high-speed rail through the valley. For planners envisioning a trans-European space of exchange, the railway is a powerful way to “shrink” space; for local residents, this implies reducing Valsusa to a traffic “corridor.” Yet their protest generates new social relations and knowledges, giving rise to a notion of “territory” as unbound and connected to a transnational space of resistance to capitalist expansion.

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(Re)Constructing the Baikal-Amur Mainline

Continuity and Change of (Post)Socialist Infrastructure

Olga Povoroznyuk

Abstract

The construction of the Baikal-Amur Mainline (BAM) in East Siberia and the Russian Far East in the 1970s and 1980s was the largest technological and social engineering project of late socialism. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the BAM was dogged by economic bust, decline, and public disillusionment. BAM-2, a recently launched state program of technological modernization, aims to complete a second railway track. The project elicits memories as well as new hopes and expectations, especially among “builders of the BAM.” This article explores continuity and change between BAM-1 and BAM-2. It argues that the reconstruction efforts of the postsocialist state are predetermined by the durability of the infrastructure as a materialization of collective identities, memories, and emotions.

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State of Uncertainty

Educating the First Railroaders in Central Sakha (Yakutiya)

Sigrid Irene Wentzel

Abstract

In July 2019, the village of Nizhniy Bestyakh in the Republic of Sakha (Yakutiya), the Russian Far East, was finally able to celebrate the opening of an eagerly awaited railroad passenger connection. Through analysis of rich ethnographic data, this article explores the “state of uncertainty” caused by repeated delays in construction of the railroad prior to this and focuses on the effect of these delays on students of a local transportation college. This college prepares young people for railroad jobs and careers, promising a steady income and a place in the Republic's wider modernization project. The research also reveals how the state of uncertainty led to unforeseen consequences, such as the seeding of doubt among students about their desire to be a part of the Republic's industrialization drive.

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Traveling with Trained Man

Decolonizing Directions in Railway Mobilities

Katie Maher

Abstract

This article considers the railways as a decolonial option for moving toward mobility justice. It views the photographic artwork Trained Man by Ngalkban Australian artist Darren Siwes through a mobilities lens, considering how the artist plays with time and attends to space, making visible what colonial projects of protection and assimilation have attempted to erase. Attending to the truths and imaginaries that reside and move with Trained Man, it draws on the work of Aboriginal and Black artists, scholars, and activists to trace Australia's past and present colonial history of training Aboriginal people into whiteness. It considers the railways as carrying “two lines of destiny” with potential moving in both colonial and decolonial directions. The article concludes by suggesting that shared spaces such as the railways open possibilities for mobilizing the decolonial project.

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Underwater

Where Environmental Aesthetics Meets Magical Realism

Rodanthi Tzanelli

A unique exhibition was held between 19 and 22 September 2018 in the deep blue waters of Amorgos, Greece.1 Amorgos is the easternmost of the Cyclades islands, neighboring the Dodecanese island group. The island's rich aquatic life and architectural beauty featured prominently in French director Luc Besson's internationally acclaimed English-language film on freediving, The Big Blue (Le Grand Bleu, 1988), transforming the island into an international destination for tourists and freedivers. The exhibition, Underwater Gallery: On a Single Breath, was installed at a depth of 7 to 17 meters inside a sea cave in the area of Aghios Pavlos, below the Monastery of Hozoviotissa. Hozoviotissa's famous top-floor window of the “big blue” opens to the Aegean Sea, affording visitors a bird's eye view to the Aegean. It is clear that the gallery's connection to Besson's artwork is indisputable.

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Walking as a Metaphor

COVID Pandemic and the Politics of Mobility

Avishek Ray

Abstract

This article reflects on the dissenting act of mobility as articulated by migrant workers in India, who, during the nationwide lockdown amid the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, are walking back home, hundreds of miles away, in lieu of public transport. Their mobility—precisely, the act of walking—has thus acquired a metaphoric status, and laid bare the ideological practices of territorializing the city-space. This article argues that the migrant worker's mobility, from within the axiomatic of the prevalent “mobility regime,” can be read as a powerful metaphor of our tensions within the global political-economic order that the pandemic has so starkly exposed. The article provokes less literal, but more literary, understandings of mobilities in general, in order to come to grips with the manifold contradictions, paradoxes, and counteractions in the way the world moves.