The fluidity of modernity has surely reached the outskirts of the earth when even the new Pope Franciscus admonishes his cardinals that “our life is a journey and when we stop there is something wrong. […] If one does not walk, one gets stuck.” The current economic crisis has enhanced the fear of congestion and the interruption of flows: the circulation of capital in the first instance, but also of people and stuff, and of ideas and knowledge. It is time to rethink mobility.
Gijs Mom, Georgine Clarsen, Liz Millward, Dorit Müller, Mimi Sheller, and Heike Weber
Gijs Mom, Georgine Clarsen, Peter Merriman, Cotten Seiler, Mimi Sheller, and Heike Weber
In the middle of last year, a large survey in the Netherlands revealed that the average Dutch person dedicates seven hours per day to “media consumption.” That is the gross value, the surveyors assure us. The net value is 5.5, meaning that 1.5 hours are spent multitasking, such as watching TV and surfing on the net, or “tweeting” (on Twitter) during a football match. Remarkably, using the cell phone while driving would not qualify as multitasking as the car is not considered to be a medium. Users know better, as we will see in this issue, and mobility researchers are devising conceptual frameworks that are adequate to the complex and multiple relations between diverse media.
A poem by Tim Cresswell
On the Historical Alignment of Media and Mobility
Dorit Müller and Heike Weber
In a nineteenth century context, traffic could mean both communication and the transportation of goods and people. For instance, the German term “traffic” (Verkehr), referred to “communicating” (verkehren) and to “traffic”/“transportation” (Verkehr). Historically speaking, before the age of telegraphy, any communication over distance required the physical transport of a message or a messenger. Many authors, thus, identified the latter as a fundamental caesura in the relationship between media and mobility, uncoupling media from their previous reliance on physical movement. At the same time, telegraphy and the railway formed a paradigmatic symbiosis that enforced the ongoing duality between media and mobility: traffic depended on and sometimes boosted communication and vice versa. Hence, traffic and media were not disconnected as such, but their connections were rearranged and new ones emerged while others such as the postal services persisted.
Gijs Mom, Cotten Seiler, and Georgine Clarsen
This issue is the last of volume 2. With this, we have reached a milestone in our fledgling history and a threshold to the last volume in our series of three in which we have strived, and still strive, to get all the important elements of a good journal in place. According to our original plans our priorities were to establish top-quality submissions, a splendid pool of knowledgeable and rigorous but generous transdisciplinary referees, efficient refereeing procedures, satisfactory rejection rates, timely manuscript production, and a subscriber base that crosses disciplinary boundaries. Although quantitatively not yet up to standard, our readership is variegated and adventurous enough to appreciate our desire to “rethink mobility” and dedicate printed space to “mobility writ large.” Before we begin to produce volume 3 (2012) this September, our editorial team will retreat, evaluate, and look each other in the eyes to determine what we can do better.
Mobility, Transfers, and Cultural Appropriation
In his recent “manifesto” for future “mobility studies,” Stephen Greenblatt demands that studies investigating mobility from a cultural perspective should (a) make sure not to ignore mobility in the “literal sense,” that is, the “physical, infrastructural, and institutional conditions of movement,” (b) pay attention to “hidden” as well as “conspicuous” forms of movement, (c) look at the “contact zones” of cultural transfer, (d) consider the “tension between individual agency and structural constraint” in these processes and, finally, (e) not forget the “sensation” of “locality,” and the “allure” of “local cultures.”1
Introduction to the Special Section
Ruth Oldenziel and Adri Albert de la Bruhèze
During their transnational circulation, bicycles became glocalized as local users tailored them to fit local laws, customs, user preferences and cultures. Bicycles thus acquired many different local meanings as users incorporated them into daily lifes and practices in diverse global settings. To show the importance of 'normalized use', i.e. rural bicycle use, in which cycling became enduring, sustainable, new, old and new again, we need globally grounded histories of mobility.
Gijs Mom, Georgine Clarsen, and Cotten Seiler
Last year President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela announced the appearance of what a Dutch national newspaper called an “anticapitalist car.” The two models, named by Chávez himself as the “Orinoco” and the “Arauca,” after rivers that run through Venezuela, are locally assembled under a preferential license agreement with the Chinese automaker Chery. The cars are sold for half the price of other makes and are marketed to the expanding Venezuelan middle class. They are intended as “new attainments of the revolution” that are meant to raise the “standard of life of the people.” This new venture was in a tradition that Chávez’s opponents claim started in 2006, when he came close to making a similar deal with Iranian president Ahmadinejad.
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.
Introduction to the Special Section on Roads
Roads matter. They define spaces, spur economic development, provide ways of seeing cities and countryside, and enable generally faster forms of moving around. While the history of mobility and transportation has paid lots of attention to automobiles, trains, and airplanes, fewer scholarly accounts of streets, roads, and highways exist. For one, roads, unlike cars, almost never become individually owned objects of personal consumption. While some iconic highways such as the myth-laden “Route 66” in the U.S. exist, the majority of roads are nameless except for combinations of letters and numbers. As is the case with so many other everyday technologies, most observers only notice roads when they are dysfunctional: during traffic jams, when they contain potholes, during periods of construction and maintenance.