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.
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.
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.
The publication timeline of the issues of volume 10 of Transfers has been informed by its own history and our now shared global history. Issue 10.1 commemorated the journal's 10th anniversary and sought to take stock of the past, point to future avenues, and react to the immediate present. Issue 10.2/3 is a double issue that moves the journal further into a new era. It both reaffirms our commitment to interdisciplinarity, diversity, and cutting-edge theorization and remains faithful to our engagement to question accepted histories, especially in the case of infrastructures, these seemingly perennial elements of our lived environment. Editing this journal remains a collaborative and interdisciplinary effort. As such, this double issue presents a collection of research articles on aeromobility, human-elephant relations, LGBT refugees in Germany, and mobility justice in Australia, followed by a special section on railways in Europe and Asia. In both parts of this issue, the articles weave together acts of authoring and reading mobility, by challenging our understanding of our field's accepted terms and concepts, developing their semantic richness, and asking of us to fully reflect on their meaning today.
Precarious Connections: On the Promise and Menace of Railroad Projects
Peter Schweitzer and Olga Povoroznyuk
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.
Continuity and Change of (Post)Socialist Infrastructure
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.
Educating the First Railroaders in Central Sakha (Yakutiya)
Sigrid Irene Wentzel
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.
COVID Pandemic and the Politics of Mobility
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.
This Perspective piece marks the ten-year anniversary of Transfers’ life as a journal and its contributions to aeromobilities research. Reflecting on my own past decade learning and writing about aeromobilities, the article takes stock of some significant threads in the field, before charting out three key future directions for aeromobilities research prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic and health crisis. Without prejudice to existing scholarly threads, the article discusses the burgeoning salience of new (aero)mobility injustices, automation, and aerial (in)civilities, amid an aviation industry struggling to reboot itself. The next ten years present enduring possibilities for aeromobilities inquiries, and the article hopes to inspire future thinking on the subject as societies connect again through aviation.
Transfers as Interdisciplinary Site
Ten years ago a new journal that would anchor and foster what would become known as the “new mobility studies” appeared: Transfers. The intervening years have seen it grow into an important multidisciplinary, if not yet quite interdisciplinary, journal for researchers around the world. Reflecting on Transfers’ founding and first decade, this essay comments on the salutary development within the journal's pages of “worlding” the European and North American analyses that had characterized early mobility studies, and cautions against underestimating the continuing power of the state in constructing and administering environments of mobility.