self-driving cars—a promise made by the manufacturers and echoed in journalistic and popular culture discourse—rekindles the old familiar logic of a “technological fix”: technology is understood mainly as a tool to shape the social in a one
Autonomous Driving and the Transformation of Car Cultures
Jutta Weber and Fabian Kröger
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 translate.
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.
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.
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
This issue of Transfers features five individual essays critically engaging with the promises promoted alongside new methods and purposes of mobility. Two essays, Martin Emanuel’s “From Victim to Villain: Cycling, Traffic Policy, and Spatial Conflicts in Stockholm, circa 1980” and Andrew V. Clark and colleagues’ “The Rise and Fall of the Segway: Lessons for the Social Adoption of Future Transportation,” circle around a core theme of Transfers with their fresh look at transportation, its vehicles, and its methods; two others, Noah Goodall’s “More Than Trolleys: Plausible, Ethically Ambiguous Scenarios Likely to Be Encountered by Automated Vehicles” and Gal Hertz’s “From Epistemology of Suspicion to Racial Profiling: Hans Gross, Mobility and Crime around 1900,” look at mobility’s social side. Fascinatingly consistent are the adjectives and adverbs that qualify the promises that are made for these technologies. Segways, for instance, were sustainable, enviro-friendly, shared. Smart, personalized, and robotic are some of the commonly invoked terms in the growing literature on this particular PMD (personal mobility device). Adverbial are the benefits of automated driving too: safe and liberating, both values desired by a nineteenth-century urbanized Austrian society that imagined the city as a space of settled inhabitants free of migrants and hence also free of crimes.
As announced in our most recent editorial, this issue of Transfers features a series of reflections on the role of movement and mobilities in the fields of history of science, technology, and medicine. Four major collaborative projects in different stages of completion are introduced: “Moving Crops and the Scales of History”; “Individual Itineraries and the Circulation of Scientific and Technical Knowledge in China (16th–20th Centuries)”; “Migrating Knowledge”; and “Itineraries of Materials, Recipes, Techniques, and Knowledge in the Early Modern World.” Over the past few years, historical research on scientific and technological change and movement has altered substantially in form and content. Many projects have taken on a collaborative format as globalization and global exchange methodologies advanced and brought about an increased awareness of geographies, cultural differences, and postcolonial debate but also as sources became increasingly visible and available through digital means and researchers themselves became more mobile. The four examples selected can inevitably provide only a glimpse into this changing landscape and were chosen as offering a representative geographic coverage of European and US American scholarship in which, however, colleagues from a wide range of areas including India, South America, and Asia were involved.
Mobility Studies, a Transdisciplinary Field
commitment to multiplicity as a methodological strength and the necessity to write about mobilities past, present and future. Experts of human geography, arts, Asian studies, and gender—as well as the history of science and technology, film, and media
Judith A. Nicholson and Mimi Sheller
. 26 Through the use of these innovative “clean” vehicles, whiteness became linked with new technology, speed, and industrial modernization. According to Geoff Zylstra, “The measure of control that streetcar companies and conductors exerted over the