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Mobilizing Transport

Media, Actor-worlds, and Infrastructures

Gabriele Schabacher

The article deals with the relationship between media and transportation infrastructures and analyzes their links to the concept of mobility. It examines the assumption that infrastructure systems themselves are mobile, in the sense that they develop and have to be maintained constantly. According to such a perspective, they are to be considered not primarily as “structures,“ but as specific processes of mobilization (infrastructuring) that constitute the basis for mobility in the sense of transport and movement. Drawing on historical knowledge of transportation, it will be shown that a broad understanding of traffic as exchange, communication, and transportation has narrowed in the twentieth century, whereby the originally implied idea of transport as transformation became suppressed. Recent approaches in mobility studies, Science and Technology Studies (STS) and Actor-Network-Theory (ANT) can be combined in a fruitful way to unfold the specific dynamics of infrastructure as a process of mobilization (Callon) and technical mediation (Latour).

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Rolf-Ulrich Kunze

God created the Earth, but the Dutch created the Netherlands, albeit with only a limited role for the railway. Any railway museum in this country invented by and dependent on hydraulic engineering must creatively solve the problem of portraying a technology of mobility which was not central to the Waterstaat (hydro-engineering) identity and the nation’s sociotechnological construction, but one which initially was secondary and subsidiary and, above all, delayed. On the face of it, the story to be told here appears to be that of how, in a northwestern part of Europe where thorough industrialization was late to come, railway-based mobility established itself against the omnipresence of shipping and evolved from seaport-catering surface logistics into an integral element of everyday transportation in twentieth-century Netherlands. The Utrecht Spoorwegmuseum (railway museum) impressively shows that this is not even half the truth, behind which might be, at best, the grumbling resentment of an 1890 boatman.

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Cropscapes and History

Reflections on Rootedness and Mobility

Francesca Bray, Barbara Hahn, John Bosco Lourdusamy, and Tiago Saraiva

Crops are a very special type of human artifact, living organisms literally rooted in their environments. Crops suggest ways to embed rootedness in mobility studies, fleshing out the linkages between flows and matrices and thus developing effective frameworks for reconnecting local and global history. Our focus here is on the movements, or failures to move, of “cropscapes”: the ever-mutating ecologies, or matrices, comprising assemblages of nonhumans and humans, within which a particular crop in a particular place and time flourishes or fails. As with the landscape, the cropscape as concept and analytical tool implies a deliberate choice of frame. In playing with how to frame our selected cropscapes spatially and chronologically, we develop productive alternatives to latent Eurocentric and modernist assumptions about periodization, geographical hierarchies, and scale that still prevail within history of technology, global and comparative history, and indeed within broader public understanding of mobility and history.

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Commentary

Breathing Fresh Air into Mobility Studies from Down Under

Clapperton Chakanetsa Mavhunga

As Georgine Clarsen summarizes this special section on Australian and settler colonial Pacific, these four articles add to the “rereading [of] settler-colonial formations through practices and representations of movement [and] circulation.” But that is only half the truth. They also constitute counterrepresentations. They deal not only with the stasis that follows European settling as a process but also with counter- and antimobilities that Indigenous peoples mount: against inward movement, against disruptive settling and forceful displacement of the Indigenous from their lands, and against emplacement and settlement upon it. The scholars in this special section present an example for studies of mobility in the colonial setting in two ways. First, they decenter technology and center the human factor, for which they get full marks. Second they allow mobilities to emanate from the subjects and context of study, rather than letting conceptions of Western-centric, technocentric history of transport and mobility studies guide them.

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Fernanda Duarte

The Transborder Immigrant Tool is a Border Disturbance Art Performance that discusses the physical and virtual limits of the U.S.–Mexico frontier. It was developed by the Electronic Disturbance Theater (EDT) with the funding of the Arts and Humanities Grant 2007–2008 at the University of California in San Diego. The project uses an inexpensive GPS-enabled cell phone and a custom piece of software, the Virtual Hiker Algorithm, to guide border crossers in the desert. The crossing of the U.S.–Mexico border can be deadly due to the severe conditions of the environment; once in the Mexican desert, the software installed in the cell phone directs the immigrant toward the nearest aid site, be that water, first aid or law enforcement, along with other contextual navigational information. According to the EDT, the Transborder Immigrant Tool was created with the aim of reappropriating widely available technology to be used as a form of humanitarian aid, as well as offering a tactical intervention of distraction and disturbance in the order of transnational corridors. In addition to the navigational capabilities of the Tool, the performative effect is also provided through poetry made available on the screen of the cell phone. It is with this poetry that the artists attempt to rescue a sense of hospitality and to alleviate the difficulties of the journey.

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Commentary

The Cultural Diffusion of Asian Innovations in Transport Mobilities

Kevin Hannam

In this brief commentary on the articles in this special section, I would like to relate them to more contemporary mobilities issues as well as the wider mobilities theoretical literature. In so doing, I seek to highlight and interrogate a key theme, namely Asian innovation in mobilities and processes of cultural diffusion. As the editors of the special section suggest, historically the introduction of new transportation technologies and their ensuing mobilities practices became symbols of modernity for much of South and Southeast Asia under colonialism. They also emphasize that such innovations were highly contested and thus they suggest that the mobility of mobilities is seldom a smooth process, but, rather, laden with negotiations and struggles over power. Furthermore, the editors highlight that Asia should not be represented as an imitator of Western mobility and modernity but rather seek to place innovation agency in Asian hands. The articles prompt me to ask a further question about the role of non-human actors in these processes: Is it more a question of placing innovation in the vehicles of mobility themselves?

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Robert C. Post, Urban Mass Transit: The Life Story of a Technology Zachary M. Schrag

Joel Wolfe, Autos and Progress: The Brazilian Search for Modernity J. Brian Freeman

Georgine Clarsen, Eat My Dust: Early Women Motorists Liz Millward

Virginia Scharff and Carolyn Brucken, Home Lands: How Women Made the West Margaret Walsh

Jeffrey W. Alexander, Japan’s Motorcycle Wars: An Industry History Steven L. Thompson

Lewis H. Siegelbaum, Cars for Comrades: The Life of the Soviet Automobile Valentina Fava

Per Lundin, Bilsamhället: Ideologi, expertis och regelskapande i efterkrigstidens Sverige Bård Toldnes

Ruud Filarski and Gijs Mom, Van transport naar mobiliteit: De Transportrevolutie, 1800–1900 and Van transport naar mobiliteit: De Mobiliteitsexplosie, 1895–2005 Donald Weber

William J. Mitchell, Christoper E. Borroni-Bird, and Lawrence D. Burns, Reinventing the Automobile: Personal Urban Mobility for the 21st Century Joe Schultz

Randal O’Toole, Gridlock: Why We’re Stuck in Traffic and What to Do About It Bob Post

Edna Bonacich and Jake B. Wilson, Getting the Goods: Ports, Labor, and the Logistics Revolution Vaclav Smil

Ian Carter, British Railway Enthusiasm Stephen Cutcliffe

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Sandra Swart

Conceptual work on the history of mobilities has been devoid of animation other than humans and their machines. The deafening automobility of the present has drowned out memories of an “animal past” teleologically, and the raucous rapidity of the mobile machine drives over the “animal present.” This article is an attempt to explore what a history of mobility that takes animals seriously might look like. It is based on the argument that living nonhuman creatures have their own mobilities and that these animobilities have shaped and been shaped by human societies. It is intended to open up historical narratives of a complex, shifting, nonlinear relationship between animals and changing human technologies of transport—as part of this journal's mission to rethink mobility and include more subaltern approaches. A key finding is that mobility's negative sociopolitical and environmental effects on different groups, in fact species, are inversely correlated to their proximity to power. This article touches on several research trajectories, but the focus is on control of mobility by the state, with case studies drawn from southern Africa's history.

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David Burel

Despite the ubiquity of recreational vehicles traveling America’s highways, only a few scholars have chosen to study them closely. This certainly cannot be because recreational vehicles (RVs) are not significant enough in their scope or scale to warrant attention. In fact, they are very prevalent, as demonstrated by the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association’s estimate that 8.9 million American households own one. It certainly cannot be that their impact is not felt in many communities across the country in the form of branded RV parks, mega dealerships, and tourist destinations purposefully outfitted with all the hookups a land yacht captain requires. It is, therefore, hard to understand how such a highly visible transportation and recreation technology has remained largely invisible for many scholars, even among those working on related topics. The RV’s place in American society has only been studied in a piecemeal fashion, with contributions frequently authored by those outside the discipline of history. This article will review RV-related scholarship and suggest how the lacunae in our understanding of the RV phenomenon would best be filled.

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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