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Road against Rail

The Debate on Transport Policy in Belgium, 1920-1940

Donald Weber

When new motorized means of transport, such as buses, vans, and lorries, captured part of the transport market in Belgium in the interwar period, the rail companies engaged in a political fight to restrict the new modes of road transport. Attempts were made to introduce fiscal and administrative measures aimed at limiting road transport. This coincided with an intense debate on transport policy, both in the press and in parliament. The article focuses on the discourse driving this debate. It is argued that the positions taken were motivated by economic issues, but that there were underlying cultural motivations, different perceptions of what transport should represent in the lives of the users and the whole of society. The focus on the so-called coordination debate is widened beyond the conflict between trains and vans in the 1930s, to include the conflict between automobiles, buses, and trams in the 1920s.

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Road Works

Some Observations on Representing Roads

Peter Merriman

Roads may be represented in many different media and cultural forms, from planning documents and maps to postage stamps, children's books, and postcards. While there has been a tendency among some scholars to study representations for what they can tell us about the history of particular road schemes, this article argues that roads are constructed and consumed as much through paper plans, financial calculations, popular representations, and public imaginations as through concrete and steel on the ground. Representations of roads “matter,” and the article suggests that scholars should study the broad array of representations through which the meanings of roads are produced, circulated, and consumed.

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Displaying Roads

Engineers as Cultural Actors—Introduction

Massimo Moraglio and Bruce Seely

We argue that road engineers—in the cases presented in the articles in this special section—were acting as cultural actors, playing a greater role than experts and especially policy makers. Even as they utilized technical information in cultural debates, road representation had huge symbolic value in driving the social and political discussions. However, once road experts used and accepted such political tools, they could not disconnect themselves from the political process, which determined success and failure in these projects.

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China’s New Silk Road

Autocracy Promotion in the New Asian Order?

Octavia Bryant and Mark Chou

Does China’s vision for a New Silk Road constitute autocracy promotion? This critical commentary argues that while China may currently be showing no signs of promoting autocracy strictly defined, its broad-ranging economic, political, and cultural initiatives along its New Silk Road will likely influence how foreign governments and everyday people think and act. Though still in its infancy, the New Silk Road represents an ambitious new geopolitical project that may require scholars and analysts to rethink both the thesis and concept of autocracy promotion in the years ahead.

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A Fold in the Road

Kerouac and the Temporal-Spatial Construction of Street Corner as Place in On the Road

Tara Chittenden

Jack Kerouac's On the Road is both a travel story and a cultural event. Although road narratives have been critically examined from numerous angles, few studies have addressed how time and space are arranged in the written representation of lives encountered on the road. The individuals who populate street corners are an integral part of American culture and can offer a colorful snapshot of local lives to those traveling through. This article discusses examples of street corners in On the Road to question how this “folded” time and space can be used to explain the folding together of lives in the writing of a journey. In so doing the article draws on Bakhtin's theory of the chronotope and Deleuze's description of the fold to help explain Kerouac's arrangements of time and space as the “chronotope of the street corner.”

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When Roads Cannot Be Used

The Use of Trained Elephants for Emergency Logistics, Off-Road Conveyance, and Political Revolt in South and Southeast Asia

Jacob Shell

This article is about the use of trained Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) for transportation, in particular across muddy or flooded terrain, clandestine off-road transportation, and during guerrilla operations or political revolts. In a sense, these are all in fact the same transport task: the terrestrial conveyance of people and supplies when, due to weather or politics or both, roads cannot be used. While much recent work from fields such as anthropology, geography, history, and conservation biology discusses the unique relationship between humans and trained elephants, the unique human mobilities opened up by elephant-based transportation has been for the most part overlooked as a research topic. Looking at both historical and recent (post–World War II) examples of elephant-based transportation throughout South and Southeast Asia, I suggest here that this mode of transportation has been especially associated with epistemologically less visible processes occurring outside of state-recognized, formal institutions.

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Making Place for the Modern Road

The Road Exhibitions in Brussels (1910) and Liège (1930)

David Peleman

This article describes how two temporary road exhibitions before World War II functioned as tools to frame the Belgian road project as a rich cultural venture. In the absence of a comprehensive policy and any diverse cultural engagement by the government, a particular relationship between culture, technology, and society crystallized in the museological arrangement of these exhibitions. The article argues that, while these exhibitions relate the road project to a broad cultural field, they simultaneously instill a rigid way of reasoning about the modern road.

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Green Fields and Blue Roads

The Melancholy of the Girl Walker in Irish Women’s Fiction

Maureen O'Connor

The natural world behaves in unexpected ways in twentieth-century Irish women’s fiction about girlhood. Girls are at once reduced to natural resources, ripe for exploitation, and instructed relentlessly in their social duties, which more often than not require they resist their ‘natural’ urges. The novels considered here – Holy Pictures by Clare Boylan, Down by the River by Edna O’Brien, and The Dancers Dancing by Éilís Ní Dhuibhne – feature girls moving towards the assumption of the roles of wife and mother they are expected to play as mature women. The girls walk roads of many colours through green landscapes that inspire contradictory responses of rebellion against and weary acceptance of their culture’s messages about a woman’s ‘natural’ place in post-Independence Ireland.

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Taking the Road for Play

Cyclist Appropriations of Automobile Infrastructures in Vietnam

Ashley Carruthers

After declining in status and mode share sharply with the popularization of the motorcycle, cycling in Vietnam is on the rise. Urban elites who pursue sport and leisure cycling are the most visible of Vietnam’s new cyclists, and they bring their sense of social mastery out onto the road with them by appropriating the nation’s new, automobile-focused infrastructures as places for play and display. While motivated by self-interest, their informal activism around securing bicycle access to new bridges and highways potentially benefits all and contributes to making livable cities. These socially elite cyclists transcend the status associated with their means of mobility as they enact their mastery over automobile infrastructures meant to usher in a new Vietnamese automobility.

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Dimitris Dalakoglou

The cross-pollination made possible by bringing critical studies of mobility from different disciplines into conversation with one another is a goal of T2M and Mobility in History generally, and this special section on roadways in history and anthropology specifically. Anthropologists and historians of mobility, roads, and automobility have a great deal to share with one another and with our colleagues in other disciplines. As an anthropologist, a representative of a still relatively new discipline in the pages of Mobility in History, I’ve been invited to open this section with a review of how my discipline has approached the subject of roads.