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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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Mobility

Geographies, Histories, Sociologies

Peter Merriman, Rhys Jones, Tim Cresswell, Colin Divall, Gijs Mom, Mimi Sheller and John Urry

This article is an edited transcript of a panel discussion on “mobility studies“ which was held as part of a workshop on mobility and community at Aberystwyth University on September 3, 2012. In the article the five panelists reflect upon the recent resurgence of research on mobility in the social sciences and humanities, emphasizing the interdisciplinary nature of contemporary debates, and the ways in which established fields such as transport history, migration studies, and sociology are being reshaped by new research agendas. The panelists discuss the importance of engaging with issues of politics, justice, equality, global capital, secrecy, and representation, and they encourage researchers to focus on non-Western and non-hegemonic mobilities, as well as to produce “useable“ studies which engage policy-makers.

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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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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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James Watson

New Zealand has a rich historiography related to transport, but almost all of it looks at particular sectors, such as railways or shipping, or at parts of these sectors. The most substantial attempt to look at transport throughout New Zealand’s history (and even prehistory) is my own book, Links: A History of Transport and New Zealand Society. It outlines forms of transport as they were introduced and proposes an argument explaining why various forms became preferred. Links also explores transport’s impact on the development of New Zealand society since initial human settlement and indicates how social values have shaped its use. Alan H. Grey’s Aotearoa and New Zealand: A Historical Geography also stresses the importance of transport through New Zealand’s history. More specifically, Rollo Arnold has demonstrated the influence of transport on settler society in New Zealand before the First World War.3 David Hamer explored the importance of transport links, breaks in transport and the general pace of early transport in New Zealand to explain the origins of many of its towns.

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History and Transport Policy

The Swiss Experience

Ueli Haefeli, Fritz Kobi and Ulrich Seewer

Based on analysis of two case studies in the Canton of Bern, this article examines the question of knowledge transfer from history to transport policy and planning in the recent past in Switzerland. It shows that for several reasons, direct knowledge transfer did not occur. In particular, historians have seldom become actively involved in transport planning and policy discourses, probably partly because the academic system offers no incentive to do so. However, historical knowledge has certainly influenced decision-making processes indirectly, via personal reflection of the actors in the world of practice or through Switzerland's strongly developed modes of political participation. Because the potential for knowledge transfer to contribute to better policy solutions has not been fully utilized, we recommend strengthening the role of existing interfaces between science and policy.

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The Morality of Motoring

The Emergence of the Automobile in Belgium, 1895-1940

Donald Weber

The emergence of the automobile in Belgium from 1895 onwards brutally disrupted the traditional social order on the roads, transforming social practices and the order of society from the mundane-the everyday use of transport-to the more rarified-urban planning and the use of public space. In this article, we will deal with the earliest history of motorization in Belgium. We will analyze motorization as a process of interaction between a specific set of social actors, and focus on its outcome: modern traffic policy as a conflict-management strategy. It is argued that traffic policy evolved from an originally moral strategy into a technical strategy, as engineers and the public road administration introduced Foucauldian approaches in order to discipline the traffic system.

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Joana Carolina Schossler

The article analyzes how Brazilian scholars have interpreted the relationship between transport and tourism in Brazil. It addresses the subject through the historical evolution of modes of transport, noting the gaps in literature and suggesting new approaches for future studies, such as traveler experiences, a holistic view of the nation's transport system, and greater disciplinary exchange.

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Jørgen Burchardt

The main question for this article is: How has research in Danish transport history developed over time? How strong has research activity been, and what topics, theories, and methods have been used? A scientometrical method is used as the basis for this investigation. This is useful in understanding the development of trends within specific areas of study and tracking the dynamics of ongoing research. The article will use as its source material the published books on the topic of transport written about Denmark.

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Weert Canzler

Policy on transport infrastructure in Germany will come under increasing pressure thanks to considerable changes in basic conditions. Demographic change, shifts in economic and regional structures, continued social individualization, and the chronic budget crisis in the public sphere are forcing a readjustment of government action. At root, the impact of the changes in demographics and economic structures touches on what Germans themselves think their postwar democracy stands for. Highly consensual underlying assumptions about Germany as a model are being shaken. The doctrine that development of infrastructure is tantamount to growth and prosperity no longer holds. The experience in eastern Germany shows that more and better infrastructure does not automatically lead to more growth. Moreover, uniform government regulation is hitting limits. If the differences between boom regions and depopulated zones remain as large as they are, then it makes no sense to have the same regulatory maze apply to both cases. In transportation policy, that shift would mean recasting the legal foundations of public transport.