Trending Transfers

A Decade of New Mobility Studies through the Lens of Transmodality, Transnationalism, and Transdisciplinarity

in Transfers
Author: Gijs Mom1
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  • 1 Professor Emeritus, Eindhoven University of Technology, The Netherlands


Looking back on nine years of Transfers, this essay first analyzes the journal's 141 main articles statistically, investigating whether and how much they represented the editorial team's ambition to develop New Mobility Studies guided by transmodality, transnationalism, and transdisciplinarity, in the process decentering the vehicle, the nation, and even history. Together with its hundreds of Editorials, opinionated Ideas in Motion essays and book, film, and art reviews, the journal was able to carve out a clear trend toward a well-established and solid niche within the general mobility studies field. Embedded in a narrative about the personal scholarly development of its first editor in the midst of the CIVID-19 pandemic, the essay shows how Transfers managed to offer its readers a hybrid mix of a scholarly vista on and over the edge of the field and an artistic, curatorial, and filmic and, in general, aesthetic struggle with mobility.

Estada de Alarma

Just when I was about to start writing the conclusion of my book on world mobility history, a message popped up on the lower right-hand corner of my laptop screen. It said our little Andalusian town of Órgiva had to go into absolute lockdown, together with the rest of Spain. I knew what this meant as I had watched in awe how Wuhan, two months after I had come back from a fellowship at Shanghai University, had been isolated from the rest of China.1 Spain's version was the Estada de Alarma, a condition in which the socialist government in Madrid, constantly attacked by the right-wing Partido Popular and the racist (some say fascist) Vox, both well-represented in Andalucía, takes away the “autonomy” of the regions and prompts the Guardia Civil to appear on the roads into and out of town in surprisingly large numbers (where are they hiding in “peace time”?), ready to hand out draconian fines on anything and anyone that moves.2

I immediately called my partner Charley, who was buying vegetables and fruit at the local market (not the place you want to be in an epidemic) and asked her to join me in buying food at the supermarket (not the place you want to be either), enough for a week or two, to be stored in a freezer I hurried to buy at the Expert shop, communicating through the glass of the front door (“sí, esta, por favor,” I shouted, after the shop owner had pushed three small ones behind the door for me to choose from).

There we were, in our little cortíjo in the Andalusian countryside, she working on a new series of photographs (Órgiva has a blossoming art association, counting more than fifty members in a town of 5,700 inhabitants, all surrounding villages, hamlets, and single cortíjos such as the one we inhabit, included), I wondering whether I had to redesign my conclusions in the face of a phenomenon the mobility of which was causing a global disaster, whereas we, the carriers, were summoned to stay put. Should I reconsider the importance of immobility? How was it possible that personal mobility only represented perhaps not more than one-fifth of the economy and even of international transport? Apparently, there was an entire layer of mobility hidden underneath, still producing loads of CO2: immobility does not exist anymore. Meanwhile the horror messages kept popping up on my laptop: the scandalous massacres in the elderly care homes while the elite hospital doctors, with their direct lines to the government, started to expand their intensive care units; the self-confident youth with their precarious jobs who considered themselves immune, only to be sacked by their employers as soon as this was acceptable in an atmosphere where economy constantly tried to get the upper hand above medicine; and the “middle class of small business and freelance ‘entrepreneurs’” who were to be “economic losers” together with “the Southern informal workers on $2–$6 dollars a day.”3 And then there were the children and grandchildren of the 1970s hippies still living in a colony of yurts and huts nearby, who, together with other “negacionistas” (deniers) saw the epidemic as one big conspiratorial smokescreen to push through 5G, haughtily laughing at everyone who dared to put on a face mask or who refused to hug when we met. I felt very vulnerable, at the mercy of the behavior of others.

The book had been in the making for the last ten years, as a sequel to Atlantic Automobilism dealing with the question why the car had become so popular.4 Only after finishing I realized that question lacked the phrase “in the West”: there was a majority of people out there whose mobility had never been covered by a comprehensive history. The decision to write just such a book was not easily made, however. After what I considered to be my final opus, I was nearing my retirement, and we had made plans to follow the 42,889 other Dutch people (in 2018) to live in Spain and start growing olive and orange trees, and Charley could pick up photography again after twenty years of teaching humanistic values at Dutch primary schools.5 Often, when I brought up the plan to my friends who looked at my not very calloused hands, they burst out in laughter. On the other hand, I was in a very privileged position, at the center of a blossoming scholarly association of like-minded historians with its annual conferences presenting work on transport and mobility history from all over the world. An association cooperating (and sometimes organizing joint conferences) with anthropologists, sociologists, and other social scientists and humanities scholars, between them producing at least four journals full of new ideas about the current “fluid” society and its pasts. I was editing one of these, seeing all those ideas pop up at the frontier of our field. And besides, writing such a book would steal perhaps only a year or two from Charley's and my common future in Andalucía, so what the heck?

Enter the Car

Ten years ago, during another crisis, a small, very heterogeneous group of adventurers met in Kansas City to plan a journal: a specialist of the Anglophone publishing scene, an art theoretician, a cultural studies ace, a student of mine from my automotive polytechnic teaching days and director of an automotive history documentation center I had founded in 1997, and a veteran in the sociology of technology specialized in automotive history. We agreed on “high quality” as an uncompromising, but fundamental feature, the quality defined in accordance with a non-partisan network of reviewers, who would be willing to look beyond the confines of their own subfields to recognize quality as an academic virtue, and a willingness to tread alternative paths. I am still grateful to the little anonymous community of reviewers we built up during the next year for their willingness to review in two, sometimes even three cycles, assisted by reading each other's (anonymized) review reports, a secret society never receiving the praise they truly deserve. We were on the brink of signing a contract with Berghahn Journals, the thirteenth publisher we had approached, accompanied by a sack of money, a kind of subsidy from the Dutch agency Rijkswaterstaat (the big university publishers had all asked conditions we found unacceptable for an independent journal). Kansas City participant Cotten Seiler had come up with the place when I asked him which town was in the middle of the United States (we had dinner at the local pizzeria, notorious for its mafioso history). Together with art theorist Charissa Terranova in her artist residency at the University of Dallas, Texas, I had formulated the journal's mission with a highly “arty” streak (a special art section should deal with mobility through the art works themselves, without much text, convinced as we then were of the unique value of the artist's grasp of mobility). We discussed the very concept of “mobility” and even asked ourselves, I remember, whether the mobility of tectonic plates should be a part of our editorial policy. Most of those present had met the year before at a special workshop organized by “corporate historian” Bert Toussaint of Rijkswaterstaat aimed at comparing several mobility trends in the Netherlands with a selection of other countries. Later, when the first issues were coming out and we basked in the enthusiasm among our colleagues about our initiative, we convened with a larger group in Peter Merriman's Aberystwyth University, trying to find a way beyond mere history, with sociologists and geographers Mimi Sheller, Tim Cresswell, and the late John Urry giving advice, among others. At that moment, the latter were still very conscious that the new research field of “mobility” had become “extremely influential in a very short period of time.” Georgine Clarsen from Australia and Heike Weber from Germany were present in Wales as well, helping us to cement a form of interdisciplinarity that included media studies as well as settler colonialism.6 Colin Divall, who had incited transport historians to undertake a “cultural turn,” was also present.7 But I must confess that what interested me the most at that moment, was to attract as many women to our editorial team as possible. Perhaps preference for collaborating with women is connected to my youth in a Catholic family of twelve, my six elder sisters producing a protective (no offense to you, Peter!) atmosphere in which competition was largely absent. Contrary to Marx-the-man, I am convinced, in my rather essentialist mind, that the best ideas do not come from antagonism, but from nurturing.

How did I get here, scholarly speaking? The process of scholarly accomplishment, especially if a new field is in the making, is a collective process, in which it sometimes becomes impossible to pinpoint exactly where and from whom new ideas came. Although writing, our major occupation, is a highly individualistic and lonely affair, the nurturing of new scholarly directions requires the generosity and curiosity of many. I found such an environment at Eindhoven University of Technology, the very center of a massive, collective attempt to rewrite the history of Europe in the form of the Tensions of Europe network.8 From the History of Mobility group within that network came the impulse to set up what later would become the International Association for the History of Transport, Traffic, and Mobility (T2M), but not after a fierce discussion about the proposed abandonment of the word “transport” in our name. The association's name was clearly a compromise between a more traditional approach inspired by the once-nationalized British railways, and related modes such as shipping and bus transport, then dealt with in the only existing history journal, the Journal of Transport History (JTH); and an approach aimed at understanding mobility through the lens of automobilism, cyclism, and walking.9 The T2M members decided to take JTH as the association's “affiliated” journal (it was owned by Manchester University Press), until a better solution that covered the entire gamut of the members’ interests, was found. I have often thought that perhaps the Cosmobilities solution (devised by the social scientists who undertook a “mobility turn” by laying the groundwork for what later would be called “mobility studies”) would have been preferable. They started a journal and had their conferences organized by established members of the network and so do not have the hassle of an association that, when push comes to shove, only appears at the moment of the conference anyway (apart, perhaps, from a newsletter). But transport history's weak point was that we had no “established members,” no chairs that could raise money and mobilize people to organize a conference. T2M emerged, so to speak, from the middle level of university echelons, the assistant professors, the sphere where the dissertations are written, the effervescent sphere of new ideas, many silly, many very promising indeed. It was the second generation of T2M mobility historians, younger scholars such as Mathieu Flonneau in France, Luísa Sousa in Portugal, Mike Esbester in the UK, Peter Norton in the United States, Massimo Moraglio in Germany, Federico Paolini in Italy, and Per Lundin in Sweden, who soon filled the annual conferences with new research. As a founder-president I saw it as my task to monitor this fascinating process closely. Thus, I statistically witnessed the shift from railways to cars, the tendency to focus on the latter part of the twentieth century, laying the basis for a future cooperation with the social scientists who at the same time were busy organizing themselves, and, regretfully, the dominance of Western Europe in both topics and presenters, resulting in the underrepresentation of the non-West. As an overview of the state of the art formulated it after five years of T2M, there could be observed “no clear shift from a modal to a transmodal approach” in the contributions to the annual conferences nor had there been “a shift from a national to a transnational or international approach.” At the same time the authors of the overview opined that the Journal of Transport History “is not a reflection of research activities in the wider field,” which the authors attributed to a problem of language.10 A later statistical overview covering the T2M conferences until 2010 (the year the annual conference was held in New Delhi) largely confirmed these trends.11 For a historian of automotive mobility, who was witnessing the spectacular expansion of automobilism toward Asia, this was all the more frustrating.

How to Build an Avant-Garde?

It may have been my Marxist background from the Dutch student movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s, but when I thought about how to reach those missing topics and missing scholars, the idea of an avant-garde came up: build a small group of very dedicated, highly qualified, and very purposeful scholars who were ambitious enough to explore new territory, not afraid to reconnoiter the very edges of the field and willing to take risks (and senior enough not to be too harassed by constraints of time and work obligations!). At that very moment, luck struck: my European Research Council grant application aiming at developing an Asian mobility studies subfield was rejected. As a consolation prize (because I missed the 2.4 million Euros by a hair's width), my university awarded me an Excellence Fund grant (the size of such awards are tuned to my colleagues at engineering departments who cannot reequip their laboratories with a couple thousand Euros!) to be spent according to my individual needs. This enabled me to expand my network through the funding of workshops and visits to research institutes and interested colleagues in a large variety of countries. Apart from meeting colleagues less known in the mainstream West, there were also different vehicles to consider, such as the Chinese one-wheeled barrow and the (originally Japanese, but now mostly Indian and Bangladeshi) rickshaw. It is my firm conviction that scholarship is a mix of study and action, reflection and organization, so the generous grant opened the way to the combination of historical study with what nowadays is called “performative studies,” mobilizing mobility studies to attack mobility's inequalities.12 Besides, the confrontation with the conditions of the utterly poor (in Kolkata many pullers are migrants from Bihar, one of the poorest states in India) threw a new light for me on the inequalities of global mobilities. In Chittagong, Bangladesh, I visited, with Burdwan University geography professor Gopa Samanta and some students from Dhaka University, a shipbreaking site right on the beach, which came closest to my Catholic idea of hell (I must confess that this vision was influenced by a fish poisoning of the previous evening, having eaten pomfrets conserved by the fishermen on high seas in formaldehyde, the same stuff Charley used as stabilizer in the final wash step in her dark room).

Relieved from the burden to pull the rickshaw on my own, I could now indulge in discourses and debates with scholars from so many different disciplines and with so many interests that it became difficult to find a common denominator of what slowly seemed to become a journey toward a world mobility history. It was on these workshops in Delhi, Kolkata, Dakar, Shanghai, Santiago de Chile, Leuven (on African mobility), Wollongong (on settler colonialism and gendered automobility), Lancaster (on the Middle East and the Saudi-Arabian “drifters”) that I started to offer the idea of a new journal as an outlet within a context of New Mobility Studies, announcing the mantra formulated in Kansas City that Transfers was there to “decenter the vehicle, decenter the nation, and even decenter history.”13

Later, when publication had already started and we developed some self-confidence because of the enthusiastic response, the mantra was reformulated in a positive way: we were now after transmodal, transnational, and transdisciplinary submissions, in accordance with the journal's title, which appeared very effective in its vagueness. It was Mimi Sheller who gave this title's interpretation an extra turn (in a commonly written editorial to the Summer 2017 issue), asking herself: “What is transferred, how, and between whom? As things ‘cross over,’ how are they changed? And how are contexts changed by that which moves through them?”14 The articles in the issue introduced by that editorial suggested that (in the inimitable accumulation of terminology only a sociologist can come up with)

(t)ransfers … might be thought of in terms of circulations, assemblages, entanglements, mobile social practices, networks of movement, moving onward, migrations, and the choreographies of bodies within practices of transport. But it also might be conceived of in terms of more temporal processes: instabilities, transformations, subtly shifting performances, and changing representations.15

The articles in that issue offered a “wide range of understandings of practice and processes of ‘transference,’ as we might call this kind of conceptual transformation across mobilities. They all share an emphasis on relationality and the ongoing making of meaning.” The issue was characterized, the editorial claimed, by “three elements—conceptual diversity, multidisciplinary approaches, and geographical breadth.”16

In the course of the past decade we published several accounts of debates, both from within the editorial team and beyond, in order to fine-tune our ambitions, which from the very beginning were aimed at a readership well beyond T2M's membership. In Aberystwyth, it became clear to us that we should hook up with the Cosmobilities initiative if we really wanted to reach a transdisciplinary condition clearly informed by historical thinking. A year later, at the annual T2M conference in Philadelphia in 2014, Georgine Clarsen reported on a special Transfers session, which emphasized the importance of “transmodal perspectives” (enabling an analysis of the confluence and interactions of “old and new modes of movement”) and transnational approaches. At that same session, Mimi Sheller spoke of “transoceanic connectivities.”17 The culmination of this growing cooperation between historians and social scientists took place at the common T2M/Cosmobilities conference in Lancaster in 2017. At a special session organized by this journal's editorial team, the discussion was on “activist scholarship that can help us move toward alternative mobility futures” and on ways to enhance the process of mobility studies “increasingly entering the mainstream of many disciplines.” In her report of the session, Georgine Clarsen (with Peter Merriman and Mimi Sheller) wrote: “We envisage the future of New Mobility Studies to continue as some form of symbiosis between media studies and transport studies, between histories of communication and material and imaginative mobilities, between the social sciences and the humanities, and to emerge with increasing urgency as a program of emancipatory action.”18

The question now is: has Transfers lived up to these ambitions?

A Survey of Nine Years of Transfers

When we go through the nine volumes of Transfers statistically, it is quite clear that the large majority of locations of the first authors’ universities are to be found in Europe (47 percent), North America (26 percent), and Australia/New Zealand (12 percent) (see Figure 1). Only 15 percent of the first-mentioned authors are located in the non-West, the Global South, or in whatever terms the global majority has been called lately. Most of the latter authors (9 percent) are to be found at Asian universities.

Figure 1:
Figure 1:

Location of author's university

Citation: Transfers 10, 1; 10.3167/TRANS.2020.100103

If we look at the location of the topics analyzed by these authors, the picture shifts considerably: many more topics (than authors) were located in the Global South, which in quantitative terms is equal to Europe as a “topic location.”19 Figure 2 shows a trend: a shift toward more “non-Western topics” during the second half of the last decade, most of them from Asia, followed by Africa and Latin America. I do not know the reasons behind this redistribution of topics across the globe, but one factor contributing to the predominance of Western authors is, no doubt, the fact that our journal is “imprisoned in English,” as Anna Wierzbicka put it,20 including its (mostly American) uniform “sterility” of textual production and structuring. This is not a problem haunting the Global South alone: I remember from my days as editor of the Journal of Transport History that it was very difficult to get Romanist scholarship, with its own style of essayism, past the (mostly Anglophone) refereeing system. That was often because those authors did not follow the Anglophone analytic model of presenting the research question, exposing the state of the art, presenting a structured, linear argumentation followed by conclusions.21 This problem of “translation”22 became especially acute at some workshops in India and Bangladesh. Those workshops were praised in an editorial because they were “truly interdisciplinary,” bringing together not only historians and geographers, but also Western and non-Western experts of urban mobility. When those papers were converted into articles for Transfers, the editorial team decided “to consciously treat English as a global means of communication, encouraging a simple and precise style that allows for regional inflections, rather than strict adherence to some imagined ‘correct’ form.” This linguistic solution is something this non-native-English speaking author also feels comfortable with. The result was Transfers’ first “Asia Issue,” with a special section on rickshaw cultures.23 In 2016, an editorial announced proudly that one-third of the seventeen main articles of the previous year “represented ‘nonwestern’ content, and one-fifth was written by authors stemming from nonwestern parts of the globe,” but it concluded at the same time that “(a)s pleased as we are to announce this, it is not enough.”24

Figure 2:
Figure 2:

Location of topic

Citation: Transfers 10, 1; 10.3167/TRANS.2020.100103

In terms of main scholarly discipline, Transfers did indeed manage to “decenter history.” During the first eight years, slightly more than half of all contributions were primarily informed by a historical approach (Figure 3), a trend somewhat reversed under the new editor, historian of science and sinologist Dagmar Schäfer. Although she further opened the journal's pages to the community that I, for lack of a better term, call “mobility studies,” a special issue on the history of science and mobility during Dagmar's short editorship made historical articles become more prominent again.

Figure 3:
Figure 3:

Share of historical articles

Citation: Transfers 10, 1; 10.3167/TRANS.2020.100103

Even within the publications on historical themes, the journal followed a general trend, observed earlier within the context of the submissions to the annual T2M conference. Historians increasingly preferred the most recent past, often governed by research questions they shared with (or borrowed from) social scientists (Figure 4).25

Figure 4:
Figure 4:

Period covered

Citation: Transfers 10, 1; 10.3167/TRANS.2020.100103

It is much more difficult to statistically analyze the other two ambitions of the journal: transnationality and transdisciplinarity. Although in strict quantitative terms, few articles explored international and transnational topics during the last decade and the majority that dealt with these topics within a national context often did so because, as we all know, the global is expressed through local conditions. Such articles did not emphasize the “nationality” of their topic. Close reading (as I have done for all contributions until the eighth volume while being editor) reveals that the local is often positioned within a global context, but mostly through national sources. This has to do not only with language limitations of the researchers but also with the structure and lay-out of local archives. Only if research is explicitly aimed at a transnational level (through archives from the UN or the World Health Organization, for instance) such limitations can be overcome, but new ones pop up immediately, such as the lack of “thickness” in the description of local conditions. There is no golden road around the nation state.

The same requirement of close reading applies to the issue of transdisciplinarity. Although Figure 5 gives an impression of the diversity of themes and disciplines represented in the journal's columns and the effective decentering of the vehicle in the course of the last decade (eighteen contributions or 11 percent were on cars, thirteen contributions or 8 percent on bicycles, five contributions on rickshaws; vehicle-centered contributions reappear in greater numbers in the two last years under a new editor), it is not able to convey the astonishing versatility in the methodological toolkit contemporary mobility students apply as if they are senior car mechanics. Cotten Seiler's comments on “the versatility of the mobility optic” in the special issue on Race and the Politics of Mobility (Spring 2016) may be symptomatic: “One is tempted … to gather everything together and manufacture from the bundle of scholarship some commonality. The fact that I cannot do that strikes me as a good sign. Transfers has never been an organ of disciplinary formation or perspectival unity; and thank goodness for that.”26

Figure 5:
Figure 5:

Trends in themes

Citation: Transfers 10, 1; 10.3167/TRANS.2020.100103

Some trends can nonetheless be derived from these statistics.27 The media as a theme (varying from using novels and movies as sources to the conscious merging of Mobility and Media studies), for instance, is well-represented in Transfers, with twenty-nine (18 percent) of the total. Mobility policy and politics is also present, although that could (and should, in my opinion) have been more. The total number of contributions from “mobility studies” (twenty, or 12 percent) is probably an underestimate, because only those analyses that are explicitly concept-driven have been counted: Mobilities and related publications are clearly much more extensively represented by citations. What is also apparent from this graph is the (initially increasing, but overall large number of) “other themes” at the expense of vehicle-centered and related techno-historical themes (such as infrastructures, with fifteen contributions, or 9 percent). This fulfills one of the key editorial aims that we expressed when we began the journal. Such other themes include animal traction (three contributions), settler colonialism (five), nomadism (one), premodern history (three), trucking (two), women's mobility, aeromobility, and shipping (each with one contribution).

A Journal Is Much More Than Its Main Article Content

What struck me the most while once more going through the nearly thirty issues of the journal (with their more than four thousand pages representing the thickness of at least five or six edited volumes) is the high quality of the other sections and the obvious pleasure with which they have been made. I believe that it is the variety and breadth of these sections’ coverage of the frontiers of the New Mobility Studies field that has constituted the very success of this journal. Although the publisher's annual reports do not give us a clue about the impact on and response among our readers of the book, film, exhibition, and art reviews, it is quite clear that the journal created a new niche of a “mobility and creativity” cluster of topics, spread in every single issue over the past decade. Fernanda Duarte, first at North Carolina State University, after her graduation at her Federal University of Minas Gerais in Brazil, knew how to surprise readers with examples of art that not only revealed the fundamental political character of mobilities, but also showed how there are more ways to analyze mobility than through written essays. Dorit Müller managed to keep a brilliant flow of film studies streaming in her film review section, and Deborah Breen and Chia-ling Lai did the same with exhibition and museum reviews. Sunny Stalter-Pace and Liz Montegary, with a team of supporting adjunct book editors, unearthed non-canonical books, many of which I did not know before I read about them in their reviews. Like in the other sections, reviewers are under no obligation whatsoever to “cover the field” in an encyclopedic way (their only common obligation being high quality). When Steven Spalding added his novel review, in issue 5.2 (Summer 2015), to this section, I thought at the time that the journal had reached maturity, in showing the multiple ways we could “look” at mobility.

It was this variety of contributions that made Associate Editor Peter Merriman explain the role of Transfers within the “new amorphous multidisciplinary field called ‘mobility studies’” as a “‘melting pot’ (or ‘salad bowl’)” and “pivotal”28 in a field that covered much more than the social sciences per se. Mobilities had become

a key concern of scholars and practitioners working across the arts and humanities, whether in history, cultural and historical geography, literary and cultural studies, performance studies, archaeology, philosophy, film studies, or art and design. Since its launch, Transfers has positioned artistic and curatorial practices as key areas of concern; has published reviews of films, exhibitions, and museums with a mobility focus; and has featured visual essays by artists for whom mobility is a central subject, object, method, or technique of their practices.29

It incited him to plea that we “rework the concept of kinaesthetics from dance theory and sensory studies,” and emphasize the importance of “the aesthetic dimensions of movement.”30

New People, New Plans

One attempt to steer the field into a more transmodal, transnational, and transdisciplinary direction failed, however. In 2015, Transfers announced the formation of “portfolios,” programmatic kernels of a new generation of mobility scholars aimed at fostering selected areas of research, areas that the editorial team saw as specific weaknesses of the field. Thus a portfolio on Africa and on Asia was initiated, as well as ones on settler colonialism, mobility and media, and travel writing. Clapperton Chakanetsa Mavhunga, who headed the African portfolio, was the most radical, as he saw his portfolio as a direct “critique of Western notions of mobility.” He proposed “to go rough on the concept of mobility” by “thinking and writing about mobility—whether the subject is beetles or Bentleys, air masses or ancestral spirits, ideas or artifacts, volcanoes or trees, darkness or sound.” No less radical, however, was Sunny Stalter-Pace, Transfers’ book review editor who suggested that the portfolio devoted to Mobility and Media “consider … Georg Simmel as media theorist … or [read] Marshall McLuhan on automobility.”31

When I handed over the editorial baton to Dagmar Schäfer in 2017–2018, I made sure that the portfolios did not form a part of the package, as they had not brought more submissions on the selected areas to the journal.32 Instead, Dagmar's sinologist background brought new vistas to the journal: an emphasis on the history of science and technology and a further strengthening of our orientation toward Asia. In her first editorial, she also announced her intention to open the journal up to more “collaborative work” (instead of pursuing the “norm” of the “single-authored article”), but her increasing involvement in the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science made her editorship so short that such intentions could not be converted into a differently styled scholarship.33 But her issue, number 9.1 (Spring 2019), did introduce (apart from a special section on the history of [mainly Asian] science and the mobility of scientific ideas) a new fruit on the tree of interdisciplinarity: reproductive mobilities, proposed in a report on an Interdisciplinary Workshop on Reproductive Mobilities at the University of British Columbia, Canada, in August 2018.34 What Dagmar achieved, also, was to bring discussions on “transition studies” into our journal. Its participants criticized its technocratic tendencies, and its focus on big leaps instead of “slower and subtler processes of change,” a fundamentally historical critique.35 Dagmar's successor and current editor, Stéphanie Ponsavady (who took over at the beginning of 2020), will no doubt further strengthen this opening toward the “non-West,” judging from her comments on Dagmar's special section on Postcolonial Intersections: Asia on the Move, issue number 8.3 (Winter 2018). There Stéphanie emphasized the “transpacific lens” needed for the “intersectional approach” of “new inequalities” in recent global mobility history.36

Transfers’ Influence

It is not easy to assess the influence of Transfers beyond the publisher's measuring tools that chart the citation scores and the slowly increasing response to every new issue. Although the CiteScore of 0.52 for 2018 is quite satisfactory for the moment, what such tools do not measure, for instance, is the emancipation of the Journal of Transport History from its modal partisanship, undertaken by a third generation of mobility historians, bringing “transfers” to railways, shipping, and aeromobility similar to what Transfers did for automobilism and (moto)cyclism. JTH could also profit from the decrease in historical approaches in Transfers, depicted in Figure 3 above. No doubt, Transfers also helped to create a “niche” of mobility and art scholarship, perhaps even to the point where the foundation of a new journal might be necessary.

It is much easier to document Transfers’ influence on my own work. Looking at my book on world mobility history, this influence is rather indirect: it does not overflow with citations from Transfers, but the new vistas its contributors opened on the enormous versatility of global mobilities entered my analysis in multiple ways. One of these ways is the interaction between Mobility and Media studies, resulting, for example, in an analysis of the practice of “gaming” and its relationship with automobilism. More generally, it has encouraged me to approach the car as a medium, rather than primarily as a physical transport device, as a conveyer of status and other “messages” its owners wish to transmit. Another is the concept of “layeredness” I developed to describe the tensions between “old” and “new” mobilities (with the former just as influential in local modernization processes as the latter) and the consequences this has had in the Global South, most particularly in its excessive urban congestion. Yet another influence is the sensitivity required to find a balance between the conceptual predominance of the West in mobility studies and the insight that a world mobility history should be written from the perspective of the majority, who still mostly walk. I am certainly not claiming that I solved this tricky dilemma, but once one is intent on analyzing the conflictual tensions between a walking and cycling global majority and a motorizing middle class, one cannot close one's eyes for the fundamentally political character of mobility studies, for instance by starting to unmask the basically imperialist traits of development through road building, including the “development” work by the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and several transnational traffic engineering associations and its individual consultancy members. In the end, it was the journal's interdisciplinary approach that has enabled a subtlety of analysis that would have been impossible with the traditional tools of technologically inspired transport history, however “culturally turned.” And finally, the constant struggle for a balance between the messy empirics the historian deals with and the concept-driven sensitivities of the social scientist, fought for eight years within the editorial team and among the reviewers, made me reconsider the way I positioned the “fluidity” of society in my narrative: as a historical phenomenon, a discursive issue brought about by the “mobility turn” and its philosophical forebears such as Zygmunt Bauman.37 And although “mobility studies” continues to acknowledge that stasis and immobility are as much elements of the global modernization processes as the flux of traffic and transport and the liquidity of meaning and migration, much of mobility studies treat the phenomenon as a-temporal, or, at most, as a “Mobilities 2” that popped up after “Mobilities 1” of “solid modernity.”38 I suppose that readers of Transfers can tell similar stories of personal eclecticism, similar to the experiences expressed in the following contributions to this Anniversary Issue.

After finishing the conclusion of my forthcoming book,39 messages keep popping up in the lower right-hand corner of my laptop screen. A second wave is underway, testified by the seventy-five to a hundred local flare-ups of corona outbreaks all over Spain, this time led by those younger than forty.40 At the closing of my writing, the second wave is in full swing, leading again to the full lockdown of the Sevilla, Jaen, and Granada provinces of Andalucía, “a totalitarian's wildest aspiration come true,” in the words of Slavoj Žižek.41 “(C)apitalist globalization now appears to be unsustainable in the absence of a truly international public-health infrastructure,” New Left Review editor Mike Davis concluded in a special issue about COVID-19.42

Charley and I will soon need to go to the Netherlands to sign some notary documents, but shall we fly or take the car? Are we going to expose ourselves to three hours of constantly recirculating air flows in the plane cabin, or will we shower in hotel rooms and visit the toilets along the autoroutes? What do the experts say? And does fear have a carbon footprint?



For an account of the first weeks of the Wuhan epidemic see, for instance, Ai Xiaoming, “Wuhan Diary,” New Left Review 122 (March-April 2020): 15–21.


Dominique Soguel, “With Rise of Vox, Europe's Populist Wave Reaches Spanish Shores,” Christian Science Monitor, 29 April 2019, In general, on Spanish political populism, including that of the left, see Jorge Tamames, For the People: Left Populism in Spain and the US (London: Lawrence Wishart, 2020).


Göran Therborn, “Dreams and Nightmares of the World's Middle Classes,” New Left Review 124 (July-August 2020): 63–87, here 86.


Gijs Mom, Atlantic Automobilism: Emergence and Persistence of the Car, 1895–1940 (New York: Berghahn Books, 2015); the first of the two-volume world history has meanwhile been published: Gijs Mom, Globalizing Automobilism: Exuberance and the Emergence of Layered Mobility, 1900–1980 (New York: Berghahn Books, 2020).


The Dutch form a tiny minority among the 5.2 million extranjeros in Spain (with 47 million inhabitants), not even mentioned in an overview of the Spanish National Institute of Statistics: Instituto Nacional de Estadística, “Cifra de Población (CP) a 1 de enero de 2020; Estadística de Migraciones (EM). Año 2019; Datos provisionales” (Notas de prensa, 8 de junio de 2020). The largest contingents are the Moroccans and Romanians, who come here to work (together about 1.4 million), followed at a large distance by British leisure migrants (300,000).


Peter Merriman, Rhys Jones, Tim Cresswell, Colin Divall, Gijs Mom, Mimi Sheller, and John Urry, “Mobility: Geographies, Histories, Sociologies,” Transfers 3, no. 1 (Spring 2013): 147–165, here 149.


Colin Divall and George Revill, “Cultures of Transport; Representation, Practice and Technology,” Journal of Transport History 26, no. 1 (March 2005): 99–111.


The results of this project were printed in a six-volume book series, the mobility part of which was written by Ruth Oldenziel and Michael Hård as Consumers, Tinkerers, Rebels: The People Who Shaped Europe (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013).


Gijs Mom, “What Kind of Transport History Did We Get? Half a Century of JTH and the Future of the Field,” Journal of Transport History 24, no. 2 (September 2003): 121–138. There existed also some mono-modal journals such as International Journal of Maritime History. Also see Garth Wilson, “The Mobility Paradigm and Maritime History,” in Mobility in History; Themes in Transport (T2M Yearbook 2011), ed. Gijs Mom, Peter Norton, Georgine Clarsen, and Gordon Pirie (Neuchâtel: Alphil, 2010), 13–24.


Gijs Mom, Colin Divall, and Peter Lyth, “Towards a Paradigm Shift? A Decade of Transport and Mobility History,” in Mobility in History: The State of the Art in the History of Transport, Traffic and Mobility, ed. Gijs Mom, Gordon Pirie, and Laurent Tissot (Neuchâtel: Alphil, 2009), 13–40, here 19, 21.


Gijs Mom, “‘Historians Bleed Too Much’: Recent Trends in the State of the Art in Mobility History,” in Mobility in History: Reviews and Reflections (T2M Yearbook 2012), ed. Peter Norton, Gijs Mom, Liz Millward, and Mathieu Flonneau (Neuchâtel: Alphil, 2011), 15–30.


See Gail Adams-Hutcheson, Holly Thorpe, and Catharine Coleborne, “Introduction: Mobilities in a Dangerous World,” Transfers 7, no. 3 (Winter 2017): 1–5.


Gijs Mom (together with Georgine Clarsen, Nanny Kim, Cotton Seiler, Kurt Möser, Dorit Müller, Charissa Terranova, and Rudi Volti), “‘Hop on the Bus, Gus’: Editorial,” Transfers 1, no. 1 (Spring 2011): 1–13. Decentering the nation was meant as an effort to break away from an exclusive nation-state perspective among transport historians, a perspective resulting in a silly repetitive reinvention-of-the-wheel in the form of national histories as if the experiences beyond the border did not exist, whereas “automobilism” was fundamentally transnational from the very beginning. The result was an unfounded reproduction of American automobilism as a “model.”


Mimi Sheller and Gijs Mom, “Editorial,” Transfers 7, no. 2 (Summer 2017), vii–x, here vii.






Georgine Clarsen, “Frontiers of Mobility Studies,” Transfers 5, no. 1 (Spring 2015): 114–121, here 115–116.


Georgine Clarsen (with Peter Merriman and Mimi Sheller), “Vistas of Future New Mobility Studies: Transfers and Transformations,” Transfers 8, no. 1 (Spring 2018): 112–117, here 112, 113, 114.


It is difficult to give an exact percentage here because some topics or articles were assigned to more than one location, but in general one can say that the Global South's and Europe's shares were about one-third each.


Anna Wierzbicka, Imprisoned in English: The Hazards of English as a Default Language (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014).


Some call the problem the “Five-Paragraph Essay.” See John Warner, Why They Can't Write: Killing the Five-Paragraph Essay and Other Necessities (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2018).


For the role of “translation” in mobility history see Mom, Globalizing Automobilism. Also see Francesca Bray, “Internationalization and the Art of Translation (SHOT Presidential Address),” Technology and Culture 58, no. 3 (July 2017): 815–834, for comparable concerns regarding the history of technology.


Gijs Mom and Nanny Kim, “Editorial,” Transfers 3, no. 3 (Winter 2013): 1–5, here 3.


Gijs Mom and Georgine Clarsen, “Editorial,” Transfers 6, no. 1 (Spring 2016): 1–3, here 2, 4.


When the period covered by a contribution exceeded a period, the starting year has been used as criterion for categorization (for instance: 1910–1940 goes under pre-World War I). This applies to four to five contributions. Also, long-durée periods were treated thus, but their number was so low (one or two, for instance: nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and a special issue in the last year on premodern history) that I did not include them in a separate category.


Cotten Seiler, “Racing Mobility, Excavating Modernity: A Comment,” Transfers 6, no. 1 (Spring 2016): 98–102, here 102.


The total number of “themes” exceeds the number of contributions, because some contributions were so clearly multidisciplinary that they deserved double mention, but the excess is modest: 163 “themes” versus 141 contributions, a “gap” of 16 percent.


Peter Merriman, “Editorial,” Transfers 8, no. 2 (Summer 2018): v–vii, passim.






Clarsen, “Frontiers of Mobility Studies,” 117–119.


My “good-bye” editorial is Gijs Mom, “Editorial,” Transfers 7, no. 3 (Winter 2017): 1–5, which does not mention the portfolios.


Dagmar Schäfer, “Editorial: Mobility Studies, a Transdisciplinary Field,” Transfers 8, no. 1 (Spring 2018): vii–x, here ix.


Sue Frohlik, Kristin Lozanski, Amy Speier, and Mimi Sheller, “Mobilities Meet Reproductive Vibes… ,” Transfers 9, no. 1 (Spring 2019): 95–102, here 98.


Cristina Temenos, Anna Nikolaeva, Tim Schwanen, Tim Cresswell, Frans Sengers, Matt Watson, and Mimi Sheller, “Theorizing Mobility Transitions; An Interdisciplinary Conversation,” Transfers 7, no. 1 (Spring 2017): 113–129, here 115.


Stéphanie Ponsavady, “Moving the Goalposts: Postcolonial Intersections and Mobilities,” Transfers 8, no. 3 (Winter 2018): 118–122, here 119–120.


Zygmunt Bauman, The Individualized Society (Cambridge: Polity Press, [2001] 2004); Zygmunt Bauman, Liquid Life (Cambridge: Polity Press, [2005] 2006).


Tim Gale, “Urban Beaches, Virtual Wolds and ‘The End of Tourism,’” Mobilities 4, no. 1 (March 2009): 119–138, here 120–121.


In fact, this refers to the sequel of the volume that appeared in 2020 (see Mom, Globalizing Automobilism), tentatively titled Pacific Automobilism: Adventure, Status and the Carnival of Mobility, 1975–2015 (New York: Berghahn Books, forthcoming 2021).


“Na Catalonië en Balearen ook mondkapjesplicht in Extremadura,” Spanje Vandaag, 11 July 2020,


Slavoj Žižek, Pandemic! COVID-19 Shakes the World (n.p.: Polity Press, 2020), 73.


Mike Davis, “The Monster Enters,” New Left Review 122 (March-April 2020): 7–14, here 14.

Contributor Notes

Gijs Mom is associate professor emeritus of Eindhoven University of Technology and was the founder-editor of Transfers until 2017/2018. His Globalizing Automobilism: Exuberance and the Emergence of Layered Mobility, 1900–1980 was just published by Berghahn Books as the first of a two-volume “world mobility history.” Email:


Interdisciplinary Journal of Mobility Studies


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