Introduction—Unruly Landscapes

Mobility, Transience, and Transformation

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Margherita Cisani
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Laura Lo Presti
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Lynne Pearce
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Giada Peterle
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Chiara Rabbiosi
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In June 2020, the Centre for Mobilities Research (CeMoRe) at the University of Lancaster (UK) and the Centre for Advanced Studies in Mobility & Humanities (MoHu) at the University of Padua (Italy) co-hosted an international conference on the theme of “Unruly Landscapes.” As a result of the pandemic, the two-day event had to be moved online, but participants nevertheless enjoyed two days of inspiring discussion as the speakers engaged with the intersection of landscape and mobility from a variety of disciplines and approaches.

It was striking that this was a theme that attracted scholars from diverse scholarly and artistic communities, and we have attempted to reproduce the freshness of these dynamic, cross-disciplinary perspectives in the way we have grouped the articles here. Indeed, in order to maximize the diversity of the contributions. we sought approval from the Transfers editors to publish twelve shorter articles of 5,000 words each across two special sections. We trust that readers of the journal will enjoy our purposefully “unruly” juxtaposition of disciplines and approaches, including the different ways that our contributors have understood and conceptualized the mobile landscape. However, both here and in our Introduction to Unruly Landscapes No. 2, we have sought to make sense of what is going on in each article and to indicate how it contributes to the recent debates that most interest readers of this journal. We would also like to take this opportunity to thank Professor Tim Ingold for his keynote lecture at the conference which spoke about his recent work on landscape as “palimpsest”—as well as artist Jen Southern (Lancaster University) for allowing us to use her formulation of the “unruly” for our event.

General Introduction

In June 2020, the Centre for Mobilities Research (CeMoRe) at the University of Lancaster (UK) and the Centre for Advanced Studies in Mobility & Humanities (MoHu) at the University of Padua (Italy) co-hosted an international conference on the theme of “Unruly Landscapes.” As a result of the pandemic, the two-day event had to be moved online, but participants nevertheless enjoyed two days of inspiring discussion as the speakers engaged with the intersection of landscape and mobility from a variety of disciplines and approaches.1

It was striking that this was a theme that attracted scholars from diverse scholarly and artistic communities, and we have attempted to reproduce the freshness of these dynamic, cross-disciplinary perspectives in the way we have grouped the articles here. Indeed, in order to maximize the diversity of the contributions. we sought approval from the Transfers editors to publish twelve shorter articles of 5,000 words each across two special sections. We trust that readers of the journal will enjoy our purposefully “unruly” juxtaposition of disciplines and approaches, including the different ways that our contributors have understood and conceptualized the mobile landscape. However, both here and in our Introduction to Unruly Landscapes No. 2, we have sought to make sense of what is going on in each article and to indicate how it contributes to the recent debates that most interest readers of this journal. We would also like to take this opportunity to thank Professor Tim Ingold for his keynote lecture at the conference which spoke about his recent work on landscape as “palimpsest”2—as well as artist Jen Southern (Lancaster University) for allowing us to use her formulation of the “unruly” for our event.3

Special Section 1: Unruly Landscapes No. 1

For geographers (both “physical” and “human”), all landscapes—while notionally associated with stability and permanence in the popular imagination—are unruly. By adjusting the temporal viewfinder through which a tectonic plate, mountain range, coastline, or urban settlement is viewed and speeding up the “playback,” we see that all human and non-human life is perched on a heaving, groaning, folding crust of rock. Water and vegetation, too, are never still but in constant, reshaping motion, sometimes as the result of human intervention, sometimes of their own accord. Movement—and mobility4—are thus essential considerations in any conceptualization of the landscape and both the source and effect of its unruliness.

It is precisely the way in which movement and mobility render landscapes dynamic, volatile, and ephemeral across wide-ranging practices, processes, representations, and scales that this interdisciplinary collection of articles seeks to capture. Even as landscapes are infinitely various, and variously accounted for, so are the mobilities that shape them—even if this variation sometimes stays hidden from view. At the time of writing, the eruption of the Fagradalsfjall volcano in Iceland5 has temporarily opened just such a window onto the seismic forces that churn within the earth's core, and whose sudden bursting forth impacts the human world above. It is hoped that the articles gathered here will similarly lift the lid on landscape-shaping processes and practices that remain hidden from view some of the time.

Although often visible to us as an effect rather than a real-time process, movement and change inform all human–landscape interactions regardless of whether the physical or human world is the main actor. In the twenty-first century, attention is newly—if belatedly—focused on the harm human actions can do, and have done, to natural landscapes, and it is salutary to remember that all of these injuries may be ascribed to mobility practices of some kind. However, the earth's landforms, oceans, and weather systems are also pushing back with new, unpredictable mobilities of their own, and with the consequence that the crust on which we humans are perched, and the skies above us, feel newly unstable. Evidence of climate change confirms the connection between human mobility and its effects. For that reason, bringing those agents of change to the fore has never been more important. In the articles collected here, human, animal, and nonhuman mobilities of every inflection and scale are seen interacting with a variety of landscapes in ways that capture the fragility of that dynamic as well as its deep history.

The interdisciplinary nature of the two special sections means that not all our contributors were familiar, when they responded to our Call for Papers, with the debates that have informed human—and, in particular, social and cultural—geographers’ increasingly sophisticated attempts to understand the relationship between human subjects and the landscapes they inhabit. Nevertheless, the different approaches to the study of landscape identified by geographer John Wylie (2007)6 and others have proven useful to us, as editors, in our efforts to map the different ways in which the articles collected here articulate landscape to mobility. For example, some of the articles speak directly to centuries-old debates about the representation of landscape informed by traditions dating back to the Renaissance (as well as the twentieth-century semiotic analysis of landscape as text). Others refer, both implicitly and explicitly, to approaches concerned with the cultural production of the landscape where the focus is on how human practices, both historical and contemporary, “co-produce” the landscape. David Matless's study Landscape and Englishness7 is a landmark text in this regard. For Matless and his followers, the materiality of a landscape—its physical form and function—has to be taken together with the practices and discourses by which it is inscribed. Certainly the way in which we experience a landscape typically combines our own embodied encounter with its materiality and the discourses and practices that frame and/or anticipate our response to it: a dynamic that also informs Henri Lefebvre's work on the social and cultural production of space.8 There is also the long tradition of geographers, anthropologists, and mobilities scholars attempting to step outside the schema that inform and shape our understanding of the landscape by adopting phenomenological methodologies. Here, however, it is increasingly important to distinguish between a diverse range of preconditions and practices—most notably the philosophical tensions that exist between what Wylie styles “humanistic” phenomenology (where any attempt to “objectively” describe a landscape is nevertheless refracted through the consciousness of the observer) and the non-representational theorizing that subtends post-phenomenology.9 The prevalence of post-phenomenological approaches to landscape in recent years is not without its critics,10 but it does sit comfortably alongside what has arguably become the dominant analytical mode for mobilities scholars exploring the intersection of the human and nonhuman world more broadly: namely, the ‘assemblage’ theories deriving from the work of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari and Actor-Network Theory.11

As will be seen from the articles that follow, our contributors’ engagement with a rich variety of landscapes has been informed by an equally rich variety of both disciplinary and cross-disciplinary approaches. Both humanist and post-humanist frameworks are at play in the work of our contributors, as are analyses which belong to the long tradition of “landscape as representation” and those that focus on “landscape as practice.” In every case, however, attention to movement and mobility serves to demonstrate precisely why landscape, as a phenomenon, has been so hard to pin down. It is simply too unruly.

“Visions,” “practices,” and “temporalities” may be the three keywords that best describe this first special section, since all the articles in this section feature artistic, representational, and discursive landscapes colliding with one another, whether in the past or in an imagined future. This keyword approach is intended to enhance, rather than suppress, the conceptual unruliness of the special sections; however, it is at the expense of thematic groupings or a “tourist” guide through the articles. In the subsection that follows, which presents the articles in the order in which they will appear, we have therefore sought to summarize how each author is thinking about landscape as an effect of mobilities of different kinds while preserving something of the cross-disciplinary unruliness of the conference itself. We trust that this curation will help the reader discover, at a glance, the articles that will be of particular interest to them but will also serve as an invitation to explore the special section as a whole.

Carolyn Deby's article opens the section with a vivid demonstration of how artistic research can help capture the complex and unruly relations that arise between people and the landscapes they inhabit. She does so by mobilizing the emotional and corporeal connections between the human body, the surrounding “urbanwild” landscape, and the screen-world(s) in which we are increasingly immersed. Her account is based on the video performance “Still/We Noticed Smallest Things,” presented to the “Unruly Landscapes” Colloquium participants in June 2020. With her performance-article, Deby thus provides a thought-provoking entry point for engagement with the mobile and technologically unruly landscapes we increasingly inhabit.

A hybrid, human/nonhuman landscape also animates Manuel Moser's article based on the fieldwork he has conducted with Thuringian long-distance truckers (including autoethnography, participant observation, and interviews). With reference to both the material and imagined landscapes of the truckers, Moser describes the complex and unruly set of landscape practices that concur in the truckers’ spatial and relational orientation. While hauling cargo around Germany and Europe, East/West imaginaries are, in fact, relocated with North/South utopian landscapes in ways that are both fascinating and politically troubling.

Working on another dichotomy—the dynamic between fixity and movement—Susan Mains discusses the opportunities provided by (street)photography for the examination of the interweaving of mobility and stillness. As a mobile practice, this technique offers unexpected perspectives on the urban landscape. Here, Mains focuses on Stephen McLaren's photographic essay dedicated to the City of London during the financial crisis of 2008. These images are presented as a collection of interconnected vignettes that conjure up stories, practices, movements, and narratives both in and out of the frame. In the process, hidden (im)mobilities are revealed such as the inequalities that exist between the financial traders and local city residents and the uneven flow of wealth from the global to the local.

Introducing the novel concept of the “tramscape,” Jason Finch provides a literary-critical analysis of a memoir written by a public transport enthusiast in 1938 which records the events that took place on the last night the trams ran in north London before their controversial closure. His article describes how material mobility infrastructures combine with experiential, personal, and place-specific influences, and how public transport functions as a multiple and contested public space. His “deep-locational” critical analysis12 of this memorable event (which included scenes of rioting and law-breaking) and its representation in an autobiographical (i.e., “non-literary”) text constitutes an important counter-discourse to more typical Modernist portraits of London at this time.

An explicitly postcolonial perspective informs the next article in the special section. Here, Anna-Leena Toivanen investigates the travelogues of the European diaspora in Madagascar, focusing in particular on how different modes of transport influence the travelers’ apprehension of the exotic yet “homely” landscape on their return journeys. She describes unruly (un)belongings to landscapes beyond the insider/outsider or the tourist/native binaries, contributing to a much-needed dialogue between postcolonial literary studies and mobilities research. The detached experience of the landscape as seen from the airplane is contrasted with the immersive experience secured by protective automobility; likewise, the nostalgia associated with public transport is set alongside the embodied familiarity with the landscape enabled by walking. Taken together, these accounts vividly testify to the value of literary texts in enabling us to better understand the qualitative difference of concrete mobility practices.

Finally, David McLaughlin's article—which reports on the research the author has conducted on hikers’ digital records of their journeys along the 2,000 mile-long Appalachian Trail in the United States—discovers a novel form of auto/biographical landscape-travel writing that sits in marked contrast to the often solipsistic “New Nature Writing” popularized by authors such as Robert Macfarlane.13 McLaughlin argues that hikers’ digital representations of their encounters with the Appalachian landscape, and with one another, productively expand our scholarly understandings of landscape through an emphasis on communal, co-produced knowledge and affect. The piece thus attests to the unsettled, incoherent, and, indeed, unruly nature of landscape as a conceptual potentiality: one that will be made sense of in different ways according to variable actors, technologies, and generations involved.

Taken together, the articles that comprise the first of our two special sections may therefore be seen to confirm the extent to which human practices—particularly human mobile practices—co-produce landscape regardless of how it is conceptualized or envisioned. We trust that readers will enjoy the vivid exemplars of this co-production that the diverse disciplinary encounters gathered together here provide.

Notes

1

The book of abstracts and the video recordings of the colloquium are available at: https://www.mobilityandhumanities.it/unruly-landscapes/

2

Ingold discusses the concept of the palimpsest in his recent essay collection, Correspondences (Cambridge: Polity, 2021), 85–93.

3

See her research project ‘Unruly Pitch’ (2015): https://www.research.lancs.ac.uk/research/projects/unrulypitch

4

For discussion of how movement and mobility compare, contrast, and articulate with one another as concepts, see Tim Cresswell, On the Move: Mobility in the Modern Western World (London: Routledge, 2006) and Peter Adey, Mobility (London: Routledge, 2009).

5

The Fagradalsfjall eruption started on 19 March 2021 in the Reykjanes Peninsula, Iceland. It is now a popular tourist attraction, although no volcanic activity has been detected there since September 2021.

6

John Wylie, Landscape (London: Routledge, 2007).

7

David Matless, Landscape and Englishness (London: Reaktion Books, 1998).

8

Henri Lefebvre, Rhythmanalysis: Space, Time and Everyday Life (London: Continuum, 2004).

9

See Wylie, Landscape, 153–166.

10

See for example Kristin Simonsen, “In Quest of a New Humanism: Embodiment, Experience and Phenomenology as Critical Geography,” Progress in Human Geography 37, no. 1 (2012): 10–26, https://doi:org/10.1177/0309132512467537; and Lynne Pearce, “Finding One Place in Another: Post/Phenomenology, Memory and Déjà Vu,” Social & Cultural Geography (2021), Online First, https://10.1080/14649365.2021.1922734.

11

See for example John Law and John Hansard, Actor Network Theory and After (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 1999); Bruno Latour, Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network Theory (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005); and Manuel DeLanda, Assemblage Theory (Speculative Realism), Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2016).

12

See Jason Finch, Deep Locational Criticism: Imaginative Place in Literary Research and Teaching (Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2016)

13

Robert Macfarlane's first book in this vein was The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot (London: Penguin, 2013).

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