Peter Cox, ed., Cycling Cultures (Chester, UK: University of Chester, 2015) 214 pp., 6 fi gures, 7 tables, £13.99
The central theme reflected in this book’s plural title—cultures with an “s”—is a callback to Cycling and Society. That volume’s introduction described the “remarkable plurality of lifeworlds, histories, structures and cultures, and a vast range of sometimes parallel and sometimes interwoven activities” homogenized in the single word cycling.1 Building on this observation, Cycling Cultures presents eight essays on the subject(s) of utilitarian cycling. They are tightly linked by theme, a feat made easier since nearly half of the book’s 214 pages are authored or coauthored by editor Peter Cox. Mostly written from a sociological perspective, these essays off er a scholarly theory of plural cycling cultures while working to connect academic perspectives with public needs.
Cox be gins with a question that flows from the volume’s title. If there is such a plurality of disconnected cycling worlds, he asks, how is it possible to make unified policy choices on any governmental level? His answer is that the goal of this edited volume should not be “simply attempting to chronicle the variety of practices to which the title of cycling can be attached,” but instead “to point towards the manner in which social practices are bound up with meaning-making” (6). Cox contends that paying attention to the lived experiences and particularities that create culture can improve decision making.
In the literature review and conceptual essay that constitutes the first chapter, Cox asks “can a study of social theory and cycling cultures be used to arrive at a better understanding of bicycle politics?” (38). Unsurprisingly for a cycling sociologist, his answer is yes. Much of this essay recasts the many subcultures of cycling in light of the classics of social criticism, from Raymond Williams to C. Wright Mills to Saul Alinsky. But it also references the most recent mobilities studies. Bicycle advocacy, Cox argues, combines with scholarship to form what Gijs Mom would call an “emancipatory” subfield (33).
The next four chapters explore the difficulty of understanding the many different cultures of cycling. These include Ida H. J. Sabelis on the assumptions engendered by ubiquitous cycling in the Netherlands, Dave Horton and Tim Jones on transport policy in England, Angela van der Kloof on the invisible power of ideological assumptions for immigrant women in the Netherlands, and Brian Deegan on the difference between a cartographer’s view of London and the cyclist’s actual experience.
Cox returns to service with Randy Rzewinicki in an essay on the changing meaning of cargo bikes, followed by the only chapter on recreational cycling: Heike Bunte on the subculture of randonneuring, or daylong endurance road riding. And of course Cox gets the last word, presenting original historical research on six decades of British women cyclists from the pages of the CTC Gazette and its successor Cycletouring. That chapter is followed by a summary postscript that revisits all the previous chapters and ties them together.
Cycling Cultures is an excellent example not only of engaged scholarship but also of its difficulty. Several essays off er laudable examples of collaboration between reflective practitioners and practical scholars. But at the same time, this is not a book that will be widely read. It is too burdened by scholarly jargon, a utilitarian physical form, and a limited print run from a new press.
For scholars of mobility, though, Cycling Cultures provides interesting comparisons. Cycling, it is now clear, is not monolithic. It has a bewildering diversity of user experiences, technologies, subcultures, and national histories. As two-wheeled scholars seek to understand that diversity, there are opportunities for cross-pollination with research on other modes. Surely automobility and transit cultures are as diverse? At the same time, the occasionally radicalized and possibly transformative politics of cycling advocacy off er a fascinating example of engaged scholarship. Perhaps that advocacy is the only thing that brings utilitarian cycling cultures into categorical alignment; Cox wonders if the kaleidoscopic views presented here can only hold together “through a shared commitment to change” (207).
As a historian of the twentieth-century United States, I cannot help but be envious of this project. To apply a competitive metaphor, European sociologists studying cycling have made a breakaway; and while U.S.-based sociologists are doing important work in the peloton, there is no clear comparison either with the 2007 Cycling and Society or this 2015 follow-up. American historians are even farther back, dans l’autobus; while there is original scholarly history of cycling in the United States, it is not yet validated, theorized, or self-conscious to the degree shown in this volume. Start pedaling.
Dave Horton, Paul Rosen, and Peter Cox, eds., Cycling and Society (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2007), 1.
Shoring Up the “Remnants” of Empire
Daniel Owen Spence, Colonial Naval Culture and British Imperialism, 1922–67 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2015), 256 pp.,£70
It seems, especially now as anniversaries of World War I are being remembered around the world, that all the major accounts of Britain’s growth and achievements in world naval supremacy have been written. Ships, naval personalities, battles, the impact of British seapower on international relations and commerce, the Anglo-German naval rivalry: all have been a feature of naval historical writing of the past decade. When one sees a new work with the word “naval” in its title, the general reader usually assumes another book about big ships, big naval guns, and battles fought far from dry land. Daniel Owen Spence’s work does not fit into this generalization. It develops an understanding of the motivation and interplay of having a local naval presence. Spence explores the attempts by Britain to encourage local interest in naval matters in the colonies between the two world wars, while containing that interest to local waters without interfering in British foreign and naval policy.
A navy is more than an armed force afloat: it is the distinctive symbol of a sovereign maritime state. The extent to which it commands the sea and is an instrument of foreign policy, sea commerce protection, and national defense is far-reaching. A navy defines a maritime state’s influence, authority, and potency in the world, enhancing the nation’s sovereignty. How could Britain maintain the prestige of a world seapower, while providing a local self-reliant naval defense to the colonies? In selecting colonial “remnants” of the British Empire (Trinidad and the Cayman Islands in the Caribbean, Kenya and Zanzibar in Africa, Malaya and the Straits in Southeast Asia, and Hong Kong), Spence provides an admirably researched, detailed account of the development and maintenance of a naval culture following World War I, in what were Britain’s small remaining colonies. Indeed, it represents an interesting counterbalance to Britain’s attempts to supress any naval interest in Australia in the first decade of the twentieth century.
Though the zenith of Imperial naval supremacy had passed following World War I, Britain still clung to its naval mantra “One Flag, One Fleet.” Britain’s Imperial Defense Policy throughout the Trafalgar Century (1805–1905) carried the promise that if a dominion or colony was threatened it would come to its defense. It did not happen in World War I and would not happen in World War II. However, until the end of the latter conflict, Britain sought to retain common maritime defense and secure sea communications within the empire.
Seapower is the ability of a nation through strength, capacity, and mobility to possess an effective naval defense, which permits its commerce to travel freely across the seas to markets and suppliers in peace and, in time of war, to prevent, repel, or attack and destroy an enemy when required. Unlike the permanency that can be associated with conquered territory, a maritime nation’s command of the sea is limited by the geographical area of control for the protection of sea routes and is as permanent as its maritime operational infrastructure, naval capability and government policy will allow. Spence provides new perspectives (political, social, and cultural) to Britain sustaining seapower in fluid and tense geopolitical situations and in the context of rising colonial nationalism.
Spence has indeed broadened “our understanding of navies as social and cultural institutions, where power was expressed as much in the ideas and relationships they cultivated, as through the barrels of their guns” (251). For naval historians analyzing or describing the conflicts of the twentieth century, these “minnows” would likely not register. For those historians who study naval strategy and seapower, Spence’s area of study would be of minor interest. However, as a result of this book, the thinking of naval historians may change—or need to change—to consider the social and cultural dimensions of the influence of British naval policy and presence in its dominions, colonies, and dependencies. This work is a significant contribution to the debate on Britain’s attempts between the wars to create for its overseas possessions a sustainable naval self-defense.
The Best Conference You Never Went To
Colin Divall, ed., Cultural Histories of Sociabilities, Spaces and Mobilities (London: Pickering and Chatto, 2015), 252 pp., £95
Committed to a long view of the evolving social structures of mobility, Cultural Histories of Sociabilities, Spaces and Mobilities examines, from the medieval era through the present, specific case histories of people interacting among microspaces (such as vehicles) within macrospaces (the places where these vehicles transgress). It is this sociability—among people, places, and things—that allows us to uncover the sociodynamics of power (in the Foucauldian sense) within mobility studies.
The collection is loosely organized into three sections: Part 1. Structural Mobilities, Spaces, Sociabilities; Part 2. The Urban and the Peri-Urban; and Part 3. Pilgrims, Travellers and Tourists. Part 1 includes Gordon Pirie’s excellent examination of sociability, space, and mobility in apartheid-era South Africa. His work explores the ways that racialized mobilities are enacted within everyday spaces of transportation: for example, the uncomfortable dilemma when nonwhite domestic workers had to be relieved of their charges when traveling on long distance trains. By contextualizing apartheid-era racialized transportation practices, Pirie shows how this cultural history of overt racism underwrites the more hidden institutional racism toward disadvantaged minority groups in the present day.
Part 2 focuses on the nineteenth and twentieth centuries’ transformations of sociabilities within urban and peri-urban environments due to advances in mobility. Greet De Block explores Flemish hybrid “rurban” infrastructure that incorporated country and small urban centers within the discourse and design of a national railway system—an ideological and material feat that produced a type of rail system very different from Belgium’s European and U.S. counterparts. Stephan Hohne’s excellent cultural history of New York City’s “subway map wars” of the 1970s explicates how visual representations of urban spaces and transportation systems are deeply felt political artifacts of sociability. As these wars between modern-Fordist designs and the lived economic realities in cash-strapped New York City attest, riders rejected the streamlined, cold functionality of the proposed map and argued for one that visually represented their imagined metropolis.
Part 3 is the most tightly focused section of the collection, concentrating on the way sociability and mobility interact to help create a sense of national identity among pilgrims and travelers. Ulrike Krampl’s fascinating examination of the changing notions of hospitality in France is particularly noteworthy. What began as ritualistic performances of pleasing hosts for the bare necessities of room and board in the seventeenth century became more commoditized in the subsequent centuries as “pilgrims” transformed into “travellers” who were then understood as “tourists” allowed to “consume” not only basic necessities but also places and national identities. All the chapters are excellent in this section, however, allowing us to examine touristic transportation practices over sixty years in Killarney, Ireland; compare menus on transatlantic flights and voyages during World War II; examine state practices of encouraging (individualistic) automobility in Romania in the 1960s and 1970s; and study different modes of pilgrimages to Santiago de Compostela in Spain during the first half of the twentieth century.
This collection of essays had its genesis at an international conference in July 2009, initiated by the Department of History at the University of York, hosted by the National Railway Museum and organized by the Institute of Railway Studies and Transport History. The collection reads like a great conference experience and, as a reader, I was transported from medieval times to postmodern times with a turn of the page. In other words, I was finding out how much I did not know about so many places and times and, as if at a great conference, I was continuously surprised by the off erings.
This greatest attribute of the collection, though, is also somewhat of a drawback. Although Divall does a valiant job in the introduction summarizing the articles and placing them into thematic sections, I did not find much substance connecting these articles together in concrete ways. While there is an attempt to narrow the expansive term “mobility” by focusing on “sociability,” as presented, this latter term is just as fluid and ambiguous as the former. While I found it thrilling to see the wide constellations of time, places, and transportation discussed, I did not come away with a larger understanding of how sociability and mobility fit together.
Perhaps, though, it is not fair to expect a collection of essays to form so tightly as to allow for its thesis to be airtight; my fight might be more with the notion of collections instead of this particular one. Instead, I would suggest picking up this book if you want to replicate that great conference experience: without expectations or hurry, randomly enter various intellectual worlds. Some will keep you there through the whole reading; others, you might leave a bit early. But overall, you will be glad that you came.
A Historical View on the Organization of Transport Mobility
Christopher Kopper and Massimo Moraglio, eds., The Organization of Transport: A History of Users, Industry, and Public Policy (New York: Routledge, 2014), 248 pp., $135
This book, edited by Christopher Kopper and Massimo Moraglio, is the culmination of the international and interdisciplinary workshop titled “Models of Mobility: Systemic Diff erences, Path Dependencies, Economic, Social and Environmental Impact (1900 to Tomorrow),” which was held in March 2012 in Toronto. The focus of the book is threefold: it examines how users, policymakers, and industrial managers have organized and continue to organize mobility in Europe, North America, and Asia; it investigates how various actors have shaped transport systems, both in terms of ownerships and operations; and it demonstrates the path dependencies of mobility in terms of technology, physical infrastructure, urban development, and cultural and behavioral preferences.
The edited volume includes an introduction and thirteen independent research studies by different authors. The contributions are subdivided into three parts. Part 1 introduces the evolution of mobility from a transatlantic perspective and also uncovers the hidden histories and new trends in the transport field and in mobility behavior. In chapter 2, Gijs Mom provides new insights regarding the evolution of two divergent paths of mobility in the western world, which he calls the European and the American Tracks. In chapter 3, Jill Ebrey discusses the trajectory of the early “mobilities of modernity” during the early twentieth century and the relevant factors that shaped their emergence and development (32). Peter Cox examines the long-term evolution of biking that began in the era before mass motorization in chapter 4. In chapter 5, James Conley provides a new perspective by examining previously neglected conflicts between pedestrians and other users of urban street space.
Part 2 of this book examines the influence of different modes of transportation on the evolution and use of urban spaces. By comparing the history of transport in London and Osaka, Takeshi Yuzawa addresses how big cities integrated and governed various transit modes and how urban policies aff ected the direction of the coordination regime in chapter 6. In chapter 7, Christopher Kopper demonstrates that urban infrastructure planning in Germany was adapted very carefully with drastic alteration from the U.S. model and critical assessment to cater to the indigenous condition and preferences in German society. By concentrating on utopian concepts of mobility and urbanism developed by Czech intellectual Karel Teige and his contemporaries, Steven Logan discusses different ideas in shaping the development pattern of urban mobility in chapter 8. In chapter 9, Alberte Martínze and Jesús Mirás discuss the various evolutionary patterns of urban mobility in Spain for the period 1843–2012, with focuses on the constraints of technological and economic factors. Massimo Moraglio conducts a historical analysis in chapter 10 and finds that light rail still has potential in a modern urban society given its advantage of modal substitution and unique compatibility with the limited urban spatial structure.
Part 3 elucidates the current challenges of urban sprawl and how these issues could be addressed. In chapter 11, Pierre Filion casts light on the obstacles for the car-oriented suburb in North America with a focus on the linkage between transportation and land use. John Saunders in chapter 12 examines the prospects for managing urban growth through various forms of governance with an objective to resolve traffic congestion problem in megacities such as Toronto. Likewise, chapter 13 by Angela Jain and G. L. N. Reddy further investigates the critical issues for the future of the fast-growing megacities with a focus on Hyderabad’s rural migrants and their linkages to their home villages in India. Chapter 14 by Hans-Liudger Dienel and Massimo Moraglio investigates a new phenomenon of mobility called multilocation from the perspective of history and social science.
The book is well-structured and edited with extensive contents on the organization of mobility. Readers of Transfers will especially appreciate the different patterns of evolution in Part 1 and the various adaption experiences of urban mobilities in different cities in Part 2. The discussions of present and future challenges in Part 3 are particularly helpful for readers to understand the policy needs of decision making as well as the research needs for future study directions. Overall, the discussions are primarily about surface transportation modes, such as light rail, bike, rail, and road. The temporal and spatial evolution of air mobility as well as its relationships to rail and road are, unfortunately, ignored in this volume.
Despite the weaknesses of omission of air transport, this book remains a valuable reference for scholars working on mobility and transportation history. It provides a comprehensive understanding of the evolution of mobility as well as the key issues of urban mobility in modern cities. The book will also appeal to academic scholars and graduate students in the field of either urban planning or public policy, who can also benefit from the extensive and solid foundation laid for future research.
How American Automobiles Have Reflected Their Social and Cultural Settings
Paul Ingrassia, Engines of Change: A History of the American Dream in Fifteen Cars (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2012) xx + 395 pp., 64 illustrations, paper, $18
A favorite pastime of car enthusiasts is the creation of lists. These rosters typically center on a particular automotive category such as “the five best Italian exotic cars with V-12 engines” or “the ten greatest Detroit two-door hardtop designs.” Paul Ingrassia’s Engines of Change broadly falls into this genre, but with an important twist. The cars he delineates have not been selected for their inherent virtues (or in some cases, the absence of just about anything virtuous). Rather, their inclusion is based on what they tell us about the era in which they were designed, manufactured, owned, and driven.
Each chapter centers on a particular automobile except for the first, which takes in two cars. This first chapter, the only one dealing with the pre–World War II era, casts the spotlight on two contrasting approaches to automobile design. The first one is altogether predictable, the Ford Model T. The second is likely to be unfamiliar even to many automotive buff s, the Cadillac LaSalle. It owes its inclusion not to large sales or engineering excellence, but because it serves as an excellent foil for the Model T. Whereas the T was the practical and inexpensive vehicle that brought mass motoring to the United States and other parts of the world, the La Salle exemplified a new and important trend: the emergence of styling as a key marketing tool for a car-buying public that had grown weary of cars like the dowdy Model T. In presenting their stories, Ingrassia retells the familiar narrative of Henry Ford’s accomplishments in mass production followed by the undermining of Ford’s dominance by General Motors (GM), propelled by GM’s high priest of automotive style, Harley Earl.
In subsequent chapters, the individual cars are often presented in conjunction with the men (and they are all men) who were closely identified with their creations: Zora Arkus-Duntov and the Corvette, Ferdinand Porsche and Heinz Nordhoff for the Volkswagen, and Lee Iacocca for spearheading the creation of the Ford Mustang. For the Chevrolet Corvair, we meet both protagonist and antagonist: Ed Cole, who promoted and designed the car, and Ralph Nader, who gave it an unwanted starring role in his highly influential book, Unsafe at Any Speed.
These individuals get a lot of attention, but no less important is the author’s delineation of the era in which the cars emerged, and their role in exemplifying that era. This connection of particular cars on the one hand and key economic, demographic, and cultural trends on the other is reasonable but rather predictable. It does not take much imagination to see the tailfins of the 1959 Cadillac as gaudy exemplars of the prosperity and unrestrained optimism of the 1950s. Other examples of the linkage of automobile types with larger trends can be easily cited, as when members of the Baby Boom generation created a vast market for the Mustang but then turned in large numbers to a new kind of vehicle as they aged, the minivan. In similar fashion, the pickup truck catered to legions of drivers who embraced it as the embodiment of red-blooded American values, in sharp contrast to another segment of the car-buying public for whom the ownership of a Toyota Prius signified an elevated ecological conscience. None of these are startlingly new insights. At the same time, the coupling of a car model with a particular group becomes rather tedious when the author engages in a drawn-out recitation of the supposed affinity of yuppies for BMWs.
Did yuppies in fact represent a disproportionate share of BMW drivers? Was a concern for the environment a major motivation for buying a Prius? No firm data are presented in these or any other examples. The author seems to recognize the limited factual basis of some of his assertions when he notes in the pickup truck chapter that “There is little scientific evidence to support these stereotypes.” This observation, however, is vitiated in the next sentence when it is claimed that “there is plenty of anecdotal evidence” (289). In fairness, firm evidence may have been hard to come by, but some factual errors could have been avoided. The Model T was not “the first car with fully interchangeable parts” (10) nor was the Civic “Honda’s first car” (107). A few technical errors also creep in. There are several references to the “heavy driveshaft” of conventional front-engine rear-drive cars, a reference not likely to be made by anyone who has actually hefted one, while the function of an anti-roll bar in the description of the Corvair’s suspension is misstated (123).
Although automotive historians will not find much that is new in this book, they are not its intended audience. For all its occasional factual errors and tendency to overgeneralize, Engines of Change is an enjoyable read. For the general public it will serve as a good general introduction to the reciprocal interaction of some significant automobiles and their historical contexts.
Hagar Kotef, Movement and the Ordering of Freedom: On Liberal Governances of Mobility (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2015), 234 pp., 12 illustrations, $23.95
Mobility has always been fraught with tension in liberal governance, none more so than the mobility of human bodies. Indispensable to accumulation, mobility is regarded as a precondition for almost any kind of human and social development and celebrated as a mark of freedom. Yet few behaviors arouse more anxiety; and largely on account of the difficulties of identifying and regulating the unmarked mobile subject, few behaviors more profoundly challenge liberal norms of governance. A characteristic response is to diffuse the resulting tensions into governance strategies premised on and productive of layers of “othering.” The resulting codes and procedures for marking mobile or potentially mobile subjects render them “aberrant” while appearing simultaneously to uphold the generality of the norm and the unmarked subject. In this monograph Hagar Kotef unpacks the norm and the marking and unmarking of subjects by addressing the ubiquitous split between authorized and unauthorized bodies, forms, and spaces of movement in liberal political thought and techniques of governance.
Critical histories and readings of political thought have, of course, not been oblivious to the importance of mobility and (self-)restraints thereon as characteristics or conditions of freedom and its exclusions. But mobility can often or quite easily seem an abstract metaphor. Movement and the Ordering of Freedom reads liberal political thought more directly through the lens of human mobility. As Kotef acknowledges, movement is recognized to have played an important role in liberal thought for marking difference between human bodies. But as illustrated at many places in this work, this modality of situating or recognizing difference is perhaps as problematic as it is productive: notably it does not sufficiently address the implications for liberal governance of mobility of the challenge of distinguishing the presumptively universal body that remains invisible through movement from the spectral imaginings and anxieties that form around images of mobility.
Kotef’s emphasis on the significance of movement in liberal thought for marking difference within bodies is astute and insightful, even though given the fluid boundaries of the body, this distinction can often be difficult to make or maintain. This difference splits the orderly and self-governed liberal subject from bodies whose (real or imagined) movement corporealizes them as ungovernable, uncivilized, or impervious to liberal norms and subjectivities. Rather than being derived from any “excess of movement,” such imaginings were colonized, raced, classed, or gendered, and became generative in all these ways of images of the excess (and to a degree of the subject categories) they were mobilized to discipline: “excess of movement” was, in short, a “material effect of the assumption regarding its existence” (89). By thus figuring the significance of mobility also as a collective embodiment or attribute in liberal thought and practice, Movement and the Ordering of Freedom is able to address a range of contexts across colonial, liberal, and neoliberal governance. Equally, situating movement within liberal governance helps shine further interesting light on complex agential relationships between movement and space, the configurations of space through movement, and their implications for sovereignty and governance.
Scholars studying histories of migration, governance of refugees, vagrancy laws, the policing of groups classified in some parts of the world as “criminal tribes,” others elsewhere euphemistically described as “travelers,” and so on will find much here that speaks to their materials and situates them in a more general frame. Yet despite its generality, Movement and the Ordering of Freedom off ers a powerful evocation of conditions in the occupied Palestinian territories dominated by the unrelenting and ubiquitous restriction of movement through a dense apparatus of checkpoints, permits, and so on to fragment both the territory and the Palestinian social fabric. Illustrating technologies for securing control over Palestinian territory, sites such as check-points also represent a microcosm of these technologies and the practices unfolding from the broader historical and political logics in which they are embedded. Premised on the Palestinians’ inability to govern themselves, such technologies are, as it were, “meant to fail.” The practices resulting from them are hence willful and opaque, and “based on concealment rather than knowledge” (29–30). This will again seem familiar to scholars in history and the other disciplines who can do much more, however, to mainstream the insight that technologies and practices that produce “confusion and irregularity rather than regulation” (29) are not aberrant to liberal norms of governance but police the boundaries of their very core.
Stationary Journeys: A Cure for Wanderlust?
Bernd Stiegler, Traveling in Place: A History of Armchair Travel, trans. Peter Filkins (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010), 253 pp., 86 illustrations, $25.
Bernd Stiegler’s book is a highly original, thoroughly researched, and yet accessible survey of various modes of stationary travel from the late eighteenth century to the present. Stiegler maps alternative perceptions of mobility in the modern age that begin with Xavier de Maistre’s Voyage autour de ma chamber (A Journey around My Room). His presentation is thematic rather than strictly chronological: the twenty-one chapters (or “legs”) invite the reader on a journey through different forms of travel in place, ranging from numerous imitations and adaptations of de Maistre’s book depicting travel within the confines of limited spaces to contemporary forms of technologically enhanced virtual travel.
First published in 1794, de Maistre’s book was conceived at a time when travel was just about to accelerate in pace and become more widely accessible. Stiegler uses this classic account of stationary travel as a starting point for his exploration of various philosophical, scientific, and metaphysical implications of limiting one’s mobility and focusing one’s attention on the familiar, or of accessing the distant in the comfort of one’s room. Traveling in place can be perceived as more empirical and authentic than forays into exotic locations: “Those who travel in their rooms … describe spiders as Cyclops—and have evidence on their side” (73).
The nineteenth century seems particularly pivotal in reconfiguring the perceptions of the relations between domestic and public spaces, as Stiegler notes, since this is when bricbracomanie becomes “the passion of an entire generation” and the interior of one’s home becomes an extension of the self (86). In a philosophical tale by Søren Kierkegaard, “Johannes Climacus,” “the room is equated with the self, and the interior becomes the space of that self” (116), making it possible for the room journey to trace “the outlines of existence” (119). At the same time, urban space becomes an extension of the home, giving birth to flânerie, “journeys of discovery within the near-at-hand” (125). And finally, perhaps most important, the world shrinks in the course of the nineteenth century, a process that will eventually culminate in the emergence of the World Wide Web. As Stiegler points out in his chapter on Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days: “before Phileas Fogg all room travelers are swimmers; after him they are surfers” (138).
Room travel provides opportunities for expeditions in which “the microcosm of the house ends up leading into the endless distance of macrocosm” (44). Journeys around one’s garden inspired metaphorical and anthropomorphic descriptions of plants while also providing opportunities for scientific exploration. In Arthur Mangin’s Voyage scientifique autour de ma chambre (A Scientific Journey around My Room) (1889), the narrator uses a home tour as a lesson introducing a child to modern science: “A room can be described as a country: with a climate, a location, a form of governance, a people, flora, and fauna” (44). In response to popular accounts of exploration, some writers produced satirical travel books that confined journeys to one’s city or neighborhood.
Stiegler’s pursuit of the theme also branches into visual culture and the connections between framed views from one’s window and early photography. Various technologies such as the panorama, diorama, and the stereoscope were used to bring far-off places to the viewer. When photography became an essential element of travel, it could also be used for photographic documentation of local sites or views from one’s window. The exploration of “unknown places close by” continues in the era of the cinema, when filmmakers such as Dziga Vertov documented “a thorough view of the quotidian in all its everyday appearances,” producing “a new kind of Baedeker that would explain to people their altered surroundings” (166, 169).
The few examples of stationary travel that I highlight cannot capture the dizzying array of material that Stiegler includes in the book, which is full of so many fascinating forms of traveling in place, including peculiar ones such as journeys through the human body. Peter Filkins’s translation from German is clear and elegant. While the book is thoroughly researched and each chapter contains suggestions for further reading, it is not a traditional scholarly monograph but a captivating and richly illustrated intellectual history addressed to a broader audience of educated readers. At one point, Stiegler introduces us to Tony Johannot and Alfred de Musset’s Voyage où il vous plaira (Travel Where You Please). The protagonist suff ers from wanderlust and the plot consists of a series of dreams in which “travel pictures … function as a therapy for the travel mania that had gripped the nineteenth century” (94). Stiegler ends his chapter on this intriguing book with an invitation that applies to the experience of reading Traveling in Place, which can also alleviate the reader’s wanderlust by redefining travel: “All you need to do is to pick up [the] book and let yourself be carried on the sea of images” (100).
Urban and Suburban Mobilities and Automobility: A Realistic Turn?
Thomas Buhler, Déplacements urbains: sortir de l’orthodoxie: Plaidoyer pour une prise en compte des habitudes (Lausanne: Presses Polytechniques et Universitaires Romandes, 2015), 123 pp., €28
Multidisciplinary studies on mobility and town planning have made gains in depth during the past decade, and especially in realism I would be tempted to add. The book series “Space in Society/Territorial Logic,”1 edited by Vincent Kaufmann and Jacques Lévy has played an important role in this change. It has already published the iconoclastic reflections compiled by Joëlle Salomon Cavin and Bernard Marchand in their collection Antiurban: Origins and Consequences of Urbaphobia, which revisited sources and consequences of the hatred of cities. Buhler’s Déplacements urbains adds to this complexity.
In many respects, Thomas Buhler’s work is remarkable. Based on his doctoral thesis of 2012, the book avoids easy condemnation of city dwellers’ transport choices. Instead, the author tries to explain their choice to use to the automobile and to understand resistance to moralizing orders aimed at limiting car use. Buhler’s methods are admirable; they are reinforced by Vincent Kaufmann in his foreword, titled “Get Rid of the Doxa.” It is indeed necessary to understand the habits and mindsets of citizens in order to understand “the failure of the policies of modal transfer” (13), that is, policies to motivate movement from one (more congested) mode of transportation to another (less congested) mode. The promotion of other modes of mobility clashes with deep-seated habits. What is hastily considered “irrational” and a matter of “faith” is in fact based on strong behaviors and desires.
This work is thus one that deciphers habit, which remains a so-called black box for decision makers. The text regularly returns to its message: the massive lack of understanding of individual behavior by public policymakers who deal with mobility. Explaining the persistence of the old-fashioned modal split is a key issue (31).
Buhler decries the orthodoxy of those who condemn automobile use. Anti-automobilism gives a simplistic picture of the driver as “a selfish individual” motivated by desires and emotions (47).We find numerous illustrations (twenty-seven in all) in the book that borrow from social psychology in order to motivate reduction of car use. One American poster from 1943 presents a well-dressed suburban man driving solo in a convertible with an explicit shadow to his side. The comment suggested to viewers was: “When you ride ALONE you ride with Hitler! Join the car-sharing club TODAY!” In this field too, Godwin’s law seems to be efficient! Note that the totalitarian fantasy associated with the automobile reappears regularly when, in the United States in particular, we suggest that driving means playing into the hands of terrorism and Bin Laden.
To eliminate simplified arguments about choice (112) seems to be a reasonable ambition in the conclusion. Public action thus deserves to be examined closely from now on using analysis instead of assumptions about how passengers should act. The author makes clear his position on the role of the researcher: “We do not consider that the role of the researcher is to find solutions to make people change unwillingly, but to supply a true and satisfactory representation of the reality of the practices, which corresponds to the role of ‘optician’ advocated by Jean-Marc Offner” (60). The last chapter of the book suggests strategies to change behavior, by both bypassing and using people’s habits. This book adds to the conversation in mobility studies by denouncing policies based on wishful thinking regarding mobility and questioning the ostracism of citizens who are probably equally concerned with the improvement of the quality of life.
All English translations are by the review’s author.
Democracy in the Machine?
Ruth A. Miller, Snarl: In Defense of Stalled Traffic and Faulty Networks (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2015), 210 pp., $30
Can democracy exist in the absence of human actors? And, more to the point, can nonhuman democracy reflect ideal notions of mobility, liberty, and vitality? According to Ruth Miller the answer to both questions is yes. Specifically, Miller forwards an argument that immobility—represented best by traffic jams and faulty communication networks—is the ideal site to document what she fashions as a mechanical public sphere. And this sphere is essential in order to understand what democracy is becoming.
At a time when technologists and critics question the place of democracy in the ever-quickening world we live in, Miller calls for the reconsideration of stopping. Too much attention has been paid to mobility and communication revolutions. She insists that “we switch the focus away from flow and toward gridlock, away from humans communicating and toward machines grinding to a halt” (2). Miller’s argument rests on the notion that today we view future materialities as technologies unbound to history or law. However, she contends that these new advances have constitutional legal roots that can be tied to existing frameworks. To explore those roots, though, we must reframe the discussion away from a constant focus on flow.
Mobile materiality and communication are ever-changing. Without linking these changes to concrete legal frameworks, Miller argues that we open ourselves to authoritarianism, if not fascism. In a world where communication and technology are unknowable, their regulation is likewise tenuous and open to abuse. “Network speak” and an overemphasis on flow of communication has distracted from the possibility that breakdown may not only help us understand our changing world, but may also off er a better starting point for creating the next version of democracy.
A focus on immobility and the breakdown of networks recenters the equation on the machines at the heart of the stillness, rather than the human actors’ perceptions of those machines. Miller’s claims to the power of immobility rest on a legal and historic argument. Immobility is as old civilization. Immobility is knowable, tangible, and legally definable. Because of those features it can be fit into our frames of constitutional understanding and contribute meaningfully to our understanding of democracy.
Miller sharpens her argument by focusing mainly on cars and traffic. Here the mechanical public sphere becomes the automotive public sphere. After disabusing the reader of the idea that she is attempting to give machines sovereignty, Miller lays out an argument positing that automobiles create a sphere that influences and intersects with politics and legal definitions. Even without humans as drivers or passengers, cars and other machines are shaping our worlds. Miller’s history exists at the overlap of concrete materials and concrete legal language.
Snarl is introduced by two literature review chapters—one on traffic and one on networks. The first is a thorough overview of what the literature of mobility, traffic, and automobility has already successfully covered. This work, Miller argues, has documented the ways cars and streets have been integral to the creation of politics and the public sphere. However, these histories are all too human-centric. Viewing streets through a machine’s perspective highlights a continuity of public space. In the second review chapter, Miller ruminates on the limits of focusing only on the newest communication networks, highlighting the example of the CB radio as both a material and a communication tool, one that perhaps is a more meaningful progenitor of the “information highways” of today than actual roadways.
Then Miller delves into immobility and the automotive public. In each of four subsequent chapters she highlights examples of how snarl benefits notions of democracy. Roads are spaces of regulation. Governments have worked to encourage movement because it makes control of other elements much easier, and stopping leads to conflict. A protest on a highway is a signal of resistance to authority. Likewise, digitizing our communication and our practice of mobility threatens to erase boundaries of our known public sphere, a loss that could take democracy with it. Miller concludes the main chapters with a discussion of drones, perhaps the ultimate example of a democracy-threatening machine. Yet, in Miller’s telling, drones are tied to the very mechanical public sphere created by earlier networks and machines. While their consequences seem threatening, their roots are knowable.
Miller’s book is not an easy read. For those not well-versed in theoretical scholarship on mobility (and even for those who are) the effort can be laborious at times. But, for the insights its raises, the work is worth it. By focusing on moments of halting, Miller shows that our world of flux need not be seen solely as a threat or as space spinning away from us. Rather, we can recognize our world by looking to moments of breakdown and tethering the past to today. Connecting threads through time shows that networks and mobility do not need to be reviled or rejected, but rather seen in concert with their failure.
Snow Globes, Traveling Players, and Mobility Machines
Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven (London: Picador, 2014), 339 pp., $15.95
Station Eleven, by the Canadian novelist Emily St. John Mandel, is a post-apocalyptic narrative that does not feel like one. That is to say, we have become accustomed through novels, movies, and television to a set of post-apocalyptic tropes that emphasize bleakness, struggle, and ruin. These elements do feature in Mandel’s novel (as does a knowing reference to the genre in the comment that one character’s “understanding of disaster preparedness was based entirely on action movies” ), but the heart of the story lies elsewhere. For some reviewers, the scarcity of grim detail seems to be a problem. For me, though, the lack of attention to disaster clears the way for Station Eleven’s compelling interweaving of narratives about people and the passions that drive them to keep going.
The apocalypse in question is caused by the rapid spread of Georgia Flu, which quickly wipes out most of the world’s population and infrastructure. The novel moves between two key periods: the years leading up to the collapse, following the life and death of famous actor Arthur Leander, and a period twenty years after the collapse, centering on the performers of the Travelling Symphony as they take theater and music to the settlements dotted around what was North America. Connecting these two main strands is Kirsten, a child performer in the production of King Lear in which Arthur dies onstage in the novel’s opening scene, and, twenty years later, an actress in the Symphony who carries with her a paperweight and two issues of a comic book that Arthur gave her before he died. Indeed, though he dies of a heart attack before the epidemic takes hold, Arthur is a reference point for all the novel’s significant characters: Jeevan, the paparazzo turned paramedic who jumps up onstage to perform CPR on the dying Arthur; Miranda, Arthur’s first wife and the author of Kirsten’s beloved comic books; Clark, Arthur’s friend, who establishes a Museum of Civilization at an abandoned airport; and the mysterious prophet, who casts a menacing shadow over the book’s second half.
As a performance scholar, it is perhaps inevitable that I find myself seduced by the argument that the novel seems to make for the fundamental importance of the theater. Shakespeare’s plays in particular, we are told, are what survivors want to see; the Symphony’s repertoire serves as a reminder of what is beautiful about the world. A large part of theater’s importance here lies in the way that it is able to move, to begin to redraw connecting lines on an imaginary map that is now understood only as a series of dots. Immediately after the collapse, it seems that everyone is on the move, but that pattern shifts into one of settling and staying put as “everyone cottoned on that there was no place they could walk to where life continued as it had before” (37). By Year Twenty the Symphony’s performers are among the only people who still travel.
In fact, this is in many ways a novel about how things move: people, yes, and cultural practices (theater, music), but also books, commodities, feelings (fear, hope), and, fundamentally, disease. The opening section establishes the novel’s close attention to how a range of movements interacts and collides: we read of the movement of snow (both the fake snow in the theater, from Lear’s storm scene, that at first nobody knows how to stop, and the real snow falling outside); the CPR to attempt to restart the movement of Arthur’s heart, alongside Jeevan’s awareness of the pumping of his own heart; the momentum that propels Jeevan on the walk home and then suddenly leaves him; the strange merging of different transport systems (the streetcar that “floated like a ship out of the night” and that moved “at a walking pace” ); and, more broadly, we are given a sense of the theater itself as a transitory space of movement, like “a train station or an airport, everyone passing quickly through” (5). Mandel’s description of this opening scene as “filled with movement” (12) could be applied to the book as a whole, as it teases out a complex set of relationships between people and things based on how, why, and where they move and, crucially, what happens when that movement stops. There is a lovely passage on the commodity mobilities of a snow globe, in which Clark reflects on the series of labors, business practices, and transportations involved in its manufacture and distribution.
Consider the mind that invented those miniature storms … the assembly-line worker who watched the globe glide past on a conveyer belt somewhere in China. Consider the white gloves on the hands of the woman who inserted the snow globes into boxes, to be packed into larger boxes, crates, shipping containers. Consider the card games played belowdecks in the evenings on the ship carrying the containers across the ocean. … Consider the signature on the shipping manifest when the ship reached port … the coff ee cup in the hand of the driver delivering boxes to the distribution centre, the secret hopes of the UPS man carrying boxes of snow globes from there to the Severn City Airport.(255)
One of the first artifacts displayed in Clark’s Museum of Civilization, the snow globe functions as a metaphor for other mobilities in the novel, curiously caught between movement and stillness, and carrying traces of the many lives that have aided its journey.
A post-apocalyptic tale always asks its audience to consider life without some of the elements that we have come to take for granted, and in this case the focus is on transport systems. Airplanes change from conduits of disease to oversized coffins and finally strange symbols of a world whose workings can no longer be grasped. Similarly, cars off er an initial false promise of escape, but soon become raw materials (witness sandals “cut from an automobile tire” ) for the new life that has to be forged. The departures area of Severn City Airport moves from a space of potential transit to a settlement that becomes the Oz-like object of a quest for the Travelling Symphony. In these details, Mandel might seem to be critiquing the global transport systems on which our world has come to rely. But the novel’s final image—as Clark draws comfort from the thought that somewhere in the world there might again exist “ships moving over the water, towards another world just out of sight” (333)—undercuts such critique with a sense of the hopeful possibilities of transport, and a reminder of our ongoing need to construct, or at least to imagine, mobility machines.