Intersections of Globalization: Domestic Infrastructure Meets the Shipping Container
Matthew Heins, The Globalization of American Infrastructure: The Shipping Container and Freight Transportation (New York: Routledge, 2016), 222 pp., $145 (hardback)
The Globalization of American Infrastructure examines shifts in globalized goods movement by focusing on a particular space: the intersection of standardized shipping containers and the domestic infrastructures that have accommodated them. It is only through place-based changes to freight infrastructure—be they physical infrastructure or regulatory frameworks—that the aspiration of globalized freight movement is possible. This book offers a close look at this process in the context of the US trucking and railroad systems.
Matthew Heins begins with the premise of the shipping container as an extra/ordinary object, one that makes possible the complex system of globalized production. Containers are “gateways,” or forms of infrastructure that knit together the goods movement system, including ocean shipping, rail, and truck transport. Heins suggests that the rise of the shipping container is a story not of the invention of an innovative technology (containers are, after all, simply steel boxes) but of complex processes of standardization and implementation across oceans, at transfer points, and via different transport modes. It is through containerization, he argues, that globalization reaches into America’s hinterlands, while at the same time, container shipping networks are also shaped by the domestic systems they touch.
Much has been written about the impacts of containerization at seaports, particularly the growth in the size of ocean shipping vessels and the need to deepen ports of call. Heins, however, follows the containers inland, where his object of inquiry is the domestic rail and trucking systems, whose transformations have been arguably less visible than seaports, yet nonetheless critical to understanding the relationship between the global and local. In particular, Heins is interested in the development of “interfaces” that link global to national shipping systems: namely, the chassis for trucking and a specialized railcar for railroads. Four chapters focus on trajectories of change in these systems. Heins then considers the dynamics of intermodal terminals, where goods are transferred from one mode of transport to another, and inland waterborne shipping in later chapters. Throughout, Heins’s goal is to unpack how freight shipping is a product of the multilayered political, social, and economic contexts through which goods move. Shipping does not run over territories, but through them in mutually affecting ways. In doing so, the author usefully displaces the focus on the shipping container as a singular technological invention, instead placing it within the systems that make it possible. The book succeeds in highlighting the continuities between precontainerization and widespread adoption, as opposed to reproducing a narrative of radical departure.
Reading Heins’s detailed account of container shipping reminded me of an interview I did with a Chicago warehouse worker. The worker was a lumper who opened containers for the first time since being packed in China, and I asked if he ever thought about the workers who had so thoroughly filled every inch of space in the containers. The worker then produced a colored clipping from a newspaper that he had found in a container he was unloading that was, he surmised, an advertisement for a Chinese dating service. Suddenly his counterparts across the ocean became real, embodied workers with longings for love, among other things, but who are so often erased from logistical systems. As much as containers represent through lines of goods movement, it is people who animate this process. Heins is selective in his inclusion of the actors shaping logistics, largely focusing on those in more powerful positions, while workers play a bit part in the narrative of change. This is unfortunate, given the otherwise welcome attention to the sociopolitical production of what are often portrayed as technocratic marches toward progress. Socially produced labor markets are themselves an infrastructure upon which transportation networks rely. Heins acknowledges the labor implications of containerization, but downplays the extent to which reducing labor cost was an explicit intention of the project. As a result, the dynamic—and causal—relationships between workers, labor markets, and the changing nature of goods movement remain relatively vague.
This book joins the ranks of critical accounts of logistics production, disrupting the narrative of smooth, seamless flows that are rooted in technical precision. It will be of interest to those who seek nuanced accounts of the change wrought by globalization. Heins pushes back against accounts of globalization in which so-called progress comes inevitably to local and national scales by other macroforces and instead unpacks the complex, multiscalar dimensions of power and agency (though, with the notable exception of the realm of workers). He shows that infrastructure change is path-dependent and that the ways that globalization touches down in particular places are shaped by dynamic and sometimes unforeseen political, economic, and social histories.
Rethinking Age, Generation, and Lifecourse in Mobility Studies
Lesley Murray and Susan Robertson, eds., Intergenerational Mobilities: Relationality, Age and Lifecourse (London: Routledge, 2017), 194 pp., 14 illustrations, $145 (hardback)
Intergenerational Mobilities is a collection of twelve disparate essays based on methodologically heterogeneous studies, all thematically linked by an underpinning coeditorial position, lucidly expressed in both the introduction (by Murray) and the conclusion (by Robertson). This is that “generations shape mobilities and mobilities shape generations and that neither of these shapings are even, steady or necessarily one-way” (165). The chapters are grounded in the editors’ desires to bridge generational divides by exploring how the mobilities of particular generations relate to—rather than oppose— those of other generations. The book’s significance for mobility research lies in its focus on the intersection of age and mobility, as this nexus has been underresearched in the field; it also importantly extends previous work done on reappraising lifecourse as a fluid rather than a static concept.
Lesley Murray introduces the collection by affirming that the book challenges certain static notions about the lifecourse and about generations. One challenge is to lifecourse linearity: that we move in one direction from childhood, youth, middle age, and old age to death. Another is to the limiting way in which generations are conceived as not only homogenous according to predetermined age categories but also clearly connected to age-appropriate mobile activities. In the appraisal to follow, those essays that deal exceptionally well with these challenges take the focus.
Elaine Stratford’s interests in the “geographies, mobilities and rhythms of growing up, growing old and moving on” (8) furnish the second chapter. Based on an analysis of intergenerational dynamics in two artworks, Stratford impressively contests the notion that life is a linear trajectory from ablebodiedness to old age, death, and enfeeblement and contests the conception of old age as a “problem.”
Turning to digital concerns, Sergio Sayago, Valeria Righi, Susan Möller Ferreira, Andrea Rosales, and Josep Blat’s essay draws on their study of how people over sixty-five engage computer-mediated communication (CMCs) and questions previous research on two counts: first, that older people are not able to use CMCs and, if they do, they use them in “‘extraordinary’ ways” (56); and second, that older people are “bounded in time and space” (63). Instead, the research shows older people as central players in intergenerational encounters both in physical and virtual space.
In contrast, the essays by Dave Harley and by Hadrien Dubucs, Thomas Pfirsch, and Camille Schmoll probe generational differences but through critically scrutinizing normative age band categories customarily deployed in social science research as characteristic of lifecourse stages. Although Harley’s study found some differences in behavior and attitudes to mobile phone use in everyday public spaces across generations grouped according to age bands, his report shows that these differences cannot purely be cataloged according to age alone. Dubucs, Pfirsch, and Schmoll show how emigration for young highly skilled Italians living in Paris is not based on labor market factors alone, but also on a “strong sense of generation” (78). Aged between twenty and forty, in what is a highly nonnormative generational grouping, these “young” people find emigration an attractive proposition because of the stultifying marginalization they have previously experienced in Italy, where transition to adulthood is long and difficult and where the aged cartel holds on to employment, effectively locking “youth” out of the labor market.
Generational differences are also explored in the editors’ cowritten essay on movements across the shared space of a long public bench in Brighton, United Kingdom. Murray and Robertson’s study found variations over one twenty-four-hour observation period, noting a peak in generational diversity across the bench in the middle of the day and the dominance of young people at night. From this, they contend that generational mobilities and public urban space are co-constituted. That is, when those occupying the majority of bench space were from one generation, this seemed to deter other generations from sharing the space. Of note was the lack of disabled bodies in the bench study, an omission no doubt based on factual observation, but not noted by Murray and Robertson as such.
Disability, however, features in Christian E. Fisker’s essay that, like his title, “Reliance Mobilities,” beautifully articulates the relational nature of mobility and immobility. His study focuses on the experiences of people immobilized by polio, with the primary case study being that of a woman in an iron lung. Neither denying the difficulties of moving from being mobile to living in a highly constrained environment, nor negating the way in which this experience commonly made people want to break free, Fisker tracks how the woman and others in iron lungs could be at times, and depending on location, “mobile with” “mobile others” (149).
Intergenerational Mobilities is an important book that acknowledges age as a mutable concept in line with the challenges age studies scholars have, since the 1990s, posed to culturally naturalized understandings of “age” and “generation.” Seeing the discursive constructions of the Generation X and Y type unsettled in specific and detailed studies of place and space was most exciting for this reader, schooled in age and critical disability studies scholarship. However, it was surprising that a book about age, aging, and mobility, especially one attempting to critically engage with the lifecourse, did not grapple with questions of disability in a more sustained way, given that disability can be theorized as a continuum onto which most people will step at some stage in their lives, especially as they age. Nonetheless, the book marks an important turn in mobility studies toward the complexities summoned by taking age, generation, and their interrelationships seriously and thus invites further work in this area.
Transportation Policies and Infrastructure as Mobile Networks
Sebastián Ureta Assembling Policy: Transantiago, Human Devices, and the Dream of a World-Class Society (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2015), 224 pp., 22 illustrations, $39 (hardback)
Over a decade ago, Mimi Sheller and John Urry claimed that “mobile sociotechnical systems should be analysed as hybrid” (that is, as networks of humans and nonhumans), thus showing the strong influence of science and technology studies (STS) on the mobility turn.1 In Assembling Policy, Sebastián Ureta provides an insightful STS-oriented analysis of one of the most important and controversial transportation systems applied in a Latin American city: Transantiago (in Santiago, Chile). Although his book is not directly in dialogue with mobility studies, Ureta’s project encourages scholars in the field to approach transportation policies as flexible, porous, fragile, and performed assemblages. He offers a genealogy of Transantiago that looks at the place of humans in large and complex mobility infrastructures. For the author, this is a “political question” as much an ethical one, since it affects people’s lives (4).
Studying transportation policy following Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s idea of assemblage offers a processual and dynamic perspective that allows Ureta to trace four configurations of Transantiago, from its conception in 2000 to its implementation between 2007 and 2009: crisis, infrastructuration, disruption, and normalization. Foregoing other STS conceptualizations of humans, Ureta develops his own concept—human devices—to capture the ways in which humans are enacted within the Transantiago infrastructural assemblage. Human devices are formed by images, data, human bodies, and artifacts, which function as material forms of political power and must be continually performed. Building on Foucault’s idea of governmentality, Ureta identifies tensions within each of the four configurations between what he calls “scripts” and “strange things”: when scripts, or systems of power, function as expected, they produce subjects; when they do not, strange things appear and force the system to readapt.
The body of Assembling Policy is organized in six chapters. Chapter 1 tackles the conception of Transantiago as a solution to the crisis that was the chaos of a public transportation system organized around microbuses. To describe the earlier system as in crisis was not just to diagnose the situation but to construct it as a public problem that needed the state’s intervention. In the language of assemblage theory, this process involved both deterritorialization and reterritorialization. The chaotic microbus system was not just removed but replaced by an efficient bus and subway system. Moreover, Ureta shows how this technological transformation was designed to project Santiago as a world-class city.
Chapters 2 and 3 deal with infrastructuration, which occurs as the new transportation system takes shape as a network of standards and protocols. Infrastructuration, as a script, is a continual process that defines the role of humans, thus producing subjects. For example, chapter 2 discusses how some planning boards held democratic views and included humans as “active citizens” in the planning process. However, as described in chapter 3, authorities with more technocratic views refused to allow citizens to participate in discussions about the new system. Ureta argues that the final decisions about Transantiago were not based on democratic planning but on a human device he calls “the fare and time optimizer,” with users imagined as valuing cost savings and technical efficiency above all.
Chapter 4 focuses on the massive disruptions caused when Transantiago started operating in 2007. The new system was perceived as the worst public policy disaster in the city’s history and became a national political issue. Within this configuration, humans appear as “sufferers.” Chapter 5 shows how people protested Transantiago. For instance, residents living near a new bus terminal complained about improvised bus parking lots that encroached on their middle-class neighborhoods. Other people protested the bad service by using the system but refusing to pay, which resulted in a rate of evasion much higher than predicted. While these unexpected effects may appear to threaten the assemblage, chapter 6 explains how the system attempts to normalize these strange things. For example, the state countered bad press about suffering and protesting with statistical data demonstrating the success of the system and its recent improvements. Additionally, unanticipated practices among people waiting for buses prompted a redesign of bus stops to better accommodate the needs of actual users. Nonetheless, Ureta argues that such normalization is fragile and that Transantiago is a permanently failing mobility system.
Assembling Policy wisely traces how this infrastructure links transportation policy to politics: showing, on the one hand, how Transantiago expressed the ruling class’s aspirations of building a world-class city and, on the other, how the fiasco damaged the national government’s reputation but left the technocrats responsible for the system’s design unscathed. Ureta offers a complementary view to other studies analyzing mobility experiences produced by Transantiago. More broadly, this book will be of interest to scholars interested in “applying” mobility studies perspectives to the making of public policies.
A Landmark Study of Asian Migration
Yuk Wah Chan, David Haines, and Jonathan H. X. Lee, eds., The Age of Asian Migration: Continuity, Diversity, and Susceptibility, vol. 1 (Newcastle on Tyne, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2014), 450 pp., £54.99
Asia is a vast, dynamic, and heavily populated region that includes a diversity of cultures and political and economic systems and has undergone intensive transformation in recent decades. Despite these factors, academic research on the full extent of migration to, from, and within Asia is sorely lacking. This book, the first volume in what will be a series, goes a long way toward filling this void. Edited by Yuk Wah Chan, David Haines, and Jonathan H. X. Lee, this well-designed collection explores a wide range of localities and types of migration.
The authors included in this volume use multiple research methods and represent an array of disciplines and biographical backgrounds. Following a foreword by the International Organization for Migration’s director general, William Lacy Swing, and an introductory essay by Yuk Wah Chan, the book is divided into six sections. Chan’s introduction describes the volume’s focus as examining “major currents of Asian migration that were formed in the post-World War II period, and have expanded to include other kinds of migration over the ensuing decades” (2).
Part I concerns how Japan and Korea cope with the diversity that comes from different modes of migration. The section’s six chapters focus on Korea’s search for multiculturalism, case studies of intermarriage, adaptation, and activism (involving Japanese-Pakistani and Japanese-Filipina couples), and the experience of Japan-born ethnic Koreans returning to Korea. In total, Part I explains the demographic, political, economic, and cultural factors that account for lower rates of “migrant-fueled diversity” (20) when compared to North America and Europe and articulates contemporary challenges associated with these patterns.
Part II documents East Asian Chinese migration in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and China. Collectively, these four chapters provide a valuable overview of the region and interrogate Hong Kong’s and Taiwan’s relations with China. In the section’s introduction, Chan and Yang explain that Hong Kong and Taiwan are rarely included as part of the Chinese diaspora, despite the potential insights that can be generated through such a frame. The chapters in Part II use a variety of approaches—namely, labor economics, demography, analyses of nostalgia, and reviews of migration regulations—to consider these two locations as “Chinese diasporas.”
Part III concerns Vietnamese migration and diaspora. These four chapters focus, respectively, on the historical record of Vietnamese migration, the diverse migration patterns of a single Vietnamese family, transnational circuits established between the homeland and Eastern Europe since the Cold War, and a study of Vietnamese marriage migrants in Taiwan.
Part IV examines the experience of Cambodian, Lao, and Hmong people in the United States. These five chapters are especially valuable because of the dearth of data on these groups. Additionally, each author elucidates the political nature of refugee policy by linking these groups’ experiences to the US’s Cold War–era efforts to contain the spread of communism and to support France’s attempt to reestablish colonial rule. Jonathan H. X. Lee’s chapter stands out for its examination of the Cambodian American musician R. J. Sin, whose art draws on the Khmer language and incorporates Cambodian history, Tupac Shakur’s message of “no shame,” and Southern California’s hiphop aesthetic. Part IV concludes with chapters detailing how Cambodian, Hmong, and Lao communities cope with the economic, cultural, and racial challenges associated with surviving in the United States.
Part V reviews Singapore’s legacy as both an origin and destination point of migration for multiple nationalities and ethnic groups, including Chinese, Malaysian, European, and North American migrants. Elaine Lynn-Ee Ho and Lin Weiqiang’s chapter provides a particularly astute examination of migration, return, transnationalism, and diaspora in the Singaporean context.
Finally, Part VI considers patterns of South Asian migration and diaspora. Unique for a book on migration, Rimi Nath’s chapter turns to literary representations to analyze migration from Pakistan and Nepal to the United States. Part VI concludes with Sophia Thubauville’s chapter on Ethiopia’s efforts to develop its university system and its reliance on highly educated professionals from India to do so.
In sum, The Age of Asian Migration, volume 1, is skillfully written, broadly inclusive, well organized, and highly informative. A groundbreaking contribution to our understanding of migration to, from, and within Asia and to the fields of ethnic studies, social science, and history, it is destined to become a must-read for scholars interested in Asian migration in local and global contexts. Detailed, well integrated, and highly accessible, it will appeal to undergraduate and graduate students, academic researchers, policy makers, and an interested public.
Between Theatergrams and Traveling Actors
Robert Henke and Eric Nicholson, eds., Transnational Mobilities in Early Modern Theater (Farnham: Ashgate, 2014) 320 pp., 22 illustrations, $117 (hardback)
Transnational Mobilities is a collection of essays offering a wide range of theoretical and methodological perspectives on early modern theater. The volume is produced by the international research collective Theater Without Borders, which has worked together for over a decade and examines the international character of early modern drama through an interdisciplinary perspective. Taking methodological approaches from comparative literature as a starting point, the volume, which is organized in five thematic parts, investigates larger theatrical patterns and structures beyond the compass of traditional close reading. Following Stephen Greenblatt, the authors take mobility in “a highly literary sense” and focus on circulating material like images, costumes, actors, and manuscripts as well as on the mobility of knowledge labeling interwoven theatrical and dramatic structures.
Part I investigates the influence of Italian comedy on Shakespeare and examines the exchange of cultural knowledge and performing practices among actors, playwrights, and audiences. While Robert Henke investigates Italian traces in Taming of the Shrew, Richard Andrews argues that Flaminio Scala and Shakespeare, although not in contact with each other, used the same stock of material for their plays, which was transported through performance practice. The circulating knowledge of theatrical patterns is also central for Melissa Walter’s examination of the trunk in Twelfth Night. According to the contributors, every investigation of the dynamic exchange between Italian and English theater practice has to consider the mobility of scripted and performed material equally. Intercultural “contact zones” like the university town of Padua, where English students had a chance to see Italian performances, were constitutive for early modern theatrical mobility.
Part II moves from Italian comedy to traces of European pastoral plays in Shakespeare and follows Louise George Clubb’s methodology of theatergram by tracing how a pattern circulates from one dramatic context to another. Focusing on Flemish art and theater, Susanne Wofford explores the appearance of Hymen in the play As You Like It, and Eric Nicholson expands the outlined methodology toward visual material to study the relationship of pastoral settings in the plays The Winter’s Tale and As You Like It.
This investigation of circulating theatrical knowledge—transported through scripted, performed, and visual material—continues in Part III. According to Pamela Allen Brown, the awareness of acting styles of unmasked Italian actresses not only influenced the constitution of vibrant female protagonists in English tragedy (e.g., Marlowe’s Dido), but also the acting style of boy divas. This dynamic process of cultural appropriation is also discussed in Christian M. Billing’s essay on the representation of alterity on English stages. The knowledge of nation-specific costume was transported through scripted sources such as Cesare Vecellio’s Habiti antichi, et modern di tutto il mondo (1590). Thus, costuming is understood not as a localized practice, but as the product of transnational knowledge exchange in early modern trade centers like London.
Focusing on the conditions for mobility and cultural appropriation in Northern and Eastern Europe, Part IV moves beyond textual analysis. While M. A. Katritzky traces medieval folly iconography (e.g., we-three tradition) in representations on stage, Pavel Drábek analyzes the similarities between German, Czech, and English early modern drama. Even though there are no direct influences, he argues that, through examinations of Czech puppetry and marionette theater, certain theatergrams can be traced in this cultural context. Therefore, he highlights the importance of a broad perspective on different theatrical forms for examining mobilities in early modern theater.
All the essays in Part V contribute to the larger methodological reflection on transnational mobility and construct a substantial conclusion to the volume on theatrical potentials for cultural translation and its limits. While Jacques Lezra argues for a historically and culturally contextualized approach to translation theory, Alessandro Serpieri links this claim to his experience as a translator. David Schalkwyk renegotiates the concept of cultural translation, referring to a contemporary performance in Afrikaans of Twelfth Night. Finally, Shormishtha Panja examines Indian theater since the eighteenth century and investigates the influences of European theater makers on Indian theater, like G. S. Lebedeff’s influence on Bengali theater and Geoffrey Kendal’s Shakespeare performances throughout India.
In her epilogue, Jane Tylus distinguishes between different dimensions of transnational mobility: first, actual mobilities of actors, histories, and languages; and second, cultural as well as religious mobilities between the sacred and the secular. Thus, studies on early modern theater not only have to deal with the fact that theater was clearly influenced by dynamic transnational exchanges of scripted, performed, and visual material within Europe, but also have to be analyzed from an interdisciplinary perspective. These complex layers in early modern theater practice were convincingly discussed through various case studies, opening up promising possibilities for scholars to expand on these historical phenomena and rethink terminologies and methods in multiple fields. Transnational Mobilities is hence not only crucial to Shakespeare and theater studies, but also to mobility studies, since it provides comparative historical analysis as well as creative methodological tools for practitioners in both areas.
Beyond Sequential Narratives
Ruth Oldenziel and Helmuth Trischler, eds., Cycling and Recycling: Histories of Sustainable Practices (Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2016), 256 pp., 18 illustrations, £67 (hardback)
Is there anything more than linguistic coincidence in these two themes that they should be brought together in a single volume? Cycling and Recycling has its origins in a 2012 workshop at the Deutsches Museum, and like other volumes arising from specialist gatherings, the logic of its genesis can perhaps appear obscure at first glance. However, in this case, the editors successfully unite a fascinating but disparate series of studies.
As new forms of modern environmentalism and ecological politics emerged in the 1970s, argue the editors in their introductory chapter, both cycling and recycling emerged as archetypal social practices that came to be framed within a discourse of sustainability. Although sustainability is the stated thematic center to this collection, what emerges is a multilayered exploration of the stories that are told about these practices. While each chapter stands on its own in dealing with its specific subject matter, the collective effect is to highlight how meaning is imputed to technologies and practices. The volume is ordered into two sections, the first on cycling, the second on recycling, connected in the middle by a chapter on recycling bicycles.
The book is designed to prompt reassessment of the often linear assumptions present in conceptualizing sustainability and to alert the reader to the importance of technologies and technical processes involved in sustainable development. Hans Peter Hahn challenges linear thought in development theory by considering how bicycle use in West Africa enacts multiple levels of appropriation. While the origins, production, and distribution of the technology might be traced as part of a process of colonialism, its practical use does not reproduce colonial norms. Instead, bicycle use can amount to a form of reinvention, disrupting and undermining hegemonic patterns of colonial domination. In contrast, Manuel Stoffers compares the different trajectories of movements and organizations to promote human-powered vehicles (HPVs, not conventional cycles) in the Netherlands and the United States. He shows how the US-based International HPV Association (IHPVA) appropriated alternative technology discourses of the early 1970s and allied them to actions that sought to show how HPVs could replace cars. By contrast, the Dutch association NVHPV reflected the different place of cycling in the Netherlands, positioning itself as an alternative to conventional bicycles.
Also taking a cultural historical perspective, Catherine Bertho Lavenir considers how collective memory shapes public attitudes toward cycling and the consequent capacity for and capability of change in France. Looking back on World War II, she argues that “the French elevated the bicycle into being one of the props that helped regain the dignity (the Resistance) or assert the companionship (through love, family, solidarity) of civilians confronted with state inadequacy or violence” (66). Paradoxically, however, these tropes frame the bicycle as a vehicle of last resort, left behind in the postwar rebuilding of the economy, characterized by motorization. Recent attempts to rehabilitate the bicycle must overcome this shared mythos and its effects on the self-image of potential users.
Adri Albert de la Bruhèze and Ruth Oldenziel add to this discussion of self-image, showing how new images do not displace previous perceptions of cycling but overlay one another in complex patterns. Bicycle taxes in the Netherlands may have legitimated the bicycle as a mode of transport, but also provided means by which the state could discipline riders. In fact, they argue, cyclists effectively paid for their marginalization in the 1930s. In the final chapter on cycling histories, Martin Emanuel examines urban infrastructure in Stockholm to show how the built environment concretizes particular political and technological visions and thus makes it difficult to reimagine or repurpose roads and bridges for alternative modes of transportation. Attitudes change much faster than spaces.
M. William Steele’s essay provides a bridge to the chapters on recycling by examining not the problems of recycling infrastructure, but of bicycles themselves. While home appliances and cars are governed by strict recycling rules in Japan, cycles, as simple mechanical objects, are subject to no such rules. Their simplicity and relative cheapness leads to semidisposability and, despite attempts by some to recycle them, leads to a pollution problem. That the mentality that allows for such disposability is a peculiar feature of modernity provides the framework for the latter chapters on recycling. Georg Stöger carefully analyzes economic and linguistic sources in premodern Europe to show that reuse and repair was not simply a product of economic necessity, but was rooted in a “premodern mentality of thrift” (148).
Such an argument not only brings to mind Christian Pfister’s work on the “1950s syndrome” (that is, the rapid increase in oil production and the subsequent expansion in car manufacturing), but also joins other essays in this collection in bolstering the editors’ parallel claims for the 1970s as a pivotal moment marking a turn toward sustainability. For instance, Roman Köster’s study of recycling in West Germany shows the degree of structural change needed to make recycling seem possible and necessary. Zsuzsa Gille then brings us back to the problem of how we conceive of development in the first place. Within a framework of ecological modernization, the slogan “reduce, reuse, recycle” produces an image of cleaner modes of production by hiding the disposal or export of toxic and other problem wastes. Indeed, the very classification of such outputs as waste demonstrates the failure to understand them as inevitable parts of production processes. These products may or may not have value in themselves, and Djahane Salehabadi’s essay on digital waste highlights the degree to which ownership of these outputs may be deeply contested and damaging to human health.
The final chapters by Donald Worster and Robert Friedel consider how historicizing sustainability is vital for its understanding and implementation. Yet doing so requires us to go beyond simple narratives of change over time. The technologies and practices of mobility and sustainability described in these essays emphasize cyclical rather than linear histories. The temptation of chronology is to impute a modernist mythos to the progression of time so that what comes later must necessarily be better and improved. These essays remind us that this is not necessarily so.
If one is looking for a strongly thematically connected set of essays, then this volume may disappoint. However, it has the power to prompt reflection that is often missing from more singular collections. Its strength as a mobility studies project is in the disparity of studies that are brought together. Through their juxtaposition, as Worster infers, they collectively open new lines of thought on the question of “what kind of economic system and culture will be required to achieve sustainability?” (218).
Government, Politics, and the Shaping of Transportation and Environmental Policies
Margo T. Oge, Driving the Future: Combating Climate Change with Cleaner, Smarter Cars (New York: Arcade, 2015), xv + 351 pp., $25.99 (hardback)
Driving the Future is as much about the past as it is about the future. The first half of the book documents the efforts of its author to reduce air pollution during eighteen years of employment at the US Environmental Protection Agency. These efforts culminated in her heading the Office of Transportation and Air Quality during the Obama administration. Initially, the author’s focus while serving in this position was the all-too-apparent effects of untamed internal combustion engines, the nasty brew of unburned hydrocarbons, oxides of nitrogen, and ozone that we know as smog.
Successfully combating air pollution entailed a combination of emission-controlling technologies that were driven by appropriate government policies. Computerized engine management systems, reformulated fuels, and catalytic converters significantly reduced the emissions that caused air pollution, but no less important were regulations that spurred the development and application of these technologies. Of particular interest here is the author’s narration of the struggle to convince automobile manufacturers that effective emission controls were technologically and economically feasible. A similar effort was expended to improve air quality and reduce gasoline consumption through the enactment of Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards. Once again, we get an insider’s view of the political processes required to enact stricter standards despite opposition from some manufacturers and their allies in Washington.
Smog was an easy target because it affected the eyes and respiratory systems of everyone living in places where foul air was a depressingly common experience. A less obvious threat is the buildup of carbon dioxide that is the inevitable consequence of combusting fossil fuels. As with the setting of emissions and CAFE standards, the author narrates the efforts of the EPA to forestall or at least lessen climate change through stricter rules governing the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from mobile and stationary sources. The EPA’s ability to do so stems, ironically, from a verdict handed down by the US Supreme Court in 2007. At issue was whether carbon dioxide (CO2), the chief cause of climate change, could be regulated by the EPA. The EPA under the administration of George W. Bush was unwilling to do so, but in the case of Massachusetts vs. Environmental Protection Agency, the Supreme Court ruled that the limitation of CO2 emissions did in fact fall under the purview of the EPA.
Driving the Future shifts gears in the second half of the book, when the author leaves the realm of governance and politics to take up the prospect of future advances in the struggle against climate change. In the author’s words: “In the transportation sector we need cycles of innovation that outpace anything we’ve done before” (179). The key innovations described in some detail include the production of more fuel-efficient cars and changes in the kinds of fuel that they use, the wider use of electric cars, and self-driving vehicles. Also of considerable significance are socioeconomic changes that may lead to fewer vehicles on the road and a consequent drop in CO2 emissions. These include urbanization, the international adoption and convergence of GHG standards, and the continued spread of digital technologies that reduce the need to physically transport oneself in order to connect with friends, family, and business associates.
Driving the Future packs a plethora of government agencies, programs, and individuals into over three hundred pages of text. Keeping track of them, along with all of the political maneuverings that resulted in the formulation of policies, can be a challenge. Making matters more difficult, the author often uses first and last names when introducing an actor, but subsequently refers to him or her by only a first name. The book would have benefited from the inclusion of a list of dramatis personae.
Any book with “future” in its title will have its speculative moments. For the most part, the author’s projections seem reasonable, but there are segments that strain credulity, as when the emergence by 2018 of a battery with five times the energy density and one-fifth the cost of today’s batteries is treated as a feasible goal (233). One brief anecdote from 2009 highlights the dangers of an excessively optimistic reading of the future. After the conclusion of a press conference covering all the progress made in the reduction of GHGs, the author notes without comment a question shouted from a reporter, “What about after 2016?” (164). We are now in a position to note some possible answers to that question, and not all of them are encouraging. Whatever the future outcomes might be, Driving the Future epitomizes one aspect of mobility studies through its narration of the political processes that shaped the car-related environmental policies of the Obama years. We can now observe how the policies of the current administration will affect the trajectory of the transportation technologies that were outlined in the second half of the book.
Thomas Birtchnell, Satya Savitzky, and John Urry, eds., Cargomobilities: Moving Materials in a Global Age (New York: Routledge, 2015), 236 pp., 16 illustrations, $148 (hardback)
Cargomobilities is an exceptional edited collection of case studies from scholars at the forefront of mobilities research that illuminates the forgotten spaces, distributed places, and unseen zones of freight mobility around the world. These essays board the container ships, tankers, and airplanes, tour the docks, dart through the distribution centers, survey the ports, and open the ubiquitous “black box” of the shipping container, shedding light on the excesses, illegalities, and instabilities that underlie the supposedly “smooth,” and often invisible, labor of moving goods, materials, and waste around the world.
The book begins with an authoritative overview of the collected essays by editors Thomas Birtchnell, Satya Savitzky, and John Urry. The editors provide an admirable account of the global transformation engendered by the shipping container in the mid-twentieth century before describing the frictions of maritime movement and the dependencies on oil that underpin the entire system. Their essay concludes with questions about how to repurpose the logistics industries and empower localities with new technologies like 3-D printing. The editors forego organizing the volume into formal sections, leaving the book open to thematic discussions that move across the collected essays to explore relations between smoothness and unevenness, visibility and invisibility, security and insecurity, and mobility and immobility. This review essay focuses on a selection of the essays assembled in Cargomobilities in order to introduce these overarching themes.
Beginning with questions of representation, Philip E. Steinberg’s essay compares illustrations of the ocean in historical maps with critical works of contemporary art that seek to portray the dizzying system of oceangoing transport. He concludes that it may be more beneficial to direct attention to “the ways in which maritime trade is implicated in all of our lives” (45). Responding to this provocation, Brett Neilson investigates the preponderance of empty shipping containers exported from Sydney’s Port Botany. Neilson discloses the “economy of emptiness” impacting global container trade, pointing out that it is often cheaper to produce new containers then pay to have empty ones returned (61). Craig Martin’s chapter provides a similar reading of the hidden conditions of the container economy with an essay that blurs the boundaries between licit and illicit cargo. Building on the work of philosopher Michel Serres, Martin examines how flows of contraband in containers, namely, counterfeit tobacco, helps to solidify the structures of lawful container flow.
One of the further challenges for describing the freight industry is rendering the distributed quality of global trade produced by new techniques, technologies, and geographies. Julie Cidell’s theoretically rich chapter introduces readers to the rapid movement of commodities through distribution centers, which have dramatically reorganized the movement of goods over land. Cidell introduces the concept of “distributed places” to contrast distribution centers with traditional warehouses, arguing that distribution centers are distributed over multiple sites of rail, road, truck, and train (29). Cidell’s theory provides a practical framework for visualizing the mobile structures of circulation in the contemporary world.
Of course, labor and risk are not always organized equitably across landscapes. Alice Mah’s ethnographic work provides powerful evidence of the “highly uneven geography of toxic risks” produced by the circulations of petrochemicals in the port of New Orleans (150). Her account breaks down simplistic dichotomies to reveal forms of sociality and meaning making between residents and workers along the Mississippi “chemical corridor.” Correspondingly, Satya Savitzsky and John Urry capture the movements of oil in a chapter that argues that “oil both powers modern movement, providing over 95 per cent of transportation energy, and is itself the ultimate ‘moving material’” (180). This fascinating piece articulates the political forms enabled by different energy sources, like the susceptibility of oil to disruption and piracy at sea. The authors maintain that current intensive methods of energy extraction indicate imminent oil insecurities that will redefine production, distribution, and consumption patterns on a global scale.
No volume could include every dimension of contemporary cargo mobility. These essays dedicate limited attention to communication technologies or digital cargo and have little to say about transportation of cargo by road and rail. Despite these minor insufficiencies, Cargomobilities is an extremely valuable collection for scholars interested in the geographies, techniques, and insecurities of emergent forms of global distribution. This book is recommended to scholars of political and environmental sociology, transport geography, and anyone seeking a broad theoretical and empirical overview of the hidden zones where cargo helps constitute the global age.
The Prison House of Mobility
Jacques Lob and Jean-Marc Rochette, Snowpiercer 1: The Escape, trans. Virginie Sélavy (London: Titan Comics, 2014), 110 pp., $19 (hardback)
The original Snowpiercer story, by writer Jacques Lob, a graphic novel published in France in 1984, has developed an unusual legacy. Transfers readers may recognize the adaptation by director Joon-ho Bong from 2013 bearing the same name; however, long before the film, two sequels to Lob’s book, written by other authors, were published. With the announcement in 2016 of a television adaptation—and casting announcements released in 2017—Lob’s story is becoming a substantial media franchise. This review examines Lob’s original work, made available to readers in English for the first time by Titan Comics in 2014 as volume one of three, the initial volume that inspired Bong’s film and—judging by his role as coexecutive producer on the forthcoming television production—TV series. A body of scholarly criticism is building around Snowpiercer, and the centrality of mobility to the franchise means that Transfers readers will want to take notice.
The first panel of Lob’s black-and-white Snowpiercer shows the train as a brooding gray line against a black sky above and stark white clouds of snow below; occasional exterior views interrupt the book’s focus on the action inside the train. The world is a vast, frozen, postapocalyptic wasteland, a landscape broken only by rare glimpses of the ruins of civilization. First built as the pinnacle of luxury and design achievement—the recurring caption, “one thousand and one carriages long,” endows it with mythic properties—the train is a lifeboat carrying the last of humanity, forbidden from ever stopping. Here lies the book’s genius: a classic symbol of the industrialized conquest of time and space, the train is now a prison, and the dream of modern mobility has been perverted into a claustrophobic nightmare.
Part Titanic, part space shuttle, the Snowpiercer serves as a microcosm for Western society, delivering up Lob’s post-1968 Marxism-inspired social critique. The protagonist, Proloff, has escaped from the tail section, where society’s rabble suffers in overcrowded misery. Over the course of the book, he makes his way from train car to train car, ultimately reaching the engine (dubbed Saint-Loco by the train’s high priests). On his journey he meets the love interest, Adeline, discovers the train’s origins, learns about its endless meat source, crosses its luxury carriages, and encounters the religious, political, military, and medical authorities that regulate the train’s social order. Each successive train car allows Lob to examine a different facet of human society. The artwork’s grim noir aesthetic underscores the violence, evil, corruption, and sadism that reign. An idealistic reformer kept in the dark by the authorities about conditions in the tail section, Adeline learns from Proloffof the underclass’s horrifying treatment; artist Jean-Marc Rochette’s artwork in these flashbacks is reminiscent of the train cars used to carry victims of the Shoah to the Nazi death camps. The striking contrasts between the horrors of the tail section and the visual splendor of the luxury cars convey the book’s dark vision of social injustice.
Lob uses his early 1980s present and past to imagine the book’s dystopia. The Cold War, warming up in the Reagan years, pervades the text, along with Europe’s World War II history. The train’s archivist speaks of a climate bomb developed by both sides of a global war, and like the cattle cars of the tail section, the uniforms, weaponry, and appearances of all of the military personnel on the train recall World War II–era styles, this time Soviet ones. These elements serve to underscore the totalitarian nature of life on a train with nowhere to go. Lob’s story asks how society will regulate itself when confronted with the dilemma of finite space. If one were to grant that the Snowpiercer’s twin miracles of perpetual motion and infinite food supply were to happen in the real world, how would human society deal with having no more room? Snowpiercer links up here with the environmental and (over)population anxieties of the 1970s, such as those expressed in Soylent Green. Like Charlton Heston’s character—and, similarly, in the earlier The Planet of the Apes—Proloffuncovers a dark conspiracy, as one of the train’s miracles—its capacity for perpetual motion—turns out to be a lie: humanity will go extinct unless something is done to lighten its human load.
The return of Lob’s train is thus the return of a certain set of concerns. While the renewed interest in Lob’s train allegory may have much to do with its social critique and sense of extreme inequalities, it is also a brilliant warning about seductive, cure-all technical solutions to the mounting environmental problems humanity faces. The twist of carceral mobility in Snowpiercer is a poignant comment on how easily our social ideal of mobility can lose all meaning.
Mimi Sheller and John Urry, “The New Mobilities Paradigm,” Environment and Planning A 38, no. 2 (2006): 207–226, esp. 215.