Almost ten years ago, Gijs Mom invited readers and scholars to hop on the bus to rethink our mobilities with the tools of humanities. This issue marks a change of crew as we transition between two editors. We thank Dagmar Schäfer for her leadership in deepening and challenging our thinking, especially in the areas of mobilities in Asia throughout time. We owe a debt of gratitude to Gina Grzimek, our outgoing editorial assistant, for her work shepherding submissions through their publication and mentoring her successor, Jessica Khan. We now present you an issue born out of our collective work, with the hope that it will take you on a journey both comforting and stimulating. This invitation comes as the COVID-19 pandemic has impeded or suspended our collective mobilities for the foreseeable future. In this context, we want to reaffirm Transfers's interdisciplinary commitment to explore the ways in which various experiences of mobility have been enabled, shaped, and mediated.
Revisiting his 2006 work, On the Move: Mobility in the Modern Western World, Tim Cresswell recently reminded us that “mobility is both the lifeblood of modernity and the virus that threatens to undo it.”1 I hope that reading, writing, and thinking about mobility as the world seemingly comes to a stop will provide some comfort and intellectual stimulation. Stay on the bus and brace yourself for a bumpy ride. This will be a rewarding journey.
Kicking off the issue is an article featuring that same tension between modernity and mobility that Cresswell's comment evokes. In “Kamikaze Truckers in Postwar Japan,” Joshua Hotaka Roth explores the widespread sociocultural phenomenon of irresponsible (to put it mildly) driving in Japan's trucking sector after World War II. Roth contends that the “gamification” of traffic, with different agents of mobility each playing by their own rules and having their own objectives, as well as artistic glorifications of trucking life in film fostered a culture of highly questionable driving practices that terrorized and scandalized the Japanese population. By examining the sundry and warring tensions that characterized spaces of mobility in postwar Japan, the article provides insight into how all systems of organized mobility are arenas of competing and often incompatible value systems.
From Japan we move back to the European continent, where Claire Pelgrims analyzes the dialectic of slowness and speed in the development of urban spaces, focusing on its evolution within Brussels from the era after World War II up until the present. By looking into various manifestations of “social imaginaries,” “Tension between Fast and Slow Mobilities: Examining the Infrastructuring Processes in Brussels (1950–2019) through the Lens of Social Imaginaries” analyzes infrastructure, stories and behaviors, and visual depictions in Brussels to study the physical development of the city, the spaces devoted to and/or permissive of speed and slowness, and the aesthetic choices made to create a particular urban experience.
Filling a gap in our approach to road safety in Europe, Alice Milor examines the role of car manufacturers and the ways they coordinated with public initiatives. She describes how they transitioned from a fragmented conception of road safety to an increasingly integrated approach, and in so doing, she helps us question the boundaries between the private sector and state leadership. Consequently, our own approach to road safety becomes more integrated and less fragmentary. In addition to this conceptual shift, her article expands from the French study case to the European framework. These variations in scales are meaningful as traffic becomes denser and more international in a growing and more globalized world, and especially in a Europe where traffic between nations becomes increasingly more fluid (excepting, of course, the restrictions owing to the current pandemic).
Aharon Kellerman then offers a thoughtful discussion of the concept of “everyday carry” (EDC), technology that mediates between mobile persons, the devices they use, and their activities. The article dives into the world of technology, focusing on four pieces of technology in particular that trace in parallel the development of mobility: home keys, car keys, watches, and smartphones. Though seemingly banal, these four items offer a particularly rich mode of critique for mobility in the modern world and demonstrate that “the capabilities for mobility are not evenly distributed.” The smartphone, Kellerman argues, holds an especially privileged position, as it threatens to render obsolete the other three, thus becoming a “virtual mobility vehicle.” Through the sundry analyses of these items and how they enable and accelerate the mobility—physical and technical—of persons, we can see clearly how technology exerts a powerful influence on how they interface with time, space, and the social world.
We then shift our focus to Mali and the Global South, as Syntia Hasenöhrl critiques popular discourses of African sedentarization in “Mobilizing Malian-Diasporic Identities: How Southern Online News Portals Facilitate Non-sedentarist Discourses on African Migration.” By exploring in great depth a selection of articles from a Malian-diasporic online news portal and their circulation, Hasenöhrl argues that access to these narratives and user engagement with them facilitates the deconstruction of hegemonic narratives of African sedentarism and empowers users to produce non-sedentarist narratives about Malians. Rather than being a static society, as is often depicted in narratives from the Global North, Mali shows itself through these articles and their traveling across space to be a mobile and dynamic one, thus forcefully bucking the imposed sedentarist identity.
The Ideas in Motion section features a think piece entitled “Exploring Humanistic Layers of Urban Travel: Representation, Imagination, and Speculation,” which explores different modes of interpretation of urban mobility in the context of Seoul, South Korea. The authors combine visual, literary, and philosophical analyses to situate mobility as a “physically practiced and cognitively elaborated production,” effectively shifting the focus from mobile persons as objects and data points to lived experiences. Their humanistic approach to mobility privileges narrative and expression in its analysis of contemporary and historical issues in modern Seoul.
For Art and Mobility, Aryana Soliz documents photographically the trajectory of cycling practices in Central Mexico by studying a single repair shop in Aguascalientes. In this region, the bicycle has represented an important tool of mobility for working people, but their mobility has been compromised in recent decades by the ascendance of the personal automobile. However, the global sustainability movement is providing a much-needed favorable reevaluation of the bicycle as a means of transportation.
The issue concludes with a literary review of Melissa Harrison's 2016 Rain: Four Walks in English Weather, which provides a timely reflection on our relationship to the natural world, especially in the larger context of climate change. The work invites us to reevaluate our prejudices about nature and natural occurrences, perhaps replacing apprehension and fear with meditation and appreciation.
Despite the world's recent coming to a halt, we are continuing to reflect on historical and social issues of mobility and anticipating greater attention for our field in the future as we all take account of just how much our modern world depends on the movement and displacement of subjects and objects alike.
Tim Cresswell, “Mobility: The Lifeblood of Modernity and the Virus That Threatens to Undo It,” Mobile Lives Forum, 18 March 2020, https://en.forumviesmobiles.org/2020/03/18/mobility-lifeblood-modernity-and-virus-threatens-undo-it-13266.