All posts tagged Mobility
Groningen in the north-east of the Netherlands is a biking city. While cycling is an extremely common in the country, the shear dominance of bikes and cycling in this city is noteworthy. I was in the city for the Fourth International Emotional Geographies Conference and we were all struck by the role of bikes in daily life. Indeed, we were informed that there were 2.4 bikes per head of population in the city.
It was both fascinating and inspiring to see what a city can be like when bikes become the prevalent form of transport instead of cars. As a pedestrian it took a little getting used to, bikes whizzing by, people of all ages and backgrounds pedalling and stationary bikes occupying considerable space. I found myself having to get good at estimate how gaps between cyclists for crossing the ‘roads’. I resisted to urge to rent a bike myself, instead deciding to explore the place at my walking pace.
It’s nice to think that cities can be like this, but also unfortunate the it is unlikely that such a culture would ever come to be in Ireland. Although most of our cities are small enough to be cycling cities, it would require a large scale shift in thinking and considerable official support in terms of infrastructure, not least large investments in biking parking spaces and proper bike lanes – completely separate to the main road by reducing car lanes or making streets one way. While any such changes are a while off we always have Groningen!
A short video taken on my phone showing the dominant bike culture by capturing the flows and interactions at a junction on the Grote Markt. ES: Un video corto filmado con mi teléfono mostrando el dominio de la cultura ciclista, capturando los flujos e interacciones en un cruce en Grote Markt.
Groninga, al noreste de los Países Bajos, es una ciudad en bicicleta. Si bien andar en bicicleta es bastante común en el país, la prevalencia de las bicicletas y el ciclismo en esta ciudad son notables. Estuve en la ciudad para la Cuarta Conferencia Internacional de Geografías Emocionales y todos nos sorprendimos por el rol de las bicicletas en la vida diaria de las personas. De hecho, nos informaron que hay 2.4 bicicletas por persona en la ciudad.
Fue facinante e inspirador ver cómo puede ser una ciudad cuando las bicicletas se convierten en la forma principal de transporte en vez de los autos. Como peatón acostumbrarse toma tiempo a las bicicletas pasando raudas a nuestro lado, gente de todas las edades y status pedaleando, y también tantas bicicletas estacionadas ocupando espacios considerables. Me encontré a mi mismo mejorando mi habilidad de estimar los espacios entre bicicletas para poder cruzar las “calles”. Resistí la tentación de alquilar una bicicleta, y decidí explorar el lugar a mi propio ritmo.
Es lindo pensar que las ciudades pueden ser así, desafortunadamente es poco probable que esta cultura se instale en Irlanda. A pesar de que la mayoría de nuestras ciudades son lo suficientemente pequeñas para ser ciudades en bicicleta, requeriría un gran cambio en nuestra forma de pensar y considerable apoyo del gobierno en términos de infraestructura, por lo menos grandes inversiones en espacios para estacionar las bicicletas y ciclovías apropiadas – completamente separadas de las calles principales o haciéndolas calles de un sólo sentido. Si bien estos cambios aún tomen un poco de tiempo, siempre tendremos a Groninga!
I was presented with the opportunity to wait at a level crossing on a quiet country road a few evenings ago. I took the chance to photograph, with my phone, the closed level crossing, and then, the passing train.
A level crossing is an interesting intersection of transport types. The railway and the road cross each others’ paths. The topography or some specific conditions do not favour a bridge, resulting in this crosscutting space. The point of convergence is nether entirely roadway or railway, it is a hybrid. While driving through a level crossing, I always look to the side, at the parallel tracks stretching off in either direction – a clearer, more flowing form of transport going perpendicularly to myself. Conversely, when I’m on a train, I catch glimpses of cars, bikes, people, waiting on the road – each of them paused on their own journeys.
Ordinarily, the road traffic has dominance; however, this is merely because of the absence of the train, once it arrives the roadway is temporarily blocked off. I like the necessary primacy of the train for two reasons. Firstly, as public transport it is carrying more people in a more sustainable manner than the car, and, therefore, serves a greater (social) good. Secondly, it is an ironical metaphor that the road vehicle has to make way for the train, as it was the growth in the use of trucks and cars in the mid-twentieth century that resulted in the demise of the once considerable train network.
Ironród Éireann (Irish Rail) map of all the level crossings in the Republic of Ireland
Can know all the math in the ‘verse but take a boat in the air that you don’t love? She’ll shake you off just as sure as a turn in the worlds.- Captain Malcolm “Mal” Reynolds, Serenity, 2005
Far as I see it, you people been given the shortest end of the stick ever been offered a human soul in this crap-heel ‘Verse. – Jayne Cobb, Jaynestown 1.7, 2002
The ‘Verse is the colloquialism for the known Universe in the science-fiction TV series Firefly (2002-03) and the follow-up film Serenity (2005). The series/film, created by Joss Whedon, are a Sci-Fi Western or Space Western drama set in 2517 when people have colonised a new star system after a mass-exodus of ‘earth-that-was’ due to population pressures. The show, which was cancelled after only series/season (although it has a considerable cult status) and subsequent film, follow a motley band of characters on a Firefly-class space ship called Serenity. In doing so, like all good science-fiction, it explores deeper political, social and cultural issues. The ‘Verse is a rich terrain for geographic observations.
The ‘Verse is one star system, consisting of a cluster of five stars and several brown dwarfs, in which people are spread over dozens of planets and hundreds of moons (all mostly referred to as worlds). This is a more limited setting than other sci-fi shows and, therefore, creates a situation that balances the expansiveness of space and the containment of a single star system, albeit a large system consisting of several minor ones (facilitated by the absence of faster-than-light travel). The ‘Verse then is the sphere in which these peoples operate, it is the ‘known’ universe in as much it is the region of life and existence.
The ‘Verse as a vast yet bound space is ideally suited to examinations of cores and peripheries, with the central worlds being centres of government, civility and high-culture and the peripheral (or Rim) worlds being unruly, rough and rustic. Themes which are central to the stories, such as the controlling (semi-authoritarian) state, the dominance of mega-corporations, and individual’s and group’s search for freedom and self-determination, can unfold nicely in this universe.
Related to these ideas, is the employment of (US American) Western tropes, including lawlessness, survival, persistence and evangelicalism. In many ways, it is as much a Western as a Science-Fiction tale. The peripheral worlds are literally frontier places. It is in these spaces that the taming and ‘civilising’ forces and the wild elements of the edge come in contact. The protagonists of the series/film occupy this space well as they are mostly anti-heroes who engage in illegal or at least para-legal activities, while adhering to their own code-of-honour. The lifestyles, landscapes, architecture, clothing, folk customs and dialects evoke the ‘Wild West’. And, as a Western, of course, there is plenty of room for horses, shoot-outs, bar fights and train heists.
Language is a strong component of the world-making. Firstly, the occasional use of Chinese in the dialogue represents the survival as English and Chinese as the primary languages of humanity. The Union of Allied Planets, the corporate super-government, is a blend of US American and Chinese culture and all the worlds of ‘Verse have a Chinese (Sino) and and English (Anglo) name. The implicit geo-politcal statement being the continued roles of the US and China as the dominant world powers into the future.
Secondly, the manner and style of speech plays a large role in creating this universe. The Rim Worlds’ dialects and turns-of-phrase conjures up the folk speak of the West, while also differentiating those from the Rim Worlds – the fronters’ people, including some of the main cast (Mal, Zoe, Jayne and Kaylee) – from the civilised peoples of the core worlds – which also includes a number of the crew (Inara, Simon, River and Shepherd Book). Rim Worlds’ speech includes elements such as truncating the “g” from “ing” words (“schoolin’”), using “don’t” instead of “doesn’t, no -ly on adverbs from adjectives and misuse or malforming of verbs (Firefly Wiki Accessed 9 Feb 2013).
Examples of dialogue:
- Mal: And I’m thinkin’ you weren’t burdened with an overabundance of schooling. So why don’t we just ignore each other until we go away? Lund: The In’e’pen’ents were a bunch of cowardly, inbred piss-pots. Should’ve been killed off of every world spinnin’.
- Jayne: Oh, I think you might wanna reconsider that last part. See, I married me a powerful ugly creature.
- Mal: “Jayne, your mouth is talking. You might wanna look to that.”
Due to the short run of the series, many elements of the ‘Verse remain unexplored; however, the setting and the worlds created did offer interesting speculation of futures that will, or at least may be.
The Firefly Wiki article on The Verse
The Wikipedia list of the Firefly universe Planets and Moons
Image of the Verse
With the 50th Anniversary of the release of Dr No (Connery, 1962) and the launch of Skyfall (Craig 2012) late last year, renewed attention was paid to the James Bond series of movies. Amongst this interest there were several noteworthy geographic contributions, including articles in The Atlantic Cities, which incorporated a (Google) map of the Geography of James Bond, a photo collection from Discovery News, incorporating a piece by Prof. Klaus Dodds. Building on these, I wish to add my own thoughts on the geographies of Bond.
A feature of the films is the protagonist’s “hyper-mobility”, as Dodds labels it, with the “footloose spy” hopping from place-to-place, sometimes traversing the globe in the two-hour adventure. This demonstrates the exciting lifestyle of the fictionalised espionage world, brings the film to new and exotic locations, shows the high-level stakes involved and helps keep the plot moving along nicely. In The Living Daylights (Dalton, 1987), for example, his movements take him to Czechoslovakia, Austria, Britain, Tangier and Afghanistan. Furthermore, his mobility also sees him going underwater, to the extremes of the planet and even into space. In this regard, Bond’s characteristics – privilege, charisma, occupation, funding, determination, and disregard for rules and authority – combine to make him the ultra-mobile modern man.
The far-off and exotic settings mainly show a simplified and stereotype-filled view of the world. This is obviously not unusual in cinematic terms, however it was a central element of the Bond Franchise. In the blog, Geographic Travels, it is pointed out that the top most visited cities, besides London (which features in every film except You Only Live Twice (Connery 1967) and Moonraker (Moore 1971)) are Istanbul, Hong Kong and Venice, which evoke ideas of Near East Oriental exoticism, Far East Oriental exoticism and Picturesque Europe, respectively. Furthermore, Bond took us to these marvellous places, which in turn imbued him with their enticing nature. From his first outing to Jamaica to his most recent in Hong Kong, the man and the place define each other.
However, there is, as always, slightly more to the story. You Only Live Twice (Connery 1967) was based in Japan, and while it may not have offered a holistic or realistic view of the society and culture, it was one of the first times that Japan had featured so heavily in a major Western film since WWII. Just over two decades after that conflict, there would still have been sensitivities and political concerns surrounding Japan, especially in the US. In this regard the exotic location, although simplified, may have provided a service. On a side note, I also came across the idea that the Japanese Secret Service ninjas which stormed Blofeld’s secret volcano lair (the prototypical Bond set-up, satirised in the Austin Powers films) was one of the earliest sightings of ninjas in Western pop-culture.
Another factor in Bond’s mobility is the role of vehicles. The cars obviously stand out as the main type of transport associated with 007. However, his missions have included boats, naval vessels, planes, helicopters, submarines, trains, cable cars, ski mobiles, a double-decker bus, a blimp, a moon buggy, an autogyro (Little Nellie) a space shuttle, and an ‘alligator’ boat. While many of the vehicular scenes are about chase and explosions, there is also an implicit prioritisation of the mobile (see my post on Mobilities). Movements, spaces of mobility and mobile locations, which are frequently overlooked in cinema and television matter in the Bond-verse. So, for example, M’s office, complete with Moneypenny, can be on a submarine; the fate of the world can be controlled from an oil-tanker; and, a missing helicopter is central to the plot.
The collective content of the twenty-three films have so much material jammed into them that it is the stuff of dreams for academics and socio-cultural commentators. There are numerous other topics that could be covered in any geographical discussion of Bond, including gender roles, geo-politics (and the concept of the licence to kill), the theme songs, technology and fashion. But as we know James Bond will return soon, maybe another post might also appear…
I have an interest in the study of mobility. The concept of mobility is a broad approach that incorporates movement, motion, flow, transition, fluidity and much more. It centres on an appreciation of movement, as a thing worthy of study in-and-of-itself, but also as a force that shapes, influences and adds meaning to the world around us.
In academic-speak, my interest can be located in the ‘mobilities turn’ or the ‘new mobilities paradigm’ within the social sciences. The paradigm is a response to a world that is seen as being increasingly mobile. It includes a wide range of topics, from corporeal movement to mass migration, from transportation systems to tourism, and from cycling to communication technologies. Examples of mobilities research include, leisure walking, cycling to work, commuting, the increase in international students, immigration experiences and systems at European airports, the carbon-foot print and food miles of the components of our daily diet and the role of truly mobile computing and communication devices. Furthermore, it acknowledges a greater role for approaches that centre on activity, performance and participation.
The immobile and questions of the creation and treatment of immobility are raised in considerations of mobilities. By highlighting the importance of movement and flow, the role and consequences of barriers and frictions are equally emphasised. In many cases, these concerns raise some of the most profound and significant questions for study in the area. Questions concerning who is free to live a mobile life, and who isn’t; or, how can some materials and ideas can spread or be halted.
However, if should also be noted that, as always, there are caveats and criticisms of the paradigm. It is relatively loosely defined (perhaps, intentionally so). On initial reading, the area can be seen to encompass all aspects of modern life and a globalised world! Also, as an emerging idea, its core concerns and approaches are still to be fully and clearly developed. The paradigm or turn needs to have an accepted body of abstract thought and a general outlook which will act as the foundation for research. In addition, mobilities literature needs to successfully incorporate differing and older perspectives if it is to gain widespread purchase.
The key strength of the mobilities approach is its challenge to the social sciences to broaden its inquiries and the methodologies to adequately include movement, mobility and fluidity at all scales. This opens up a rich arena of study, which, when supported by the developments of work on the paradigm, will hopefully produce a rich body of scholarship that will enrich our insights into the world around us.
Adey, P. 2009. Mobility. London: Routledge.
Cresswell, T., 2006. On The Move. London: Routledge.
mCenter, Drexel University’s Center for Mobilities Research and Policy
Cosmobilities Network, linking research into mobilities