EASA2016: Anthropological legacies and human futures

Slow travelling: a precious heritage or a sustainable strategy for future mobilities? [ANTHROMOB & IUAES-Tourism]
Location U6-29
Date and Start Time 20 July, 2016 at 14:30
Sessions 2


  • Noel B. Salazar (University of Leuven) email
  • Nelson Graburn (University of California, Berkeley) email

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Short Abstract

The papers in this panel will shed light on the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of slow travel. Anthropology, a prototypical 'slow science', offers an appropriate conceptual and methodological framework to discuss this from multiple social and cultural angles from across the globe.

Long Abstract

Since the 1980s, the value of slowness has been advocated for in fields as diverse as gastronomy, economics, education, science, technology and travel. The so-called 'slow movement' undoes the pejorative overtones commonly associated with slowness by referring back to age-old traditions and by proposing it as a sustainable scenario for the future of this planet. Applied to mobility, slowness is about finding the 'right' speed with which to move, in a way that values quality over quantity, long-term benefits over short-term gains, and well-being of the many over the few. The various papers in this panel will shed light on the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of slow modes of being 'on the move', not only as a fashionable contemporary way of spending leisure time but, more importantly, as a mode of movement that reinforces the traditional connection between travail (physical toil and other, difficult 'labour') and (inner) transformation, as present in age-old rites of passage and transition in many cultures. What kind of value does slowness have for those forms of travel whereby the destination is more important than the journey of 'getting there'? Think of businesspeople, tourists and pilgrims but also of refugees and migrants. Attention to slowness requires a consideration of time use and the power dynamics and inequalities involved in people traveling, voluntarily or forced, at different speeds. Anthropology, a prototypical 'slow science', offers an appropriate conceptual and methodological framework to discuss these issues from multiple social and cultural angles from across the globe.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Back to the buggies? Provocative thoughts from an ethnographic research among the old order Amish

Author: Andrea Borella  email

Short Abstract

The Amish live refusing many aspects of modernity. Among them, they shun cars and, consequently, keep driving buggies in the XXI Century America. Even if the return to carriages is not conceivable, I sustain that the analysis of the Amish lifestyle could improve the theories of the “slow movement.”

Long Abstract

The Amish are an Anabaptist church, widely known for their emphasis on tradition and steadfast refusal of many aspects of modernity.

Even if the perception of the Amish as a "vestige of a bygone past" must be considered as a simplistic analysis the Amish have undoubtedly shunned several technological and philosophical elements characterizing the "modern world."

My argument is that the Amish represent one of the few communities, living and striving in the XXI Century, which pose slowness as a pillar of their lifestyle.

As far as concerns technology, the Amish reject television, in-home telephones, computers, the internet, public electricity, many state-of-the-art tools, and so forth. Particularly striking is the shunning of cars. Indeed, the Amish utilize the buggies as means of transportation.

From an anthropological point of view, it is relevant that the prohibition to drive cars is religiously grounded, since the Amish church is one of the few communities whose members are compelled to drive carriages.

If the argument to go back to the past, reintroducing the use of carriages on a large scale, in substitution of automobiles, is not conceivable; the "Amish model," based on slowness, offers provocative thoughts for the "slow movement."

I maintain that Amish culture does not promote a naif idiosyncrasy towards technology, but a more sophisticated rejection of basic economical, political, and philosophical tenets of modernity, strictly related to speed: obsessive mobility of goods, money, and people.

This paper is based on a fieldwork conducted among the Amish, mainly in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

Slow food, fast travel: interrogating the intersections between short-term travel and rapid ethnographic research in slow food experiences

Author: Michael Di Giovine (West Chester University)  email

Short Abstract

Based on ethnographic research, this paper interrogates the experiential efficacy of short-term tourist travel to “slow food” destinations, making particular links to the ways in which such travel resembles traditional RRA, or “rapid rural appraisal” ethnographic research in the development community.

Long Abstract

Based on ethnographic research in Italy, Southeast Asia, and the United States, this paper interrogates the experiential efficacy of short-term tourist travel to "slow food" destinations, making particular links to the ways in which such travel resembles traditional RRA, or "rapid rural appraisal" ethnographic research in the development community. Coined by Italian Carlo Petrini in 1986 as an alternative to "fast food," the "slow food" movement ideologically embraces local (or, in Italy, called "zero-kilometer") foodways, the cultural pleasure in savoring extended gastronomic experiences, and more sustainable cultivation and consumption practices. Ironically, "slow food" has become the object of numerous short-term culinary tours, in which travelers are given a "taste", or sampling, of the outcome of slow food processes. This paper, however, asks whether the form of travel (a fast, or rapid engagement with a destination) can be effective when the object of travel is ideologically and diametrically opposed to it. In theorizing this, the author makes recourse to different ethnographic methodologies, particularly RRA or "rapid rural appraisal", a quick qualitative method innovated by development practitioners in the 1970s, in which researchers pinpoint key cultural experiences and culture brokers to quickly learn from locals about their current realities and challenges. In doing so, it questions how sustainable such soft-ethnographic practices can be by revealing the parallel challenges and opportunities that intense, short-term participation in cultural activities such as communal, commensal feasting provide in giving people a "taste of place."

Slow travelling with Tibetan refugees

Author: Thomas Kauffmann (NGO - Independent Scholar)  email

Short Abstract

In Dharamsala, where the Dalai Lama settled with other Tibetan refugees, tourism is not common and involves several population and a long term aspect. My contribution will describe the nature, impact and consequences of this slow travelling as well as the induced interactions and transformations.

Long Abstract

In 1960, the Dalai Lama, followed by thousands of Tibetan refugees, settle in exile in Dharamsala, India. This transformed this small mountain village into a tourist hub, popularly known nowadays as "little Lhasa", in reference to the capital of Tibet.

But the place is not for common tourism: first, it is remote and hard to reach, and second the nature of its inhabitants makes it special. As a result, several population of travellers can be found there: backpackers from all over the world, making a pause in their initiation travel; "voluntourists" and donors coming to help the Tibetan community; religious tourists and pilgrims following or interested in Buddhism; and scholars, researching every aspects of this place and its people.

All these population are seeking and forming another type of travel, a slow one, where time is taken to discover what they are looking for. My contribution will describe a double movement around slow travelling. On one hand it will show how several forms of slow traveling can be initiated and fuelled by specific conditions (here the discourses and self-representations of the Tibetan refugees towards long time stays but also on traditions, spirituality and "authenticity"). And, on the other hand, how the hosts' community is shaped and transformed through these forms of slow travelling.

Thus, the contribution will be on the identification and somehow hybridisation of the different communities of host and travellers, due to slow travelling. It would be located in this specific microcosm of Dharamsala where slow travelling prevails and shadowed totally other forms of tourism.

Taking the slow boat to New Zealand: an ethnographic exploration of the determinants, motivations and experiences of flightless travel

Author: Carmen McLeod (University of Nottingham)  email

Short Abstract

Using ethnographic fieldwork, this paper documents slow travelling between the UK and NZ. Interviews and participant observation with fellow travelers, builds up a complex picture of motivations for flightless mobility, illustrating how slower modes of travel can be both freeing and restrictive.

Long Abstract

We live in a world increasingly dominated by the hegemony of 'aeromobility'. Although there are clearly benefits from the speed and efficiency of air travel, there are also negative impacts such as noise pollution and carbon emissions. For those individuals who choose not to fly, or who are unable to fly for health or psychological reasons, flightless travel options have become increasingly limited, particularly for long journeys. This paper draws on three months of ethnographic fieldwork, documenting a round-trip travelling from the United Kingdom to New Zealand using flightless transport options. This includes travel by freighter ships, transatlantic liner, and long-distance rail travel. Data collected comprises: fieldwork diary; photographs; notes from informal discussions and audio-recorded interviews with fellow travellers. This data is used to investigate the motivations for being a slow traveller, including first-hand accounts of the consequences of not flying. The ethnographic fieldwork builds up a complex picture of slow mobility, revealing how travel options may be affected by 'tyrannies' of both speed and slowness. This paper contributes to a number of key theoretical areas relating to slow travel research. This includes discussions about the 'commodification of time', which has been linked to the dominance of a 'culture of speed', and the rise of the 'slow travel movement' as a counterpart to the dominant 'fast travel' paradigm. This paper concludes, in some circumstances, slow travel choices (such as choosing not to fly long-distances) are being discursively constructed as a type of deviance, despite historically falling within 'cultural norms'.

You take the fast boat I take the slow boat and I reach Istanbul before you

Author: Salim Aykut Ozturk (University College London (UCL))  email

Short Abstract

Drawing on Clifford’s notions of travelling and dwelling (1997), this paper studies the various ways boat travels are informative of various interrupted, terminated and resumed processes of community making in contemporary Istanbul.

Long Abstract

Residents of Kinaliada, a predominantly Armenian island within the Istanbul's Prince's Islands Archipelago, constantly complain about the boat schedules. The boat schedules are changed in accordance with the school terms, with less frequent boats in the winter and more in the summer. Three different boat companies serve the island, the 'vapur' (Istanbul's landmark boats run by the municipality), the 'seabus' (recently privatized fast catamaran), and the 'motor' (smaller boats run by a cooperative of entrepreneurs). Based on three years long extended fieldwork among the travelers on the boats and the dwellers on the island, this paper studies the ways through which complaining about the schedules and taking slow/fast boats shed light into community making processes of Armenians in post-Genocide Turkey.

Armenians constantly compare their tiny island to those of others (i.e., Jews, Greeks and Turks). They believe that their island is a 'failed island,' as unlike other islands, its residents lacked unity to deal with the ongoing problems especially about summer time transportation to/from the island. For them, in such multi-ethnic setting of the islands, each island is identified as a materialization of an ethno-religious community, and the 'failure' of Kinaliada (on imposing a boat schedule) is believed to be a direct result of the 'failure' of its Armenian community, and the 'success' of others is related to their non-Armenian populations. Apart from boat journeys, slowness in this sense both resonate with the delayed unity of the community and its failure vis-à-vis other island communities

'Only migrant workers walk nowadays': the social implications of walking in contemporary China and walking knowledge

Author: Shuhua Chen (University of St Andrews)  email

Short Abstract

Based on an ethnographic account of walking as a migrant worker in a neighborhood under fast urbanization and industrialization in China, the paper explores the social implications of walking in the speeding-up of local life-worlds and how the experience in walking becomes a way of knowing.

Long Abstract

We walk so we touch, listen, smell, look, breath, move, think, learn, imagine. Through our sensual experience, we may walk to know the world (Ingold 2010) and to think what the world should be (Wolfe 1979). We may also walk in order to know others (Jackson 2007), as it is elaborated by distinguishing how walking embodies an objective phenomenology as well as a subjective phenomenology (Rapport 2008). Based on an ethnographic account of walking as a 'ghuasengian' (a local insulting term that refers to migrant workers from other provinces) in a neighborhood under fast urbanization and industrialization in southern China, this paper explores: first, the social implications of walking in the general speeding-up of life in contemporary China; second, the phenomenology of walking and the concept of 'walking knowledge', in the sense of knowing details through experience within and across space and time at a slow-paced. Thus, in the paper, the theme 'speed' is examined both as an aspect of local life-worlds and also as an aspect of methodology.

Slow travelling in Ho Chi Minh City: heritage, sustainability, friction and distinction in a postsocialist metropolis

Author: Catherine Earl (Federation University)  email

Short Abstract

Slow travelling in Ho Chi Minh City reveals that with its implicit focus on privilege, quality and choices the slow movement obscures an interplay between spatial and social mobilities through which local heritages and global sustainabilities as frictions mark postsocialist social differentiation.

Long Abstract

Daily life in postsocialist cities, such as Moscow, Shanghai, Warsaw, Bucharest and Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), is characterised as fast and frenetic. Yet, whether by choice or through necessity, slow travelling is the norm. Traffic congestion as friction means motorised transport moves at walking pace. The value ascribed to slowness in postsocialist places centres not so much on different speeds as on choices about spaces for and modes of mobility that were made possible with the lifting of the socialist heritage of travel restrictions and which became widespread after reform with rising household incomes enabling privatised and motorised transportation. Various mobilities mark relative social positions in localised imaginings. The slowness of bicycling or riding the public bus, on the one hand, marks relative distinction associated with future-oriented globalised practices of metropolitan environmental sustainability and, on the other, indicates the class cultural smear of material poverty, physical discomfort and shared practices signifying social inequality and powerlessness. The immobility of private car travel marks qualitatively different distinctions and inequalities than the stasis of public bus transport for different journey-makers. Drawing on long-term fieldwork in HCMC, this paper challenges the positive values of slowness from a postsocialist perspective and explores how the 'right' speed to move is determined and by whom. I argue that, with its implicit focus on privilege, quality and choices, the slow movement obscures an interplay between spatial and social mobilities through which ideas of local heritages and global sustainabilities as frictions mark postsocialist social differentiation.

Trains of affect: slowness and postsocialist imaginaries

Author: Adrian Deoanca (University of Michigan)  email

Short Abstract

This paper investigates the ways that the slowness of Romanian trains functions as a material quality that inspires both abjection and the possibility of a more sustainable postindustrial future.

Long Abstract

Romanian trains have a bad reputation for being slow, all-to-often late, and quite shabby materially. Once a paragon of state-sponsored technological modernity, the Romanian railway system now stands for backwardness and desolation, plagued by overexploitation in the 1980s (Murgescu 2010; Ștefan 2015; Turnock 2006), and then by neoliberal politics aimed to unbundle (Collier 2011) the vertically-integrated Romanian Railways Company. Despite their poor condition and the growing prevalence of roads, the rails continue to carry substantial numbers of passengers, as they are deemed more affordable, secure, environmentally sustainable, and capable to deliver a less stressful means of travel.

This paper, informed by ongoing mobile ethnography in Southern Romania, explores the types of conflicting and complementary visions of modernity constrained and invited by the slowness of trains. It is suggested that, with respect to Romanian trains, 'slowness' functions both as an affordance (sensu Gibson 1979), that fuels reinterpretations of an industrial past and imaginaries of a more sustainable future, and as a material qualia (Munn 1992; Peirce 1955) that invites social commentary and affective responses from passengers.

'Journey to the future': homeland trips among diasporic Armenians

Author: Tsypylma Darieva (Institute for Asia and Africa Studies)  email

Short Abstract

This paper highlights the 'slowness' and a growing intensity of long-distance homeland trips among diasporic roots migrants in Armenia. Specific features of contemporary diasporic 'sacred journey to the future' differ from conventional return migrations and have a temporary character.

Long Abstract

This paper highlights the 'slowness' of long-distance homeland trips among diasporic roots migrants. The second- and later-generations of diasporic Armenians predominantly from the USA and Canada claim to travel to the ancestral homeland not as occasional heritage tourists to see the holy Mount Ararat, but to invest time and unpaid work for 'getting back to the roots' and for sustainable development of local communities. Based on ethnographic research in Armenia and Boston, this paper identifies specific features of a contemporary diasporic 'journey to the future' that differs from conventional return migration.

Lasting from one month up to two years, homeland trips are very much affected by diasporic imaginaries and modern volunteering aspirations. Emerged as part of the US American 'roots' industry and propagated as an effort to counteract the process of cultural assimilation, new border crossing 'ethnic' routes offer not only a specific destination for self-discovering, a pilgrimage to the sacred homeland, but also an opportunity to save the planet. I reflect on the ways diasporic actors conceptualize a slow 'journey to the future' by developing a practice of planting sustainable 'roots' for future generations as an important element of the homeland trip. This long-term campaign of greening the ancestral territory paradoxically caused a 'speedy' mode of community forest planting. By analysing imaginaries and practices of 'journey to the future' among diasporic Armenians, this paper provides critical insights into a slow culture of homeland trips and transnational 'green tours' in the context of global inequalities.

Bicycle travel as means for facing the elements in the inhospitable North

Author: Karri Kiiskinen (University of Turku)  email

Short Abstract

This paper deals with cycling as means for slow travel in inhospitable lands. Cycling is an embodied and multi-sensuous practice of travel with potential for revealing the inevitable border effects of states, culture(s) and culture/nature.

Long Abstract

This paper discusses cycling as a form of multi-sensuous slow travel. It is argued that the practices of cycling activate and give meaning to the lives of the mobile people especially when it comes to facing the human and natural environments which are not seen as common terrains for cyclists, or, are defined as suitable for certain kinds of cyclists. Cycling in itself is a diverse phenomenon affected by disciplining. We can ask how do the practices of cycling connect with ideas of modern border crossings and travel. Two cycling travelers could be observed cycling along borders of the Finnish North in 2015. The marathon cyclists who followed the Finnish-Swedish border for hundreds of kilometers without problems in crossing borders, and the asylum seekers using bicycles for crossing the external EU borders until it was made illegal. Cycling is here a strategy for border crossings but it can also be seen as a local heritage of borders. The materials for this paper consist of auto-ethnographic materials of cycling in the Finnish North and the media representations of cycling asylum seekers. It is asked how the human-bicycle relationship has potential to change people going through, not only passages in life, but territory, culture(s), states and nature. As a form of slow travel cycling here means also journeys to the self, also in the form of revealing the naturalized borders between nations, states and nature/culture.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.