EASA2016: Anthropological legacies and human futures

The winding roads: infrastructures and technologies of (im)mobility
Location U6-12
Date and Start Time 23 July, 2016 at 09:00
Sessions 2


  • Dan Podjed (Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts (ZRC SAZU)) email
  • Dimitris Dalakoglou (Vrije University Amsterdam) email

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Short Abstract

How do we develop and use transport technologies and design the infrastructure? How did we plan, understand, and interpret roads and routes? And how will we travel and make the technologies of mobility (and immobility) in the future?

Long Abstract

Spatial mobility is an essential part of human existence in the world that has determinant role in shaping human society and culture. The technologies and infrastructures of spacial mobility change over history radically causing a metamorphosis on social organisation and cultural formations. Given the large population flows that still going on e.g. around the Mediterranean basin and which employ some of the most primordial techniques of mobility (e.g. walking) or e.g. the more common but massive phenomenon of commuting from increasingly larger distances on daily basis; questions around the future of techniques and technologies of mobility are posed anew. How do we develop and use transport technologies and design the infrastructure? How did we plan, understand, and interpret roads and routes in the past? And how will we travel and make the technologies of mobility (and immobility) in the future? These are some of the questions of the panel, focused on legacies and futures of transportation, infrastructures and mobility. In this panel we are looking for ethnographic examples and theoretical explanations about the modes of travel and types of infrastructure and what they can tell us about people and their practices.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


House-building as infrastructures of mobility: the rising of the “local” diaspora neighborhoods in Mek’ele

Author: Giuseppe Grimaldi (University of Milano Bioccca)  email

Short Abstract

The paper explores the involvement of the tigrayan diaspora in the urban change of Mek’ele (Ethiopia), focusing on the rising of the “diaspora neighborhoods”. Built from abroad but inhabited from locals, these spaces can be framed as transnational infrastructures that shape new routes in the region.

Long Abstract

In this paper I will focus on the rising of the “diaspora neighborhoods” in Mek’ele, the capital of Tigray region (Ethiopia). In particular, I take in consideration the diasporic commitment in the house-building process, disconnecting it from “homecoming” projects, and linking it to the regional routes of the region.

After the 1991 takeover of the TPLF (Tigray people’s liberation front) in Ethiopia, the government promoted specific programs to encourage diaspora participation. The institutional aid in housebuilding programs led many Tigrayans abroad to organize associations (mahber) and build new districts.

Laying in the convergence of political representations, economic flows and modernization rhetoric, the city of Mek’ele represented often the only possible building-choice to mediate the local instances of the diaspora coming from all over Tigray. Hence, homecoming projects were often far from home. This discontinuity activated new patterns of mobility in Tigray region: the success of diaspora housebuilding projects was (and still is) strictly dependent from the local diasporic networks, often far from Mekele. At the same time, they are frequently the main beneficiaries of the new houses. Once ready, in most cases, there is no stable return from abroad. Hence, the “diaspora neighborhoods” of Mek’ele, mainly inhabited by locals, cannot be merely connected to the homecoming projects.

The diaspora housebuilding process can rather be considered as an infrastructure inaugurating new routes in the Horn, as an hub that creates connections among dispersed networks. This process, based on transnational immobility, reveals its social effectiveness as an unsettled technology of local mobility.

A blocking highway: clashing regimes of mobility on Romania's western border

Author: Florin Faje (Babes-Bolyai University)  email

Short Abstract

My ethnography documents the contestations over reduced mobility between agriculturalists and public officials in the town of Nădlac due to the construction of a highway connecting Romania and Hungary. I argue that local spatial and ecological knowledge is key in improving future regimes of mobility

Long Abstract

My research explores a case where improved spatial mobility greatly disrupted locally entrenched mobility regimes. The construction of the highway and border crossing between Romania and Hungary, bypassing the town of Nădlac, severed the access of agriculturalists to half of their arable land. The locals, the largest Slovakian community in Romania, mounted a struggle to show that by rendering them immobile their livelihood is in peril. The pubic contestation made it to the higher echelons of European politics and included the staged funeral of "local agriculture" on the streets of Nădlac . This clash of mobility regimes is particularly revealing in that it pitted against each other local and national visions of mobility development, mediated by EU's intervention. On the one hand, new highways are the outstanding material icon of post-socialist Romanian modernization. The widely shared post-socialist political consensus holds that facilitating the circulation of people, goods and services on roads assures the upscaling of the economy and society. On the other hand, the agriculturalists showed the limits that road infrastructure pose for established regimes of mobility. They proved that locally specific needs and ecological knowledge are key in creating spaces where different regimes of mobility could coexist and thrive. Consequently, I argue that the spatial and social disruptions brought about by new infrastructures could be mitigated by acknowledging existing forms of mobility and accommodating the knowledges and practices they are made of.

Derailed: the contentious politics of Italian high-speed rail

Author: Mateusz Laszczkowski (University of Warsaw)  email

Short Abstract

This paper focuses on the contentious politics of high-speed railways (TAV) in Italy. Railways are considered the sustainable transportation infrastructure of the future. Yet No TAV protesters criticize high-speed rail as an expression of outdated visions of growth and undemocratic governance.

Long Abstract

This paper explores how the development of transportation infrastructures becomes the fulcrum of political contention in contemporary Europe. Ethnographically, it focuses on the No TAV movements in Italy, protesting against the construction of new high-speed and high-capacity railways (TAV) in various parts of the country. The paper draws on ethnographic fieldwork inside the oldest and strongest of these movements, in the Alpine Valley of Susa. A new trans-border connection between Lyon and Turin is to run through the Valley, doubling an existing railway. Railways are usually considered an environmentally sustainable alternative to air transportation, and therefore presented as the par excellence transport infrastructure of the future. However, No TAV activists challenge this view. They highlight environmental disasters caused by the construction of new TAV lines, and point out how TAV projects are often entangled in illicit relations between the government, finance, and organized crime. Activists also stress how these projects tend to be based on dubious cost-benefit analyses and supported by untenable forecasts of traffic increase. In sum, the development of TAV is revealed as an expression of undemocratic governance and an obsolete, 1990s vision of unlimited future growth in the production of commodities and their long-distance transportation. Protesters highlight that by consuming billions of Euros of public money and destroying local environments this vision ignores and effectively pre-empts a plurality of other, more sustainable futures, which might be preferable to communities.

Communal transport in Bamako, Mali: entangled histories of formal and informal infrastructure

Author: Robert Heinze (University of Berne)  email

Short Abstract

The paper traces the entangled histories of public and informal passenger transport in Bamako. It looks at the different actors involved in communal transport and argues for an analysis that takes into account the interconnectedness between formal and informal infrastructures to assess the importance of both.

Long Abstract

There are few symbols of urban modernity stronger than public transportation; what is rarely discussed, however, is that its failures and gaps have been just as common in modern cities all over the world. So-called "informal" transport has been a regular phenomenon of urban economic crises at least since the first "pirate buses" appeared on London streets during the British General Strike of 1926. In Third World countries, it has become a fixture of urban environments in perpetual crisis.

Looking at communal transport in Bamako (Mali) from a historical perspective, the paper examines the systems of mobility that developed in this city, coinciding with increased urbanisation since the 1940s. Bamako is an interesting case study in that passenger transport in the city has been marked by curious combinations of informal and public systems. Also, it shows that informal transport systems, far from being unstructured and unregulated, are influenced by many social and political agents. The paper traces the historical development of communal transport in Bamako and the efforts of city administrations and city planners in both colonial and post-colonial times to regulate and improve passenger transport while dealing with exponential urban growth. It argues that informal transport is not a distinctive, autonomous phenomenon, but has established itself alongside public transport systems unable to service demand and is connected and interacts with these in specific was. It takes into account the efforts of city planners to regulate informal transport and the myriad of agents invested in it.

Claiming the right to ride: ethnography of MTB struggle for mountain trails in Slovenia

Author: Miha Kozorog (Scientific Research Centre of Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts)  email

Short Abstract

The paper presents an increasingly popular recreational activity that transforms regimes of mountain trails by incorporating discourses on tourism, ecology and the future. MTB activists comprehend overregulated trails as the core metaphor of Slovenia’s rigidity and oppose it with alluring projects.

Long Abstract

The paper investigates discourses and activities of mountain biking (MTB) activists in Slovenia, who define the country's position and relief as ideal for development of MTB tourism. For two reasons, however, their visions are uncertain.

Firstly, mountains have a significant symbolic position in the Slovenian national imaginary. In the late 19th century mountains, trails and mountaineering were involved in competing nationalisms. Ever since, mountaineering has claimed privilege on mountain trails. Hence, subsequent recreational activities have to negotiate their space on the trails in terms imposed by mountaineering.

Secondly, MTB is legally forbidden for nature conservation reasons. MTB activists have been struggling unsuccessfully to change the legislation to suit their needs since the 1990s. Their activities have recently increased for three main reasons: firstly, the number of practitioners has grown, both in Slovenia and worldwide; secondly, new Triglav National Park Act was presented in 2010; thirdly, the Nature Conservation Act has been publicly debated. Several coalitions of MTB activists have been formed, including 'Let's open the trails', which negotiates on the governmental level.

In order to change the legislation, MTB activists appeal on an ecological future, public health and prosperity of local tourism. They organise small, but internationally noticed businesses to act as paragons for co-nationals. They are modelling a neoliberal subjectivity, set against the perceived rigidity of Slovenia.

The road to sustainable tourism: past and present technologies of mobility in a protected area

Author: Tatiana Bajuk Sencar (Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts (ZRC SAZU))  email

Short Abstract

This paper examines the mutually constitutive relationship between routes and mobility practices as well as the ways that this relationship has informed both the development of Bohinj as a tourist destination located within the protected area of Triglav National Park.

Long Abstract

This paper examines the mutually constitutive relationship between routes and mobility practices and the ways in which this relationship has informed the development of Bohinj as a tourist destination over time. What was once a relatively remote region became - with the aid of various routes of transportation - a tourist destination for an ever-broader range of visitors in the early 20th century. However, changes in tourism practices facilitated by existing infrastructure as well as culturally constructed expectations of accessibility linked to automobile transport have spurred debates concerning where the limits of tourism development lie, especially given Bohinj's location in Slovenia's only national park - Triglav National Park.

The author analyzes the ways in which residents and tourism service providers depict the shifting practices of tourism mobility as well as develop strategies in order to address the challenges that sustainable development implies for tourism in a protected area. This includes examining existing and emergent programs that encourage alternative forms of mobility in Bohinj (including walking, cycling and public transport) and studying the introduction of new mobility technologies into the landscape to facilitate these alternative mobilities. Finally, the author tracks to what extent these different modes of transportation are being redefined against the backdrop of sustainability.

Immobilizing women in rural Mexico

Author: Diana Mata Codesal (Pompeu Fabra University)  email

Short Abstract

In Zacualpan borders become meaningful differently for men and women. It invisibilizes mobilities more often followed by women. Perceived immobility is linked to social desirability, which stems from an ideology that represents women as rooted and passive

waiting penelopes in their relatives’ migration.

Long Abstract

Mobility and immobility are not self-evident realities. While we're constantly moving, not all our movements are socially significant (Cresswell 2011). In the Mexican village of Zacualpan mobility and immobility are socially constructed and imbued with different meanings according to gender. Borders become meaningful – therefore constructing movement as migration or not – differently for men and women. While moving to a different Mexican state for labour reasons is considered as migration, moving for family purposes - and particularly for women to get married – is not. This differentiated process of meaning assignation invisibilizes mobilities more often followed by women and reinforces the gender-bias created by methodological nationalism - in Mexico, as in many other locations worldwide, women are more mobile internally, while men outnumber in international migration.

In Zacualpan who is perceived as immobile is also linked to whose mobility is socially considered abnormal. The desirability of (im)mobility stems from a patriarchal ideology which represent women as rooted, in charge of maintaining traditional domestic continuity in an unstable and changing environment caused by global movements that embody a quality of masculinity (Freeman 2001). Because of the association between women and roots the relationship between being a woman and not migrating is naturalized and female immobilities are constructed as ‘natural’. Although the role of women who stay put is often crucial in their relatives’ transnational migration, they continue to be represented as waiting penelopes without agency. Ethnographic data from Zacualpan suggest that analyzing (im)mobility articulations is a possible way forward to overcome such drawback.

Navigating water-routes in the Southern Albanian coast

Author: Natasa Gregoric Bon (Research Centre SASA, Slovenia)  email

Short Abstract

This paper inquires how people living in the coastal plains of southern Albania navigate the water routes and how on the other hand they determine their daily lives and migration paths.

Long Abstract

This paper inquires how people living in the coastal plains of southern Albania navigate the water routes and how on the other hand they determine their daily lives and migration paths. Albanian landscape is rich in rivers and streams that cover 721 kilometers of its surface. Besides the rich river network, the Albanian landscape is surrounded by 476 kilometers of coast opening to the Adriatic Sea in the north and the Ionian Sea in the south. The sea and rivers have always been important locations generating the present and future land and water routes in the area. Throughout centuries, people living in the coastal plains were using sea-routes for trading with people in areas of today's Italy and Greece. Whereas these paths were blocked during the period of communism which forbade any outgoing border crossings, after the collapse of the regime the sea-routes opened again and witnessed massive migration flows that redrew the new paths through the sea. According to social memory, these trading and migration routes have reshaped the seascape as the 'window' to freedom and democracy. Nowadays the rapid urbanization of the coastal area enhances the erosion (soil erosion and abrasion) of the area. Due to these processes, the landscape is becoming ever more fluid as the seascape solidifies. In particular, the heavy urbanization of the coastal areas by elite groups from the capital of Tirana leads to the heavy and uncontrolled development of the coastal scape, escalating in land tenure issues, causing environmental changes and gentrification.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.