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The Geography of Mobilities: Practices, Spaces, Subjects. Tim Creswell and Peter Merriman, editors. Ashgate, London, UK, 2010. 288 pps., illustrations, index. $99.95, hardback (ISBN: 978-0-7546-7316-3).

Reviewed by Daniel Newman, Cardiff University, Cardiff, UK

Across the humanities and social sciences, there is an increasing interest in the topic of mobilities. Previously, this was perhaps best captured by the work of the sociologist, Professor John Urry, his Centre for Mobilities Research at Lancaster University, and their academic journal, Mobilities. However, with this edited collection, Tim Cresswell (University of London) and Peter Merriman (Aberystwyth University) have staked a worthy claim to develop the subject within the field of human geography. Here Cresswell and Merriman attempt to revitalize a geography of mobilities that was previously hidden and little articulated. This objective is pursued by means of three broad, interlinked sections: mobile practices, mobile spaces, and mobile subjects. In the first section, the notion of mobile practice is invoked in order to conceptualize mobility as something that is done, i.e., mobility as experience or performance. In each chapter, a different author tackles an alternative mode of mobile practice: walking, running, dancing, driving, and flying. The activity of mobility can be enacted across a plethora of technologies and infrastructures, allowing individuals to experience mobility either simply and directly with their own bodies or less tangibly through increasingly sophisticated and complex machineries. The difference between moving oneself (e.g., walking) and being carried in a vehicle (e.g., piloting a plane) sets up a distinction between the active and the passive. This raises notions of control and embodiment, challenging the veracity of comparing such apparently diverse types of feeling. However, such oppositions are collapsed by the relatedness of chapters such as those of Haydn Lorimer—in which walking is explored as both artistic and philosophical practice—and Dydia DeLyser—for whom piloting a plane presents itself as a socio-cultural statement. With such practice, narratives are able to be written and rewritten regardless of the levels or varieties of psychic activity that are expected. The second section examines mobile spaces as the locations for mobility—the settings and scene that frame mobility. The chapters consider an array of such mobile spaces:

roads, bridges, airports, immigration stations, and cities. These locales are not abstract context—they are not relegated to the sphere of mere background. Rather, sites are brought to life, activated though the practice of movement and, as such, lived and (re)constituted. Here, spaces are processional and constantly evolving, even mutating, to take on multiple identities—over both time and space, as can be noted with bridges. It would be a mistake to consider these as fixed, static, and locked into a photograph or painting. Bridges do not simply allow individuals to move from one side of a river to the other, they are mines of experience borne of their varying relationships. A glimpse of the secret life of the bridge is offered in Ulf Strohmayer’s chapter, which moves beyond conceiving the bridge as a tool for vehicular and animal movement. In contrast, there is recognition of the role bridges have played in carnivals, protests, and trade. Particular bridges can also hold great symbolic value and enrich the lives of users and observers that stretches them far beyond mere function.


Urban Geography, 2012, 33 , 8, pp. 1249–1251. Copyright © 2012 by Bellwether Publishing, Ltd. All rights reserved.



The third and final section focuses upon mobile subjects as representations of particular mobility positions—the caricatures or stereotypes that abound in mobility stories. There are a range of these mobile subjects outlined across assorted authors and their chapters; commuter, tourist, migrant worker, vagabond, and refugee. These are visible and well- known figures, made ubiquitous through popular media sources from newspapers and books to television and film. As such, they are characters that most everyone understands— or at least, they are characters that most everyone thinks they understand. The truth is more likely that there will always exist some gap between perception and reality with all such types, as is clearly the case with migrants—generally represented in the tabloid press as some amorphous mass of poor, uneducated, non-white drain on resources. In contrast, migrants betray a bewildering array of alternative and competing narratives—many of which have become consolidated and subsumed within the folk cultures and social histories of the communities to which they traveled (and settled). Neat examples of the inherent differences that abound—and operate alongside concomitant similarities—within this category are drawn out in the chapter of Elizabeth Lee and Geraldine Pratt. The life of a Mexican immigrant to the United States is considered alongside that of a Filipino immigrant to Canada and provides an evocative account of their experiences—which act to provide a sharp contrast to the privileged tourist encountered in the chapter of Mike Crang. Overall, there is a fascinating array of perspectives on offer in this volume and it really does meet the remit of contributing toward a new paradigm of mobilities. Despite this achievement, though, there remain some human geographic–centered conceptual issues that have yet to be explored. A notable example is the ideas organized around psychogeography (spearheaded by the revolutionary Marxism of Situationist International). In this book, this conceptual frame is mentioned only once (by Pinder). Though omission is troublesome, Situationist ideas can provide a valuable alternative insight into the study of mobilities. In brief, the Situationists found town and city architecture to be physically and ideologically restrictive, rendering residents simply reactive and complicit in existing ways of being. In order that such ordinary citizens be enabled to express their true selves and exert individuality, the Situationists called on new designs of urban space which allowed better opportunities to experiment through mundane expression. Crucial to the prospect of realizing this potential was the role played by mobilities. The Situationist ideas on mobility are best articulated by their most notable figure, Guy Debord, who offered the Situationist Theses on Traffic (1959). The central tenet of the Situationist position was that the private automobile had been given an undue level of regard by urban planners, who have thereby acted to alienate individuals from their environment. The detrimental effects caused by the car can largely be attributed to its role in encouraging the view that travel is an adjunct to work. In contrast, Debord forwards the understanding that travel should be a pleasure, with individuals free and able to enjoy their interactions with the environment that surrounds them. There will be a gradual end to unitary urbanism and the division of such binary juxtapositions as work/leisure and private/public as individual residences cease to be separated from places of employment. These aims were largely to be achieved by bringing an end to work in its current form, thereby destroying the economic capitalism system it served. The Situationists envisaged a radical new social structure that can only be attained by recognizing the supposed flaws in current patterns of mobility and the shift toward alternative practices, spaces, and structures of mobility.



In the future, I hope that such insights can be incorporated into discussions of mobility in human geography. They have value across humanities and the social sciences. To these ends, the Situationist emphasis on pleasure and enjoyment underscores a fundamental finding as to what orients individuals to particular modes of transport. Mobility is not simply about function but, also, fun. The frivolous joy of mobility is all too easy to forget in serious academic analyses. Indeed, in the collection offered by Cresswell and Merriman, this is sometimes downplayed. Using alternative theories such as those offered by the Situationists can help to appreciate features that are missing. This is not a criticism of the work—it has an impressive breadth of contributions, all of which provide valuable additions to the literature. Rather, I think it important to see this work as a significant starting point, laying down a marker which should inspire new generations of human geographers (and beyond) to explore mobility. Such an effort would entail bringing all manner of theoretical positions and empirical knowledge together in an increasingly systematic and complimentary manner.


Debord, G., 1959, Positions situationnistes sur la circulation [Situationist theses on traf- fic]. Internationale Situationniste, No. 3, Paris, France, November.