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Watch John Urry’s keynote, Networks, Systems and Futures

Watch John Urry’s keynote, Networks, Systems and Futures

John Urry, Distinguished Professor of Sociology at Lancaster University, closed the Networked Urban Mobilities conference with a talk providing perspectives of past and future systemic changes in energy use. Drawing on complexity and systems theory the talk provides a deep theoretical understanding of complex relations between social practices and energy consumption. Additionally, the talk addresses critical issues concerning lock-ins in ‘high-carbon societies’ and the wicked problems that follows. Finally, Urry presents four urban futures and examines the transformations in mobility and social life that each scenario entails.

Read about John Urry’s experience at the Networked Urban Mobilities conference below the video.

We sat down with John Urry for a quick talk about his experience of the Networked Urban Mobilities conference.

Oskar Funk: What will you take with you from this conference?

Well, I supposed would be the contrast with the first mobility conference in 2004 that I and handful of other people here were at. That was quite formed around Ulrich Beck and “Risk Society”, mobility and risk society. What there hadn’t been was a program of research with these various kinds of mobility methods, mobile methods, not much theory and not much detailed examination of the kinds of processes, roots, forms, consequences of mobility on the go.

Oskar Funk: So it was still a very static kind of science back then?

Yes, it was static, sort of. The main thing that was research were risks and to some extent systems, but the systems were transport systems, so there hadn’t been so much of the shift from transport to mobility really. I don’t think we were as clear about that distinction as we are now.

Oskar Funk: Were there any things that caught you by surprise at this conference, as someone who has been in the mobilities studies for a long time?

(Laughs) Well, I didn’t actually attend the sessions, but the general area of disasters. I know about it, but I think it is still interesting that people see mobilities and the complex organizing and orchestrating of mobilities in disasters. I think that is interesting. I have been interested in that in the last year or two, and I think that it is well reflected in some of the papers here. I suppose the second thing was Vincents (Kaufmann) stuff about the car and the decline, and his argument about that, which I don’t quite agree with, but it is becoming much more clearly accepted that the increase in car use in western countries has almost certainly stopped, and it may have reversed. It’s interesting that people didn’t really challenge what Vincent said, they challenged the specific theory, the processes that he referred to, but I thought that was interesting.

Oskar Funk: You have worked with many different concepts and topics. From beyond the car, to offshoring and now post-carbon societies. It seems like there is always a new dimension opening up, so what new directions do you see the mobilities paradigm taking?

Personally I get bored with topics you see, so I have to move on (laughs). Well… Maybe one thing that was missing here was actually China, India and Brazil, the BRIC countries. Because clearly, what happens in those countries and societies is going to be so significant. I think there is going to be much more analysis and examination of similarities and differences between them. That also relates us to the question of the situations and the developments that has to do with futures I suppose, the whole array of future studies. I think that is going to be more significant, and doing it in a way that is more than extrapolation, in a way where the social is a core part. Also, the topic of verticality, (The subject of Stephen Grahams keynote) was very interesting. Vertical cities, vertical mobilities and the way that effects urban design and so on.

Watch Vincent Kaufmann’s keynote, The New Dynamics of Daily Mobilities

Watch Vincent Kaufmann’s keynote, The New Dynamics of Daily Mobilities

Professor Vincent Kaufmann, Director of the Laboratory of Urban Sociology at EPFL, Lausanne and member of the Mobile Lives Forum, gave a talk in which he returned to a core theme of mobilities research; Transport. In this talk Vincent Kaufmann addressed the modal shifts in transport habits away from the car and revisited the concept of ‘motility’. Drawing on quantitative data from several case studies, Kaufmann here gives us an overview of the habits of daily mobility in Western Europe.

Oskar Funk: What will you take with you from this conference?

It’s a very innovative conference with lanes between social scientists and artists, and a lot of new ideas about mobility futures. I would say that I feel a bit at home here at this cosmobilities conference and it’s very unusual for conferences, and it is a real pleasure to come.

Oskar Funk: Is there any new ideas you have discovered here at the conference, or new things you have learned?

I discovered new people. I definitely liked the links between artists and social sciences, like the map of the different trips we did to come here. That was very innovative; it was a good surprise for me.

Oskar Funk: So we need to consider the arts more when we are working as mobility researchers?

Yes for sure! It’s what we also try to do with the mobile life forum in Paris. To have strong links with the artistic field.

Watch Stephen Graham’s keynote, Super-tall and ultra-deep

Watch Stephen Graham’s keynote, Super-tall and ultra-deep

Stephen Graham, Professor of Cities and Society at Newcastle University, expanded the notion of mobility in his keynote talk at the Networked Urban Mobilities conference. By thinking critically about the politics of elevators Graham shifted the perspective from horizontal mobility to the verticality of urban life. Further, the talk links the skyscrapers of global cities with the gold mining industry, which continue to extract metals at greater and greater depths.

After his keynote we had a brief chat with Stephen Graham about his experience of the Networked Urban Mobilities conference, which you can read below the video.

After his talk at the Networked Urban Mobilities Conference in November 2014, we sat down with Stephen Graham and asked a few questions about his experience of the Cosmobilities event in Copenhagen.

Oskar Funk: Could you tell a little about what you are going to take with you from this conference?

Well, there has been a lot of great presentations on the challenges of innovation. That has been a big thing for me. The really complex ways of both inhibiting old technologies and the attempt to build new systems into systems, not just little pockets of innovation, as John Urry was talking about in his keynote, within the context of peak oil, peak food, peak water, and a century of enormous challenges.

Oskar Funk: What has been the best experience at the conference, or was there an experience that stood out?

I haven’t been to many of these mobilities conferences since the first one in Lancaster. The surprising and really fantastic thing to me is just the scale and variety in debate. The fact that it has become such a hugely important and influential conference series is really impressive.

Oskar Funk: So what do you see as the future for this network and this conference series?

There are challenges because it is very interdisciplinary, and it has challenging relationship with professionalized worlds of education and practice. Because obviously, both the disciplines of the universities and the disciplines of professional practices of engineering, architecture, civil engineering, IT engineering, they are all very much working in silos, and mobilities discussions are inherently multi-scalar, multi-disciplinary and they challenge all of those silos. Those silos are actually quite conservative, because they are protecting their own statuses and privileges. John Urry was talking to me about; how do you engage with the worlds of professional education, so that transport engineers stop thinking and talking like transport engineers? That’s a really big challenge and it raises the other question of people doing PhD’s in these interdisciplinary agendas and areas, important and fascinating though they are, they have to get jobs in universities that are very often still quite conservative, still organized as a series of silos; anthropology, sociology, geography, politics, engineering. It is very hard to challenge these really big inherited, conservative traditions.

Oskar Funk: So what do you think is the directions for the mobilities paradigm?

You know what I am going to say. (Laughs) Well, I mean, I would say this obviously, since I am doing a lot of work on looking at the vertical scale, but I do think that it is an interesting agenda that needs to be addressed. I am always interested in the absences in debates and how, when knowledge is constructed and emerges, by definition; areas of absence are created as well, because they are not thought as relevant, they are not actually discussed. They are sort of there in plain sight, hidden in plain sight. I do think in a whole lot of debates about social sciences, geography, politics of space, mobility, we need to be more three-dimensional in our discussions.

Oskar Funk: So that is a blind-spot of the mobilities studies?

Yes, I think so. There is a big discussion on aeromobilities, aircraft mobilities, there is a smaller discussion on elite helicopter mobilities, but I would say, you know, the elevator. It’s fascinating why it is so completely neglected as a mobilities system. It’s an interesting thing to try to understand, and in geography it is partly a result of this flat two-dimensional treatment of urban space that has come through cartographic traditions especially.

Ethnography in Hypermobile Fields

Ethnography in Hypermobile Fields

Networked Urban Mobilities

On the last day of the Networked Urban Mobilities Conference in Copenhagen we talked to Seraina Müller and Daniel Kunzelmann, who organized three sessions themed around ethnography in hypermobile fields together with pH.d.-student Emma Hill. The presentations during the sessions dealt with topics ranging from disaster management, drones and urban surveillance and ethnography of alterglobalization movements to the mobility of the super-rich yacht owners of Monaco.

Daniel Kunzelmann: Hypermobility was the notion that linked all of the sessions together. Hyper means hypertext but also hyper in the sense of “faster, faster, more!”. We were trying to connect the physical movement of things and people with virtual space. And we were interested in methodological questions: How can we research these spheres? How are they connected? How do we connect with them? That was our idea of mobility. We thought about mobility, while always thinking about hyperspace, hypertext, virtuality and how these connect.

The format of the sessions was often short, seven minute presentations of papers followed by discussions among the panel and the audience. A sense of curiosity and will to share and experiment with methods led to lively discussions about engagement and the ethics of coding and the use of social media as a research tool. Although the sessions spanned a wide range of research areas, a common interest in methodology and digital ethnography tied discussions together.

Daniel Kunzelmann: We were surprised because methodology might not seem like a sexy topic but a lot of people were interested in these issues. From a personal point of view, these issues are there in our everyday life and we use them as researchers. So how can we connect being a hyper mobile researcher and being a hyper mobile citizen? And I think that we are not the only ones to think about these questions.

Seraina Müller: I think [methodology] was the trigger that enabled us to talk about one of the oldest questions in ethnography; “how can you follow people?” in a digital age. How do you combine online and offline research? Is it different spheres or is it all the same? These questions were part of our initial motivation. The question of how to do online research touches almost everyone who does ethnography today because you can’t ignore it anymore. The interesting thing about our panel is that it did not only address social anthropologists, the field where we come from, but also geographers, and more technically oriented researches and coders – and they all think about the same questions.

Several of the research problems presented crossed disciplinary boundaries between mobility, technology and environmental studies, such as the 2007 San Diego wildfires studied by Katrina Petersen from Lancaster University. She followed the process of gathering and mapping information from different sources in order to respond to a disaster. Along with other presentations about networked technologies in disaster responses, it brought forward the overlap between science and technology studies and mobility studies. A question that came up during the discussions was the notion of ‘black boxing’ technological processes and problems; Will coding still be black boxed in 20 years with the spreading of Raspberry Pi and similar technologies?. And is it necessary for researchers doing digital ethnography to understand coding?

Daniel Kunzelmann: The question of black boxing did come up in previous discussions. We thought about whether it is enough to use the accessible part of the internet to do research, such as using Facebook and Twitter? Or whether there is a whole different infrastructure behind it that might be really interesting to understand, how it works? And how it structures the behavior of people? These notions came up now after we talked about the power of algorithms and the power of code during the sessions.

The two organizers, Daniel Kunzelmann and Seraina Müller edit a blog called Transformations where many of the themes from the discussions are explored further.