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Everyday Postwar Mobilities: Social, cultural and environmental histories of everyday travel in the postwar period

Recorded 23 May 2024

Speaker: Elsa Devienne (Northumbria University)

The twentieth century witnessed a series of revolutions in how people travelled in the “everyday” across North America, Europe and their empires. These transformations only intensified after 1945. They intersected in complex ways with emergent international social movements and professional networks, as well as with political realignments of imperial collapse, decolonization and the Cold War. They also possessed stark social, cultural, geopolitical and environmental ramifications whose legacies reverberate today, locally and globally.  

Despite transnational and cross-imperial connections, these changing mobilities manifested differently across states and territories, shaped by diverse political, geographical and cultural contexts. Forged in power relations that took shape over centuries, new forms and patterns of everyday mobility and immobility, moreover, were never lived or experienced uniformly. Instead, they were structured by asymmetries of social positioning and hierarchies of power and discrimination. Everyday mobilities often reproduced and made manifest deep-seated forms of inequalities.  

Inspired by the work of such scholars as Mimi Sheller, Genevieve Carpio, Paul Gilroy, Colin Pooley, Peter Norton and others, the Everyday Postwar Mobilities group/series brings scholars together to explore these multivalent histories from diverse perspectives and settings. Connecting social, cultural and environmental histories, we seek to foster new historiographical thinking on everyday mobilities in the past, and to contextualise and challenge contemporary practices and thinking that are shaping travel in the present.  

With everyday mobilities playing a key role in carbon net-zero goals at the national and international levels and calls for cleaner air and a more physically active citizenry becoming more urgent, how can a ground-level understanding of postwar everyday mobilities inform future mobility choices and imperatives? How did mobility narratives and imaginaries—from the figure of the white male commuter swiftly moving between suburb and city centre to that of the harassed mother driving her "Chelsea tractor” on the school run—shape popular understandings of class, race, gender, and age? Beyond familiar stereotypes, how did people make mobility choices according to various social, racial, cultural, environmental, and infrastructural constraints? How did different modal users interact and how did these interactions shape everyday environments? And how did the way people move around on a daily basis affect their understanding of themselves, their communities and the world around them?

In this session, we will hear from several of the Everyday Postwar Mobilities group, about their work and the group’s aims and directions. They are particularly keen on exploring collaborative possibilities and developing the group and broad topic’s future directions, whether via seminars, a conference, in print – or something else.

IHR Seminar Series: Transport & Mobility History