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Thu, Oct 24

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Neungdong-ro

The 2024 Global Mobility Humanities Conference (GMHC)

Mobilities, Aspirations, and Affective Futures

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The 2024 Global Mobility Humanities Conference (GMHC)
The 2024 Global Mobility Humanities Conference (GMHC)

Time & Location

Oct 24, 2024, 9:00 AM – Oct 26, 2024, 1:00 PM

Neungdong-ro, 120 Neungdong-ro, Gwangjin-gu, Seoul, South Korea

About the Event

Aspiration has recently entered the lexicon of various branches of mobilities studies. At the individual scale, scholars have examined the ways in which the term has become an important subjective frame for (especially young) migrants to understand their personal mobility projects (Robertson et al., 2018; Paul, 2019). At a broad societal level, others have been concerned with the way aspiration has been deployed by capital, urban managers and state actors to undergird various political and economic agendas, such as in diasporic formations, infrastructures, technologies, and (urban) future imagineering. Writing about creative labour, Jian Lin (2019), for example, argues that the identification of a ‘new’ transnational Chinese workforce engaged in the arts and cultural industries is umbilically tied to state aspiration to use creativity as the next growth engine for the economy (see also Ho, 2011). Elsewhere, the building of flagship airports and the parade of gleaming aircraft at airshows have long been considered a tactic to conflate infrastructures and technologies with symbols of aspirational modernity (Bok, 2015; Fritzsche, 1992; Koch, 2010).

Aspiration is, in this sense, a productive currency that can radically shape mobilities. More than that, it does so on an exceptionally broad, if sometimes indeterminable, time horizon and loop, invoking different temporalities that necessarily span the present (hope), past (contrast) and future (expectation). As Lin et al. (2023) argue, aspiration seeks to project that which is enchanting and magical forward in time, and promises a (hegemonic) future of what is good and desirable (see also Knox and Harvey, 2012). It carves out a problem space to be (re)solved and mended, making mobilities of the now and then in (urgent) need of remedial actions narrowly defined through certain prescriptions, instruments and courses of action. From moral concerns like the climate crisis, to the elevation of technology and automation, to the introduction of certain debt and financing mechanisms (like in the Belt and Road Initiative), mobilities are moulded by forces that are typically already imbued with highly contentious meaning and politics that deserve further unpacking.

Concomitantly, aspiration is also a highly affective idea and concept. It entrains a series of evocative values revolving around dreams, desires, longing, yearning, breakthroughs, redemption and emancipation. In this context, it is no surprise that the language of development – especially with regards to infrastructure building – is often laced with expressive tropes of triumphant arrivals, new identities and ‘mythologies of the future’ (Datta, 2019). In colonial times, examples in this regard can be found in the way various transport technologies were affectively mobilised to rally people. Foster’s (2005) work on the Cape-to-Rand railway in South Africa, for instance, exactly depicts a dramaturgic sense of (White) aspiration and destiny inscribed onto the bodies of, and narratives surrounding, the train. Indeed, as Appel et al. (2018: 26) aver, mobility ‘[i]nfrastructures excite affects and sentiment’. How and whether these affects do eventually emerge, amid fleeting urges of hope, expectation and disappointment, is potentially another realm of (micro)politics for further interrogation (see Bissell, 2016; Bosworth, 2023).

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