Perspectives from the Humanities and Social Sciences

Shaping Im/Mobilities: Entanglements of Architecture, Infrastructure and Meaning

Chair: Faime Alpagu (University of Vienna)
Co-Chairs: Romana Bund, Nicola Kopf (University of Vienna)

Sarah Heinz (University of Vienna)
Giada Peterle (University of Padua)
Lena Kaufmann (University of Zurich)
Anna Barbieri (Academy of Fine Arts Vienna)

Lockdown! Re-Assessments of Im/Mobility in COVID-19 British Fictions of Home

Sarah Heinz

When COVID-19 hit countries at the beginning of 2020, most governments reacted by imposing restrictions to slow the spread of the virus. Chief among these restrictions was putting societies into lockdown, a measure that heavily regulated people’s mobility and social interactions. People were forced, often under threat of police penalties, to remain in their private homes, an experience that made many re-evaluate this seemingly familiar space. Instead of a cosy space of retreat, home became associated with tedium and dullness at best or isolation and imprisonment at worst. It became obvious for many people that home is not ‘their’ private refuge but open to public interference and a site of negative feelings and social disparities, many of which were connected to the limitation of mobility and free movement. The paper takes this re-evaluation of home as its cue. It assumes that COVID-19 and the ambivalent experiences of home spaces and practices during the lockdown bring into sharp focus already existing but often hidden ambivalences and anxieties within widely shared positive notions of home. The material consists of British novels published as a response to lockdown measures, e.g. Peter May’s thriller Lockdown (2020). The thesis is that, by showing an immobilized society imprisoned in their homes, the novels foster a sense of home as a space of rule, division and power politics. This awareness uncovers both home and homeland as a construction, an awareness that had previously been covered up by the positive associations of home as warmth, belonging, and safety.

Sarah Heinz is a professor of English and Anglophone literatures at the University of Vienna. Her fields of research are critical whiteness studies, postcolonial intersections of race, class and gender, and fictions of home from Nigeria, Australia, Ireland and Britain. She taught at the Universities of Passau, Mannheim and Humboldt-University, Berlin. She was a visiting scholar at the Institute for Research on Women and Gender at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Her PhD focused on postmodern identities in Byatt’s novels and her habilitation tackled whiteness in Irish literature and film.

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Graphic Mobilities of Public Transport: Performing Lines and Movement through Comics as a Research Practice

Giada Peterle

What are the peculiar im/mobilities of comics? This presentation proposes an interdisciplinary perspective on ›graphic im/mobilities‹. It explores the entanglements between comics and mobility studies, bringing together the social sciences, comics studies, literary and comic book geographies, and a creative narrative approach stimulated by the geohumanities. Like in other cultural representations, in comics mobility is both experienced and thought, it is not simply represented but also necessarily practiced and embodied (Cresswell 2006, p. 4). Thus, I argue that mobility scholars should consider both the meanings and practices of mobility that are connected with the contents and forms of graphic narratives. Movement and stillness alternate in comics’ writing/reading experience and the peculiar ›spatial grammar‹ of comics (Groensteen 2007) appears to be intrinsically ›mobile‹, as it asks for pluridirectional movements to be performed throughout the page. From a processual perspective, then, comics themselves are agents that produce mobility. Considering the original geoGraphic story Lines. Moving with stories of public transport in Turku I have realised for the project PUTSPACE – Public Transport as Public Space in European Cities, the paper further explores the research practice of doing comics from a both autoethnographic and mobile perspective. It analyzes how comics permit us to explore multi-layered perceptions of time-space, and to access mundane, intimate, affective, and emotional aspects connected to everyday mobilities. Comics narratives move authors/readers by proposing unexplored affective itineraries whose effects are performed beyond the frame of the page.

Giada Peterle is Lecturer in Literary Geography at the University of Padova. Working in the field of the Geohumanities, her research interests lie in the interconnections between geography, literature, comics, creative methods and art-based practices. Her works include the forthcoming book Comics as a Research Practice: Drawing Narrative Geographies Beyond the Frame (Routledge 2021) and articles in Social & Cultural Geography and Cultural Geographies. As a comics author she has recently published the illustrated book Geography explained to children and curated the comic book anthology Quartieri (BeccoGiallo 2020 and 2019). Her creative works are available at

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Rethinking Mobility and Immobility through Sino-Swiss Entanglements in Digital Infrastructures

Lena Kaufmann

This paper explores the interrelatedness of people and digital infrastructures. Through a socio-technical, ethnographic-historical case study of China’s Digital Silk Road to Switzerland, it aims to shed light on Sino-Swiss entanglements in fiber optic infrastructures, showing that these entanglements simultaneously foster both mobility and immobility. In doing so, boundaries are blurred not only between mobility and immobility, but also between people and their material world. On the one hand, the Digital Silk Road, which is an important, though commonly overlooked part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative is clearly a discursive construct: it is difficult to define, evoking both promise and fear in media, industry or personal accounts. On the other hand, the Digital Silk Road also manifests itself materially in the local: in the form of cables, switches, routers, plugs, data storage systems and data centers, equipped with Chinese technology and knowledge at the heart of Switzerland. These material components, which make up the vague notion of ‘the cloud’, usually remain out of sight. They require people such as IT engineers or construction workers and their knowledge to be mobile in order to build and maintain these infrastructures. At the same time, these infrastructures also produce immobility and – by enabling digital communication – virtual mobility as well as the movement and exchange of knowledge, opinions, and ideas. A closer socio-technical look at the global entanglements of people and technologies in digital infrastructures thus invites us to rethink how mobility and immobility interact in new ways.

Lena Kaufmann is a postdoctoral researcher at the Department of History and an associate lecturer at the Department of Social Anthropology and Cultural Studies, both at the University of Zurich. Trained as an anthropologist and sinologist in Berlin, Rome and Shanghai, she spent nearly four years in China, researching migration in the city and countryside. She is the author of Rural-Urban Migration and Agro-Technological Change in Post-Reform China (2021). In her current project, she investigates the complex socio-technical and politico-economic entanglements in digital infrastructures – fiber optic cables and network components – between China and Switzerland.

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Architecture as Poiesis and Transposition: Lviv’s »Zubra Center« (»Santa Barbara«)

Anna Barbieri

The »Zubra Center« is a shopping and community center marking the heart of the third urban planning stage of Lviv’s largest residential district Sykhiv. Since its completion in 1994, the building and its adjoining neighborhood have been known to local residents as »Santa Barbara«. The nickname derives from the building’s architectural resemblance to the symbolic arcs featured in the opening theme of a 1980s American soap opera. Airing in Ukraine in 1992, this soap opera called »Santa Barbara« became particularly popular as it provided a daily media retreat from the social and economic hardship encountered after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Using text and video formats ranging from diaries to essayistic narrations as well as architectural descriptions and theoretical writing, the project tackles questions of architecture and representation, and in particular addresses urban space as a collective process. Within this process, identity, longing, representation, and subjectivity manifest themselves beyond structural forms. In this case, they interact with a multiple media landscape providing access to different spatiotemporal set-ups without physical movement. Being based on these manifold media-entanglements beyond any material scope, the »Zubra Center« (»Santa Barbara«) has become an architectural transposition allowing the residents to temporarily enter a desired location as well as an embodiment of this aspired re-localization within their immediate cityscape. By following Svetlana Boym’s non-linear conceptions of simultaneities and architecture’s potential for poiesis, I aim to investigate the center and its neighborhood as an imaginary topography bearing post-and de-colonial agency by »materializing« local dreams, desires, but in particular the search for a post-Soviet/socialist identity and representation beyond and also within the cityscape.

Anna Barbieri studied Architecture at the Glasgow School of Art and at TU Wien, and is currently enrolled at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna, where she completes the MA Critical Studies program. She works at the intersection between architecture, film, video and video installation, writing and performance. Recurring themes of her projects, films, and texts focus on questions of architectural representation and identity uncovering the entanglement between spatiality, politics, and gender. She received the Research Residence Grant of Lviv’s Center for Urban History of East Central Europe in 2018. She lives and works in Vienna, Austria.

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