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  • Globalizing Automobilism: Exuberance and the Emergence of Layered Mobility, 1900–1980 by Gijs Mom
  • Lewis H. Siegelbaum (bio)
Globalizing Automobilism: Exuberance and the Emergence of Layered Mobility, 1900–1980 By Gijs Mom. New York: Berghahn Books, 2020. Pp. 666.

The second of what will be a three-volume set, Globalizing Automobilism expands upon themes, ideas, and peeves introduced in Gijs Mom's Atlantic Automobilism (Berghahn, 2015). This previous book covered the emergence and persistence of automobility in the Western world from the late nineteenth century to the Second World War. Globalizing Automobilism extends coverage to Asia, Africa, and Latin America, recapitulating the first two phases, and adding a third—exuberance—that takes the story up to the end of the 1970s.

For those few readers of this journal unfamiliar with Mom, it is worth noting that nobody has done more to develop and promote mobility studies. Founder of the International Association for the History of Transport, Traffic and Mobility (T2M) and founding editor of the association's journal, Mom has consistently sought to situate the history of automobiles in the broader context of other forms of mobility and challenged many of the idées reçus among developmentalists and other social scientists. Here, he repeatedly promotes the notion of "mobility layeredness," the ways that older practices adapt to and interact with new ones, finding numerous examples in non-Western settings, be it Republican and then Communist China, India, Turkey, Benin, Tanzania, and other African countries. He is much taken as well by subaltern technological ingenuity and the collective nature of travel in the non-West, entertaining the reader with stories about Filipino jeepneys (decorated jeep-like buses), Singaporean mosquito buses, various iterations of rickshaws, Kenyan matatu (illegal minivan buses), Nigerian bolekaja (mammy wagons, or open-sided buses or trucks), and the tap-tap buses of Haiti's Port-au-Prince. And, in order to demonstrate the utility of cultural studies to mobility, he dedicates many pages—far too many for my taste—to "autopoetic" writing and music-making, particularly by white working-class men in the United States (think of Kerouac's [End Page 278] On the Road), white women, and People of Color—all seeking to shape the "adventure machine" to their multitudinous, sometimes confused, and sometimes very confusing purposes.

The book contains arresting observations about "the remarkable synchronicity" of "the global expansion of mobility;" how getting behind the wheel induced such "cyborgian traits" as the anthropomorphizing of the vehicle and the feeling of flight; the essentiality of the middle class to motorization; the overlooked importance of "passengering," and many, many others. The problem is that Mom doesn't know how to stop making associations and connections. The reader is thus subjected to a kaleidoscopic outpouring of "sidesteps," subsections, deviations, and distractions including the names of '60s rock bands, the meanderings of Ken Kessey's Merry Pranksters, the "Watt [sic] Rebellion of 1965," etc. He simply can't resist parenthetical insertions that mostly contribute to the incoherency of his exposition. Thus, in one sentence about the coming of "the corporate revolution," we move from the Organization Man of William White's coinage, to the historian Christopher Lasch, the literary scholar Süha Oğuzertem, and on to the "young James Ballard in the camp in Shanghai" who "had learned to appreciate American cars" (p. 281).

At 574 pages of text and notes—including an introduction of 54 pages—the book is too long, too self-referential, and otherwise poorly edited, if edited at all. Yet, despite its excessive length, Global Automobilism fails to live up to its title's promise. Mom clearly doesn't know what to do with the Second World, as it was once known, and in particular the Soviet Union. Did it belong to "the Western majority within ECAFE" or should it be excluded from "Europe" (p. 462, p. 482)? Did it develop its own model, "modernization without the car," or were "Khrushchev's words about the lower need for the car in a Communist society" just "alternative theorizing" abandoned even before his ouster in 1964 (p. 527, p. 531)? "What do we know, after all, of 'Soviet automobilism' (if such a thing exists...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1097-3729
Print ISSN
0040-165X
Pages
pp. 278-280
Launched on MUSE
2022-01-06
Open Access
No
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