On Wednesday, December 2nd, Mimi Sheller will be giving the paper “Space Age Tropics” at the American Anthropological Association Annual Meeting, at the Marriott Hotel in Philadelphia, where she will also be a discussant for a double session on “Theorizing (im)mobilities: Anthropological takes on an emerging metanarrative”, organized by Noel B. Salazar (University of Leuven). This paper, also recently presented at Bucknell University, is drawn from a larger book-in-progress, Aluminum Dreams, about this versatile, ubiquitous material that is all around us all the time, but that seems almost invisible because it has become literally part of the furniture. The surprising story of aluminum – in our cars, power-lines, skyscrapers, airplanes, pots and pans, cosmetics, furniture, satellites and bombs – encapsulates the making of global modernity, the creation of multinational corporations, the modernization of warfare, the invention of suburbia and the making of the American Dream, as well as many other dreams of modernization around the world. In addition to transforming the built environment and the infrastructures for mobility, the material culture of aluminum also influenced the ideas, beliefs and meanings attached to movement in the 20th century. Aluminum put the world in motion and those new practices of mobility generated visual representations and symbolic economies revolving around the aesthetics of aerodynamic speed, accelerated mobility, and modernist technological futurism. At the same time, however, it also required control over the mining of bauxite from the Caribbean and the circulation of advertising imagery that placed the Caribbean outside of modernity. The pictured Alcoa promotion of Caribbean cruises in 1954 is a depiction of a Vodou-inspired Haitian musical performance by the graphic illustrator James Bingham. The same ships that carried bauxite out of the Caribbean also carried tourists into the Caribbean, suggesting the complex interweaving of different kinds of (im)mobilities.
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