We would like to congratulate David Smith for his achievement in winning the TGRGs best undergraduate dissertation prize. David recently earned his BA in Geography at the University of Oxford. For the prize, David will receive books to the value of £150 from Edward Elgar. His dissertation abstract can be found below. Comments from the judges include: “This ethnographic study of a Welsh heritage railway is detailed and conceptually ambitious. David demonstrates familiarity with concepts in economic and cultural geography, and blends that with mobilities concepts to develop his concept of ‘working mobilities’ in the context of heritage transport. His thesis is also beautifully written, which helped David’s work to stand out above the other ten candidates, all of whom had undertaken interesting and varied work, demonstrating the breadth of interesting topics and approaches that can be used in modern transport geography.”
“Working Mobilities”: Labours, Movements and Moorings at the Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railways
This dissertation attends to the different kinds of work that enable mobility to take place. Drawing together ideas from both economic and cultural geography as well as mobilities scholarship, the term ‘working mobilities’ is coined and developed to refer to the labours, practices, performances and personal implications of transport work. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork undertaken over nine weeks at a heritage railway in Snowdonia during the summer of 2015, the analysis is arranged around three main themes: working, moving and mooring, in order to expand on this hitherto overlooked facet of mobilities.
The first, ‘working’, applies Linda McDowell’s scholarship on ‘body work’ into a heritage railway setting, finding it to be a combination of both old and new forms of labour. Physical work is involved in facilitating mobilities on a literal level – shovelling coal and cleaning floors, for instance. Meanwhile, ‘new’ forms of labour are present too – the body itself becomes a performance through helping to produce particular atmospheres. But skills and knowledges are important too – places are comprehended multi-sensually through combinations of official and tacit knowledges, whilst specific skills are learnt, again directly enabling the smooth operation of mass mobility.
Next, ‘moving’ explores the relationship between those working mobilities and the equipment they use. A series of micro-movements by human subjects combine to form significant, meaningful movements on much larger scales, such as those gestures which signal that all is ready for a train to proceed. Meanwhile, the vehicles of mobility themselves hold complex, multi-scalar subjective meanings to those who work mobilities, and even when apparently insignificant, retain the capacity to move us emotionally. One particular example is examined in detail.
Finally, ‘moorings’ examines the importance of the relationships of fixity and movement which exist for railway workers, through three registers; spatially, socially, and temporally. Each of these can only be considered relationally, but each is important in providing structure and meaning to the people who work mobilities, and thus enabling them to carry out their duties. Examples include the importance of stationary, as opposed to mobile staff – for instance signallers – and the depth of attachment that comes about through long-lived connections to forms of mobilities – continuities through the life course.
For more information regarding the undergraduate prize please contact the TGRG secretary, Simon Blainey.