From British ‘Ladies Accelerators’ to Berlin 90s submarine techno – or how transport took over my life

‘The journey is the destination’ – and the source of about 30% of carbon emissions in the European Union!

I had the pleasure of writing the SHAPE ENERGY annotated bibliography on transport decarbonisation together with Dr Robison and Dr Foulds, at the Global Sustainability Institute, Anglia Ruskin University, UK. Across the four bibliographies the project has produced, we had a core team of authors in Norway, the Netherlands, Germany and the UK with strong invaluable support from British, German, Norwegian, Bulgarian, and French researchers… we definitely challenged Skype’s capacity when holding our trans-European video sessions! It was a fascinating process and as a side effect, I got to geek out about transport ephemera. Favourite aspects of this work for me were different elements of transport history, the role and cultural meaning we have ascribed to different transport modes and the different reasons we may or may not use certain transport modes. In this blogpost, I’d like to share some of my favourite finds with you and then discuss some of the issues we encountered trying to actually produce the bibliographies.

My historical transport finds

Firstly then, the most fascinating flotsam often came in visual form. Please check out the pictures accompanying this blogpost!

Please check out the pictures accompanying this blogpost, by clicking on them below!


2 (Pictures 6 and 7) Font, Xavier, and Ann Hindley. “Understanding tourists’ reactance to the threat of a loss of freedom to travel due to climate change: a new alternative approach to encouraging nuanced behavioural change.” Journal of Sustainable Tourism 25, no. 1 (2017): 26-42

The challenges along the route

Whilst I absolutely loved exploring the history of transport and all its strange delights, there were several challenges during the actual search through articles for possible inclusion in the final bibliography. For newbies to SHAPE ENERGY and the annotated bibliographies, here is the low down: one of SHAPE ENERGY’s aims is to better showcase underrepresented (social science & humanities) research related to energy. So instead of the usual suspects when it comes to energy research – chemistry, physics, engineering, biology and also perhaps also economics and business views on energy – it aims to highlight what political scientists, sociologists, anthropologists, theologians, criminologists, psychologists and historians have also had to say about energy. For the bibliography task, I therefore researched academic literature from these disciplines related to transport decarbonisation and then wrote summaries and brief commentaries on each of the 160 articles chosen to be included.

One issue I faced while searching for these articles actually related to how google scholar works. Google scholar somewhat unhelpfully (in the case of the bibliography) always favours research focusing on the country that your computer’s IP address is from and the language of your operating system. This meant that, for me, google scholar always suggested research first on the UK and Germany. We were however trying to achieve representation of all EU countries, or at least as many as possible. Due to time constraints, I also predominantly had to research in English language journals. Within these English language journals, publications focusing on the UK, the Nordics, Germany and Austria are already overrepresented. Additionally some of the search engines of academic publishers produced some rather unrelated, whimsical results (see the mattress picture – this was the only result for that search). There was an overall dearth of social science and humanities research relating to decarbonisation of commercial rather than individual transport, including trucking and van delivery, container ship or rail transport of goods. Long distance bus transport and the resources used to produce the electricity needed for electric vehicles and rail were mostly a blind spot on the SSH map. As if electricity were still “magic” that just appears as it must have felt like in the olden days…

As is usual in academic work, but can be challenging when working outside your own discipline, the search terminology had to be very carefully targeted: mobility for example is, in the context of social sciences and humanities, predominantly interpreted as “class mobility”. Similarly, the term “mobilities” will result in transport-related research from a very particular sociological academic paradigm. Walking has so far received almost exclusively only medical/health-related interest. Its decarbonisation effects have been neglected. In this context the concept of “walkability” represented a better search term. “Transport decarbonisation” (the title for my bibliography) as a phrase was not used frequently in SSH research. “Low carbon” and “transport” or even “green” and “travel” were more fruitful. Long distance travel research had a predominant focus on “tourism” and this was the most useful search term in this context – although some parts of this research actually turned out to concern business travel! Searching for “aviation” was not as productive and returned engineering, physics and chemistry research on jet fuels.

After a while working on this project I started noticing transport-related issues everywhere I went: from how our toys are mostly cars to how we had “Sons of Anarchy” (2008-2014 TV series on Shakespeare’s Hamlet reimagined in motorcycle gangs), but no TV series on rail workers that I can remember. Or how my facebook friends posted so many travel related posts.1 The project definitely changed my own perception – a friend was not particularly receptive when I mentioned that his social media feed represented the glamorisation of carbon emissions. And then came the day I realised that even the music I was listening to as background noise while working was transport related: “Das Boot” by U96.

I’ll leave you with Pablo Neruda’s 1950 “Ode to Bicycles” poem.


1 See also Gössling, Stefan, and Iliada Stavrinidi. “Social networking, mobilities, and the rise of liquid identities.” Mobilities 11, no. 5 (2016): 723-743.

By Kat Buchmann, Anglia Ruskin University, UK