Tim Cresswell is Professor of History and International Affairs at Northeastern University.
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In this talk I consider the potential of the idea of friction as one theoretical device for the exploration of the politics of mobility. In physics friction describes what happens when two moving bodies (or a moving body and a stationary body) come into contact. Heat is produced as a byproduct. What happens when friction and heat are translated into a social and cultural realm? The significance of (social) friction is in the way it draws our attention to the way in which people, things and ideas are slowed down or stopped. One reading of the mobility turn in the humanities and the social sciences is to see it as an analysis of a world of flow where friction has been reduced or (nearly) eliminated. This would be a mistake. Foregrounding mobility in theory and methodology does not mean turning our attention away from friction but, instead, highlights it. Friction would not happen without at least the potential of movement (motility). The talk draws on classic writings on friction and logistics in wartime as well as contemporary theoretical endeavors to understand what happens when moving people, things, ideas get caught up in the sticky topographies of actually existing places.