Intensities of mobility: kinetic energy, commotion and qualities of supercommuting

David Bissell, Phillip Vannini, Ole B. Jensen
2016 Mobilities  
This paper explores the intensities of long distance commuting journeys in order to understand how bodily sensibilities become attuned to the regular mobilities which they undertake. More people these days are travelling farther to and from work than ever before, owing to a variety of factors which relate to complex social and geographical dynamics of transport, housing, lifestyle, and employment. Yet, the experiential dimensions of long distance commuting have not received the attention that
more » ... he attention that they deserve within research on mobilities. Drawing from fieldwork conducted in Australia, Canada, and Denmark this paper aims to further develop our collective understanding of the experiential particulars of long distance workers or supercommuters. Rather than focusing on the extensive dimensions of mobilities that are implicated in broad social patterns and trends, our paper turns to the intensive dimensions of this experience for supercommuters by developing an understanding of embodied kinetic energy, commotion and quality. Exploring how experiences of long-distance workers are constituted by a range of different material and bodily forces enables us to more sensitively consider the practical, technical, and affective implications of this increasingly prevalent yet underexplored travel practice. Recent research on bodily experiences of mobility has, for the most part, tended to cluster around two geographical poles: everyday movements at the local (especially urban) level (Edensor, 2003; Wilson, 2011; Laurier and Lorimer, 2012; Waitt, Harada and Duffy, 2015) , and the cross-border travels of migrants, workers, and tourists at the trans-national level (Burrell, 2011; Conradson and McKay, 2007; Sheller and Urry, 2004) . This has resulted in minimizing attention to the experiences of a sizable group of people who are engaged in routine forms of mobility that go beyond the local and urban level, but that are not quite as broad-ranging as international travel. These people are what we may call long-distance commuters or "supercommuters. 1 " These are individuals who live far from their place of work and who cover long distances on a regular basis, typically by travelling one or two hours in length, or even longer, multiple times a week. Supercommuters' relative absence from the literature is partly owing to the fact that they are a relatively new phenomenon enabled by fast modes of travel, efficient intermodal connections, and by the spreading of urban populations in farther suburban and exurban environments (see Ralph, 2014; Viry and Kaufmann, 2015) . From an academic perspective, supercommuters' lives plug into a suite of well-trodden concerns about the environmental impacts of transport and urban sprawl, the (im)possibilities for place attachment and community involvement, and an allegedly strained work-life balance (Kelly and Donegan, 2015) . Indeed the small body of existing research into this population has tended to focus on the socio-psychological motivations of people involved in these journeys, thus eliciting a host of answers: their lives are a response to the growing availability of advanced technologies of transport; they are expressions of a controversial "lifestyle choice;" and they are a response to rising urban housing costs (Sandow and Westin, 2010; Hardill and Green, 2003) . Supercommuters' lives are even often profiled in the news media in a manner that conveys a pervading sense of marvel and disbelief toward their routines, as if this were an extreme life that is clearly unsustainable, a life that is dangerously close to imploding, and a life that is quite simply unimaginable. 2 Our paper is motivated by empirical and conceptual aims. Empirically, we are interested in providing a more ethnographically detailed and nuanced look into the experiences of supercommuters, in the hope of contributing knowledge to a subject only infrequently examined by mobility researchers. Conceptually, we are motivated by an interest in refining our collective understanding of the idea of intensity. There are three main reasons for concentrating on this concept. First, common representations of long distance commuters suggest that undertaking these journeys and experiencing commute-centred lifestyles is an intense experience. Second, we contend that the concept of intensity is often mentioned but it has not been adequately explored in mobilities research. Third, and more inductively, notions directly or indirectly related to the intensities of travel and of fieldwork kept re-occurring in our respective data sets and thus we felt it necessary to deepen our grasp of it. By gathering these three entry points together, this paper aims to develop a better understanding of the concept of intensity especially as it pertains to the lives and mobility experiences of long distance commuters. Given our interests and data, we are primarily interested in how the concept of intensity spotlights the singular and situated dimensions of mobility experiences that often get sidelined in more generalising socio-psychological explanations for commuting practices. This paper is the result of a unique three-way collaboration. Driven by a common interest in the experiences and practices of supercommuters, the three of us made a plan to draw upon original empirical data collected at three separate sites with three different types of supercommuters. Research project A focused on supercommuters in Australia. During 2013, Author A conducted 1 There are multiple definitions of supercommuters, according to specific attributes. For example one definition is a one-way journey of over 100km, see BITRE, 2012. We aim to keep our definition intentionally broad to encompass the gap between shorter urban commutes and longer international journeys. 2 TV examples include the UK Channel 5 series "Britain's Craziest commutes"
doi:10.1080/17450101.2016.1243935 fatcat:rwkj55gsfjaiphvawkqovw26w4