Last modified: 02.04.2013

As mentioned in various publications I believe that the social sciences engaged with mobilities are not sufficiently sensitive to the physical, material and spatial dimensions of mobilities. Obviously there are differences since geographers may get closer to this than say sociologists. However, on a general note there is a lack of more precise understanding of how small design details and elements such as curbs, signs and pavement dimensioning stage mobilities. As a reflection of this there are theoretical points to be made (see my book ‘Staging Mobilities’). But there are also much more practical inferences to be made. I think we (that is the mobilities research community) should take a closer look at urban design and architecture in order to develop a more precise vocabulary for the materiality of mobilties. On a practical note this can be done in many different ways but one way is to engage in articulating a new research field that I would term ‘Mobilities Design’. Moreover, creating a discussion forum for this as an intellectual infrastructure is important. This is why I have taken initiative to set-up the ‘Mobilities Design Group’ (MDG) under C-MUS.

From our mission statement paper I have clipped this quote:

The issue of how specific and concrete situations of mobilities may be experienced, organized, designed and orchestrated gives the research a particular affiliation not only to theories of the ‘mobilities turn’ but also to more pragmatic and experimental strands of research. Exploring ‘real effects’ and material conditions to the mobilities of the contemporary society demands a focus on in-situ experimentation with designs, artifacts, and technologies often within urban spaces or buildings. Having said so it is important to underline that there are no dogmas and established theories or methods that MDG members must adhere to. Exploring ‘mobilities design’ means not only setting design at the center of investigations, it also means to apply a creative, open-minded and explorative attitude to research. MDG creates strong links to the educational programs under C-MUS (e.g. architecture and design, planning, medialogy, and the coming Master in Mobilities and Urban Studies) and will therefore contribute to furthering research-based teaching. Moreover, the experimental focus of MDG will reverse this situation so that design and experiments carried out within the curricula may inspire and stimulate ‘mobilities design’ research. It is very important not to close the discussion of the delimitation and identification of ‘mobilities design’ as the field is only in its very early stages. Emerging articulation of the field is the key to having an open-minded and creative discussion. Having said so, there are a few key pointers to help delimit and define the area. One would be to seek inspiration and affiliation with the theories, thoughts and methods coming out of the ‘mobilities turn’. Moreover the focus on material design means that there will mostly be a focus on the physical settings for mobile practices. This does not rule out for example digital technologies and services, nor systems designs if these have affected the mobilities studied. The work within mobilities design need not be only situational in its focus, but we do believe that ‘setting the situation first’ or foregrounding the ‘mobilities in situ’ has the potential to avoid detached academic speculation. Needless to say, critical theory, realism, constructivism, phenomenology, action research, interactionism, assemblage theory, ANT, STS, non-representational thinking and many other streams of thought can be accommodated within this research. The key is however a keen interest in setting material and physical conditions in the guise of ‘design first’. The work done within MDG is not privileging a particular epistemology or ontology, neither a particular methodology nor a specific scale.(Foregrounding the situation does not mean to be ‘local only’. Actually, the notion of ‘scale’ as a fixed entity will be problematic within the thinking of Mobilities Design Group as such naïve fixations evades the insights into how any mobile situation is nested into scales often reaching from the body to the globe.) Problematizing the taken-for-grantedness of scale as fixed, and of mobility as simple acts of movement from A to B is thus a common denominator for the work within the group.

The Mobilities Design Group is a sub-group to C-MUS. Therefore all MDG members are also C-MUS members. MDG can only accept C-MUS members (as members), but a number of external affiliation and association agreements are being made in order to create an international network of research into ‘Mobilities Design’. The MDG is organized from the bottom-up initiative of Ole B. Jensen (Coordinator) and Ditte Bendix Lanng (co-coordinator) and strives to keep administration at a minimum. Thus there are three levels of MDG organization. The administration and coordination is carried out by Coordinator and Co-Coordinator. Membership is open to all mobilities design interested C-MUS members. And thirdly mobilities design interested external individuals, companies, business, NGO’s, authorities, centers and networks may become associates to the Mobilities Design Group. MDG will host minimum two events per half year (semester) but will aim to keep a higher level of activity dependent on membership interest and participation. MDG will create an e-mail alias for members and one for associates. Next to this MDG will be put on the C-MUS blog as a separate entity under C-MUS.

Mobilities Design Group organizes minimum two events per semester. These may be of varying nature, such as:

  • Theoretical Research Workshops
  • Methodological Workshops
  • Design Studios
  • Design Workshops
  • Writing seminars
  • Study and reading circles
  • Invited talks and research seminars
  • Joint publications
  • Joint research funding applications

This is an open list of ideas, and hopefully future Mobilities Design Group members will add innovative and creative events and activities to this list.

There are more arguments and examples related to this discussion of ‘mobilities design’ and what to learn from design in Chapter 9 of the ‘Staging Mobilities’ book. And of course this is to be understood as an invitation to join the MDG

Hope to see you there!

/Ole B. Jensen