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Taking Off: Thinking Historically about Air Travel and Mobility in Late Twentieth-Century Canada

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Taking Off: Thinking Historically about Air Travel and Mobility in Late Twentieth-Century Canada
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  Taking Off  Thinking Historically about Air Travel and Mobility in Late Twentieth-Century Canada Bret Edwards University of Toronto In some respects, the history of aviation in Canada has been capably told. 1  His-torians have extolled air travel and the accelerated mobility it has offered Cana-dians, helping them overcome natural geographic barriers and knitting together the country’s disparate regions. 2  But what has not been satisfactorily acknowl-edged is the  global  historical story of Canada and commercial air travel during the dawn and maturation of jet travel beginning in the late 1950s. The jet age made air travel a quintessentially global mode of mass transportation, expanding and intensifying connections between distant locales like never before. Canada was not immune to these developments; transoceanic air passenger traffic rose sharply from the 1960s, particularly to and from its major cities. 3  The jet age thus constitutes a pivotal phase in the history of Canadian commercial air travel, hav-ing left a distinctive footprint on late twentieth-century Canada.  1. Here aviation  refers specifically to civil aviation and its commercial component. The his-tories of general and military aviation in Canada have distinct historiographies beyond the scope of this review. 2. For example, see Jonathan Vance,  High Flight: Aviation and the Canadian Imagination  (To-ronto: Penguin, 2002); Peter Pigott, Taming the Skies: A Celebration of Canadian Flight   (To-ronto: Dundurn, 2003); Peter Pigott,  Flying Colours: A History of Commercial Aviation in Canada  (Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 1997); Stephen Payne, ed., Canadian Wings: A  Remarkable Century of Flight   (Ottawa: Canadian Aviation Museum, 2006); Peter Piggot, Na-tional Treasure: The History of Trans Canada Airlines  (Madeira Park, BC: Harbour Pub., 2001). On the importance of airports in Canadian nation building, see Jonathan Vance,  Building Canada: People and Projects That Shaped the Nation  (Toronto: Penguin, 2006), 52–72. 3. For a discussion of increasing passenger traffic and the response of Canadian airlines, see Pigott, National Treasure,  and Pigott,  Flying Colours.   Mobility in History   Volume 5, 2014: 134–142 © Mobility in History  ISSN: 2296-0503 (Print) ISSN: 2050-9197 (Online) ISBN: 978-1-78238-362-8doi: 10.3167/mih.2014.050114  Taking Off • 135 Canadian historians writing national narratives about commercial air travel must be attuned to how the technological advancements of the jet age engen-dered frictions between local and national environments and global currents. 4   Any effort to understand these stresses must take mobility as a key line of in-quiry because Canada has been defined historically by a preoccupation with mo- bility due to its “struggle with distance.” 5  Historians must interrogate how the globalizing character of the jet age has changed the terms of mobility within Canada for Canadians and non-Canadians alike. They must locate sites beyond the airplane where questions of mobility, and its concomitant politico- and socio-cultural meanings, have been salient.The recent surge in mobility studies as it relates to Canadian commercial air travel can offer historians new ways to use mobility as a category of historical analysis. These topics can be brought into conversation historically, in a manner that has hitherto been lacking. Historians must be sensitive to the perils of ap-plying current understandings of mobility to the past, but mobility studies may nonetheless help them reconstruct the particular terms and means of movement symptomatic of the jet age in late twentieth-century Canada. Air travel in Canada and the mobility turn Historical writing on the jet age in Canada has failed to engage with questions of mobility. It has also largely ignored broader processes that would inform this discussion, specifically the relationship between jet travel and local-national-global frictions. To their credit, some historians have related Canada’s experience with commercial air travel to the international context, albeit in a circumscribed manner. Historians have considered the growth of commercial air travel in the postwar era in studies of the domestic politics of industry regulation (and later deregulation), and of landing rights agreements Canada reached with other countries beginning in the 1950s. 6  Canada’s role in the creation of the Interna-tional Civil Aviation Organization in 1947 has also been well documented. 7  More 4. This is beginning to be addressed in the United States and Europe; see Nathalie Roseau, “Learning from Airports’ History,” in  Mobility in History: Yearbook of the International As-sociation for the History of Transport, Traffic, and Mobility   (T  2  M Yearbook 2013),  ed. Peter Nor-ton et al. (New York: Berghahn, 2013), 95–100. My doctoral dissertation in progress at the University of Toronto, tentatively entitled “A Bumpy Landing: Airports, Jet Travel, and New Geographies of Friction in Late Twentieth-Century Canada,” also engages with this idea. 5. Cole Harris, The Resettlement of British Columbia: Essays on Colonialism and Geographical Change  (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1997), 161–193. 6. Garth Stevenson, The Politics of Canada’s Airlines from Diefenbaker to Mulroney  (Toronto: Uni-versity of Toronto Press, 1987); Susan Goldenberg,  Troubled Skies: Crisis, Competition and Control in Canada’s Airline Industry  (Whitby, ON: McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1994). 7. David Clark Mackenzie, Canada and International Civil Aviation 1932–1948 (Toronto: Univer-sity of Toronto Press, 1989).  136 • Bret Edwards strictly national but no less political work examines airport development across the country or labor tensions over bilingualism in the aviation industry during the 1970s. 8  But in prioritizing bureaucratic processes, historians of the jet age in Canada have neglected a crucial component of the story. They have failed to frame analyses of power around the relationship between transportation and sociocultural processes. They have thereby neglected the local and national im-plications of global air travel in late twentieth-century Canada, particularly how people shaped and were shaped by changes in the means of movement.In this sense, then, historians of air travel in Canada have not yet embraced the mobility turn, a paradigmatic approach formulated by Sheller and Urry in 2004. Its adherents explore experiences of human movement and the symbol-isms and meanings that connect them to larger processes of power. It marries research on transportation with research on society and culture, thereby “tran-scending the dichotomy between transport research and social research, put-ting social relations into travel and connecting different forms of transport with complex patterns of social experience.” 9  The effect is to see mobility not as a natural, universal experience, but as a process and set of practices  produced   by relations and constructions of power and discourse. 10  Mobility is thus defined in  both active and passive terms; because mechanisms and processes can facilitate or impede means of movement, the experience of stasis joins the meaning and condition of being mobile.The mobility turn also reevaluates the relationship between place and mobil-ity, positioning the environments in and through which people move as active sites in the construction of mobility. The organization of space and its assem- blages of power can produce mobile subjects that occupy the “fast and slow  lanes of social life.” 11  The form, function, and meaning of space and place are essential to historical experiences of mobility, and may yield valuable lines of inquiry to air travel historians. In the jet age, airports have become the integral cog in the machine that is air travel, undergoing countless architectural face-lifts and expansions to accommodate exponential growth in passenger traffic since the early 1960s. 12  Canadian historians of air travel should consider whether changing airports changed how people experienced and negotiated this envi-  8. For the history of airport politics in Canada, see Elliot J. Feldman, The Politics of Canadian  Airport Development: Lessons for Federalism  (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1983). A more straightforward history of Canadian airports is Peter Pigott, Gateways: Airports of Can-ada  (Lawrencetown Beach, NS: Pottersfield Press, 1996). For issues of language in the airport workplace, see Sandford F. Borins, The Language of the Skies: The Bilingual Air Traffic Control Conflict in Canada  (Kingston, ON: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1983). 9. Mimi Sheller and John Urry, “The New Mobilities Paradigm,”  Environment and Planning A  38 (2004): 208.10. Ibid., 210.11. Ibid., 212.12. For example, see John Urry, “Flying Around,” in  Mobilities,  ed. John Urry (Cambridge: Pol-ity, 2007), 135–156; Alastair Gordon, Naked Airport: A Cultural History of the World’s Most  Taking Off • 137 ronment. 13  While historians have yet to seriously engage the mobility turn, other scholars in Canada working on related problems can offer theoretical tools that may help them apply mobility studies to the Canadian jet age. Differentiated airport mobilities Much recent work on airports and mobility is informed by post-9/11 passenger screening and surveillance regulations implemented by the International Civil  Aviation Organization. Authors interested in the Canadian case have linked secu-ritization of airports in the early twenty-first century to new structures of power that have altered how people access and traverse airport space. Much of the work is in geography, sociology, criminology, and political science, is methodologi-cally interdisciplinary, and is indebted to material authored outside Canada. 14  The consensus of recent work is that airports now function less as transportation hubs than as sites of biopower within which the mechanisms of sovereign power impede human mobility. Airports, borders, and mobility By treating airports as deterritorialized national borders, researchers have shed  light on the deployment of sovereign authority at nontraditional border points and on the techniques of governance on which it relies. Such researchers consider the mutually constitutive relationship between airports and borders, advancing new conceptualizations of airports and interrogating multiple forms of sovereign governance at them. They attend to mobility, and especially to the constraints imposed on mobile bodies when they confront the airport as a border.Such scholars have recently offered new interpretations of the meaning and function of airports themselves. Contesting earlier interpretations of airports as “non-places” or “spaces of flows,” Mark Salter sees them as examples of Foucault’s heterotopia— a space and place containing contradictory and often opaque mean-ings because of its role as a border. 15  Operating at the intersection of local, na-  Revolutionary Structure  (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2004); David Pascoe,  Airspaces  (Lon-don: Reaktion, 2001).13. For a recent discussion of this term, see Saulo Cwerner, Sven Kesselring, and John Urry, eds.,  Aeromobilities  (New York: Routledge, 2009).14. For a comprehensive bibliography of recent literature on air travel, airports, and air spaces, see Peter Adey,  Aerial Life: Spaces, Mobilities, Affects  (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010), and Cwerner, Kesselring, and Urry,  Aeromobilities.  Roseau, “Learning from Airports’ His-tory,” also provides a good overview of recent work on airports.15. Marc Augé, Non-places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity  (London: Verso, 1995); Manuel Castells, The Informational City: Information Technology, Economic Restructur-ing, and the Urban-Regional Process  (Oxford: Blackwell, 1989).  138 • Bret Edwards tional, and global movement and exchange, airports are often connected less to proximate urban space than to remote spaces in the global migration flow, making them spaces of global transit. 16  Salter and others also use the concept of deterritorialized borders to look at American political and legal authority at Canadian airports. As part of a postwar agreement, at special preclearance sta-tions American customs agents search travelers according to American law but must defer to Canadian law if a situation escalates. 17  Clearly, multiple meanings can be gleaned from constituting Canadian airports as national borders. They are shaped by air travel as a global industry enabling millions each year to seek entry to Canada, and by the presence of the United States and its concomitant  juridical authority and security priorities, giving the airport a “borderland” feel. 18  Bringing the border to the airport lays bare its connection to questions of mo- bility, to movement across an airport space imposing a series of checkpoints and state-monitored exchanges. Historians could use the conceptual tools about  borders and bordered spaces to historicize the airport, assessing how borders at airports became relevant, the variety of borders at airports, borders’ effects on the organization of airport space, and the relationship between airport borders and changing mobilities. Airports, security, and mobility Recent work also theorizes airports as strategic sites of sovereign rule. Some char-acterize stricter airport security after 9/11 as the most recent manifestation, to use John Torpey’s phrase, of the “state’s monopoly on the means of movement.” 19  This approach reveals the state’s biopower strategies. Recent work highlights two purposes of airport surveillance and screening: disciplining bodies and facilitat-ing techniques of self-governance among the population. David Lyon shows that airport security practices are the latest manifestation of an emergent “surveillance society” in which the state relies on technologies 16. Mark Salter, “Governmentalities of an Airport: Heterotopia and Confession,”  International  Political Sociology  1, no. 1 (2007): 52.17. Salter, “Governmentalities,” 56–57; Martin Dresner, “An Analysis of Canadian Air Transport Bilateral Agreements,”  Annals of Air and Space Law  27, no. 2 (1997): 67–82. There is also a rash of legal commentary on this issue. For example, see Sergio Karas, “Preclearance of Travelers from Canada to the US: Bilateral Cooperation or Intrusion on Sovereignty?”  Inter-national Legal Practitioner   (Dec. 2000): 144–146. 18. Harry H. Hiller, “Airports As Borderlands: American Preclearance and Transitional Spaces in Canada,”  Journal of Borderlands Studies  25, no. 3 (2010): 19–30. For more on “borderlands,” see Emmanuel Brunet-Jailly, “Toward a Model of Border Studies: What Do We Learn from the Study of the Canadian-American Border,”  Journal of Borderlands Studies  19, no. 1 (2004): 1–12.19. John C. Torpey, The Invention of the Passport: Surveillance, Citizenship, and the State  (Cam- bridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 2–3.
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