The genre of commodity histories has a great new addition in Mimi Sheller‘s Aluminum Dreams: The Making of Light Modernity (MIT Press, 2014). The book is much like the material it chronicles. While there is a density of thought to it (that is exhilarating), it is not a heavy, obfuscating read like a lot of academic writing can be. It’s sleek and beautiful, too, including “a generous selection of striking images of iconic aluminum designs, many in color, drawn from advertisements by Alcoa, Bohn, Kaiser, and other major corporations, pamphlets, films, and exhibitions” (publisher’s description). That’s why I’ve decided not to bury it in my Booknotes list of a few dozen titles but give it a post of its own.
Dr. Sheller, Professor of Sociology and Director of the Center for Mobilities Research and Policy at Drexel University, visited The Annenberg School last week as a guest of PARGC. While she was there to deliver a talk on The Ethics of Connected Mobility in a Disconnected World: Bridging Uneven Topologies of Hertzian Space in Post-Disaster Haiti she had her new book with her which I was lucky enough to get my hands on. This led to one of those on-the-spot library purchase decisions that remind you why you got into the profession.
“This book tells the story…of space machines and streamlined gadgets, mobile homes and soaring cities, and the double-edged sword of utopia and catastrophe that hastens us toward the accelerated metallic future envisioned in the twentieth century. The chapters that follow go beyond existing business histories that celebrate the age of aluminum as if it were an inevitable product of this “magic metal,” but also beyond the important but one-sided environmental diatribes against heavy industry and transnational corporations, which sometimes ignore the realities of cultural dreams and efficient mobility…The chapters that follow will trace the flow of aluminum around the world, like a ribbon of metal running through the fabric of modernity from one end of the world to the other. Following this thread will allow us to knit together the First World and the Third World, capitalism and communism, the North and the Tropics, battlefields and home fronts, industry and ideas, text and images, the ‘modernizing’ past the the ‘sustainable’ future. It will also challenge us to confront some of the most basic questions about the future of life of earth, the amount of energy we can sustainably use, and what our lives would be like if we tried to live without certain modern conveniences predicated on aluminum’s contribution to lightness, speed, and mobility.” —Mimi Sheller “Overview of Book” from the Introduction
You can borrow the book from Annenberg Reserve (see me about extending your loan time). Van Pelt will have a copy soon, too.