Universität Wien

240514 SE The Social Life of (Rail-)Roads (P4) (2020W)

Continuous assessment of course work

Participation at first session is obligatory!

The lecturer can invite students to a grade-relevant discussion about partial achievements. Partial achievements that are obtained by fraud or plagiarized result in the non-evaluation of the course (entry 'X' in certificate). The plagiarism software 'Turnitin' will be used for courses with continuous assessment.


Note: The time of your registration within the registration period has no effect on the allocation of places (no first come, first served).


max. 20 participants
Language: English


Classes (iCal) - next class is marked with N

Update 11.12.2020: Due to the current Covid-19 Situation the course will change to digital till the end of the semester.

Update 3.11.2020: Due to the current Covid-19 Situation the course will change to digital till the end of the year.

Attendance at the first meeting is mandatory. We plan to hold all meetings in person but COVID-19 might necessitate changes mid-stream.

Monday 12.10. 11:30 - 14:45 Übungsraum (A414) NIG 4. Stock
Monday 16.11. 11:30 - 14:45 Digital
Monday 30.11. 11:30 - 14:45 Digital
Monday 14.12. 11:30 - 14:45 Digital
Monday 11.01. 11:30 - 14:45 Digital
Monday 25.01. 11:30 - 14:45 Digital


Aims, contents and method of the course

The seminar will explore the role of particular kinds of transportation infrastructures, namely roads and railroads, in human mobility and sociality, as well as in the transport of goods, ideas, and information. In recent years, there has been a growing body of anthropological literature about transportation infrastructure, primarily about roads, in the context of development and modernization, mobility, (in)accessibility and roadlessness. At the same time, other dimensions of human-infrastructure entanglements, such as identity building, social change and cultural interactions, have been understudied. This course is intended to explore and review such dimensions, as well as approaches that have been applied extensively in the anthropological study of roads and railroads.
Both instructors are involved in international research projects focusing on the role of transportation infrastructure (and particularly, on roads and railways) for local communities in the Circumpolar North. While the seminar will refer to empirical examples stemming from this ongoing research, the seminar’s scope will cover a variety of topics and regions. Thus, comparative case studies of other transportation infrastructures might be brought into the discussion as well. Likewise, while literature and approaches from social anthropology will be predominating, the seminar will aim at broader disciplinary perspectives on roads and railways, including but not limited to historical and ethnographic studies, socio-ecological systems approach, actor-network theory and material semiotics.

Assessment and permitted materials

A mandatory seminar paper will count for 50% of the grade. The rest of the grade will be determined by short oral presentations and data collection and analysis assignments, as well as by course participation.

Minimum requirements and assessment criteria

In order to receive a passing grade, you need at least 60 points. A 'sehr gut' requires at least 90 out of 100 points (a 'gut' at least 80 points, etc.). Attendance is required throughout the semester.

Examination topics

There will be no exams.

Reading list

A few relevant books and articles

Aguiar, Marian. 2011. Tracking Modernity: India’s Railway and the Culture of Mobility. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Anderson, Ryan. 2017. Roads, Value, and Dispossession in Baja California Sur, Mexico. Economic Anthropology 4(1):7-21.

Argounova-Low, Tatiana, and Mikhail Prisyazhnyi. 2015. Biography of a Road: Past and Present of the Siberian Doroga Lena. Development and Change 47(2):367387.

Bear, Laura. 2007. Lines of the Nation: Indian Railway Workers, Bureaucracy, and the Intimate Historical Self. New York: Columbia University Press.

Beaumont, Matthew, and Michael Freeman, eds. 2007. The Railway and Modernity: Time, Space, and the Machine Ensemble. Bern: Peter Lang.

Beck, Kurt, Gabriel Klaeger, and Michael Stasik, eds. 2017. The Making of the African Road. Leiden: Brill.

Dalakoglou, Dimitris. 2017. The Road: An Ethnography of (Im)mobility, Space, and Cross-Border Infrastructures in the Balkans. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Edelman, Birgitta. 1997. Shunters at Work: Creating a World in a Railway Yard. Stockholm: Department of Social Anthropology, Stockholm University.

Harvey, Penny, and Hannah Knox, eds. 2015. Roads: An Anthropology of Infrastructure and Expertise. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Jia, Fanqi, and Mia M. Bennett. 2018. Chinese Infrastructure Diplomacy in Russia: The Geopolitics of Project Type, Location, and Scale. Eurasian Geography and Economics 59(3-4):340-377.

Karuka, Manu. 2019. Empire’s Tracks: Indigenous Nations, Chinese Workers, and the Transcontinental Railroad. Oakland: University of California Press.

Lin, Weiqiang. 2019. Transport Geography and Geopolitics: Visions, Rules and Militarism in China's Belt and Road Initiative and Beyond. Journal of Transport Geography 81.

McCallum, Stephanie. 2019. Railroad Revolution: Infrastructural Decay and Modernization in Argentina. Tapuya: Latin American Science, Technology and Society 2(1):540-559.

Minn, Michael. 2013. The Political Economy of High Speed Rail in the United States. Mobilities 8(2):185-200.

Pedersen, Morten Axel, and Mikkel Bunkenborg. 2012. Roads that Separate: Sino-Mongolian Relations in the Inner Asian Desert. Mobilities 7(4):555-569.

Schivelbusch, Wolfgang. 2000[1977]. Geschichte der Eisenbahnreise. Zur Industrialisierung von Raum und Zeit im 19. Jahrhundert. Frankfurt/Main: Fischer.

Schweitzer, Peter, and Olga Povoroznyuk. 2019. A Right to Remoteness? A Missing Bridge and Articulations of Indigeneity along an East Siberian Railroad. Social Anthropology 27(2):236-252.

Association in the course directory

Last modified: Fr 12.05.2023 00:21