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David Lipset | Richard Handler


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Metaphor, as an act of human fancy, combines ideas in improbable ways to sharpen meanings of life and experience. Theoretically, this arises from an association between a sign—for example, a cattle car—and its referent, the Holocaust. These “sign-vehicles” serve as modes of semiotic transportation through conceptual space. Likewise, on-the-ground vehicles can be rich metaphors for the moral imagination. Following on this insight, Vehicles presents a collection of ethnographic essays on the metaphoric significance of vehicles in different cultures. Analyses include canoes in Papua New Guinea, pedestrians and airplanes in North America, lowriders among Mexican-Americans, and cars in contemporary China, Japan, and Eastern Europe, as well as among African-Americans in the South. Vehicles not only “carry people around,” but also “carry” how they are understood in relation to the dynamics of culture, politics and history.

Richard Handler is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Virginia, where he is Director of the Program in Global Development Studies. He has written extensively on nationalism and the politics of culture, museums, and the history of anthropology. His most recent book is Critics Against Culture: Anthropological Observers of Mass Society (2005).

“The essays in this collection offer fresh perspectives on the social role of transportation. I appreciated the weight given to Pacific cultures, which are not as common in conversations about mobility writ large. Though they do undoubtedly use anthropological methods and ask anthropological questions, they also model innovative ways for discussing how technologies enable their drivers and passengers to engage in an embodied relationship to the past.” · Technology and Culture

“…the book succeeds in demonstrating that vehicles of all sorts may powerfully affect our ways of looking at the world, even as they help us travel through it.” · Transfers

“This edited volume compiles a set of original ethno-graphic case studies focusing on the diverse ways vehicles that convey people through geospatial territory and also convey metaphorical meanings and constructions of the moral…while there has been plenty of attention given to what vehicles signify, there has been little given to how vehicles signify, which is precisely where this book.” · Anthropos

“This volume, Vehicles, is exceptionally important not only for anthropology but for other scientific fields as well. It addresses a core human activity, driving, which appears likely to become a relic of, primarily, the 20th century.” · Anthropological Notebooks

“This book offers ethnographic journeys into the daily work of cultural imaginations by giving attention to what is generally neglected: their vehicles. Not only functional supports or futile material dresses, cars, boats or planes are here delightedly addressed as morale-boosting devices engaged in situated social relations… These essays show that vehicular units are always participation units—they are always vernacular units of cultural agency.” · Pierre Lanoy, Université Libre de Bruxelles

“…An excellent and original volume, a fine example of what comparative anthropology can achieve. Furthermore, in addition to its main topic and objectives (about particular metaphors, what they ‘do’ and how they ‘work’), it addresses key issues in the study of objects, material culture, and techniques, namely the involvement of materiality in non-verbal communication.” · Pierre Lemonnier, Université d'Aix-Marseille

David Lipset is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Minnesota. He has conducted long-term fieldwork in Papua New Guinea since 1981. His most recent book is called Yabar: Alienations of Men in a Papua New Guinea Modernity (2017). He has also published articles on a variety of topics about changing masculinity in Murik culture. He is currently working on a book on concept of place in the Anthropology of the Anthropocene.

Table of Contents

Section Title Page Action Price
introduction. Charon’s Boat and Other Vehiclesof Moral Imagination 1
part I. Persons as Vehicles 19
chapter 1. Living CanoesVehicles of Moral Imagination among 21
chapter 2. Cars, Persons, and StreetsErving Goff man and the Analysis of Traffi c Rules 48
part II. Vehicles as Gendered Persons 67
chapter 3. “It’s Not an Airplane, It’s My Baby” 69
chapter 4. Is Female to Male asLightweight Cars Are to Sports Cars? 88
part III. Equivocal Vehicles 109
chapter 5. Little Cars that Make Us Cry 111
chapter 6. “Let’s Go F.B.!” 133
chapter 7. Barrio Metaxis 156
chapter 8. Driving into the Light 178
afterword. Quo Vadis? 194
contributors 209