Cover Page

Communications and Mobility

The Migrant, the Mobile Phone, and the Container Box



David Morley








In celebration of the indefatigable spirit of Flaubert’s multidisciplinary encyclopedists Bouvard and Pécuchet, in whose footsteps I seem to have been trudging for many years now.


Acknowledgments are due to the many people who helped me in different ways over the long period of this project’s gestation. In the first instance, I must thank Jayne Fargnoli both for her initial enthusiasm in commissioning the project and for keeping the faith through my long delays in delivering what I had promised. I thank the Department of Media and Communications at Goldsmiths for a valuable term’s sabbatical along the way. I also thank the many people who made helpful comments and suggestions on this material at the various institutions where I have presented talks on this project including, in the United Kingdom: Lancaster University, Manchester University, and the University of Surrey. Elsewhere: New York University; Fordham University, New York; University of California Santa Barbara; University of Southern California; NorthWestern University, Chicago; University of Wisconsin, Madison; American University in Cairo; University of Western Sydney; Melbourne University; National Chengchi and Hsinchu Universities, Taipei; University of Paris II; University of Rennes; Toulouse University; Burgos University; University of Lisbon; University of Bremen; University of Erfurt; University of Tuebingen; Charles University, Prague; University of Krakow; University of Vienna; University of Helsinki; Tampere University; Sofia University; Kadir Has and Bahcesehir Universities, Istanbul; Zagreb University; and the University of Rijeka.

The intellectual influences that shaped this book were various and included, notably, the work of the late John Urry and his colleagues in the Mobilities journal, based at Lancaster University. In my conception of migrancy, I was much influenced originally by the work of John Berger and, more recently, by that of Ursula Biemann. In relation both to the need for contextual study of technological infrastructures and to the symbolic importance of technologies, I was greatly helped by the insights of Brian Larkin’s anthropological work. In that connection, I also owe the journalist Michael Bywater a debt of gratitude for the inspiration provided by his early conception of the mobile phone as “The Ultimately Desirable Object.” My friend Dave Mason kindly provided me with the photograph of the Greek priest communicating with the virtual world at the beginning of Chapter 8. The late Alan Sekula was one of those who first brought my attention to the world of containerized transport and was also the person who arranged the tour of the port of Los Angeles that allowed me to take the photographs accompanying Chapter 9. I owe Dick Hebdige gratitude for inviting me to UCSB’s path‐breaking conference on “The Travelling Box” in 2007, and I thank Jeremy Hillman for kindly agreeing to be interviewed about his work on the BBC’s “Box” project.

I should also like to thank my daughter Alice for her ingenuity and resourcefulness in finding my cover image for me when I could not locate it myself. Lastly, though very far from least, I am grateful to CB, not only for her (eternally observant) detective work, which first alerted me to the existence of the BBC “Box” but also for her patience in chewing these matters over with me so frequently, often on the way both to and from Old Milverton.

Beyond all that, I am also grateful to the designers of the computer software that enabled the book to be produced (as it was) by dictation, once I could no longer easily use a computer keyboard. But this is a double‐edged sword, and in this connection, I must also offer a “Reader Alert”: this type of software inevitably introduces a certain level of unpredictable error in transcription, which (lacking any “QWERTY”‐style logic) no amount of proofreading can guarantee to eliminate. Thus, alongside any conceptual errors and factual inaccuracies that still remain in the text, the reader may also find instances of pure nonsense. I would of course, prefer to attribute them entirely to the technology, were that not to fall into technological determinism.