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Super-tall and ultra-deep: The cultural politics of the elevator

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Stephen Graham



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC 4.0).


Entire libraries can be filled with volumes exploring the cultures, politics and geographies of the largely horizontal mobilities and transportation infrastructures that are intrinsic to urban modernity (highways, railways, subways, public transit and so on). And yet the recent ‘mobilities turn’ has almost completely neglected the cultural geographies and politics of vertical transportation within and between the buildings of vertically-structured cityscapes. Attempting to rectify this neglect, this paper seeks, first, to bring elevator travel centrally into discussions about the cultural politics of urban space, and, second, to connect elevator urbanism to the even more neglected worlds of elevator-based descent in ultra-deep mining. The paper addresses, in turn: the historical emergence of elevator urbanism; the cultural significance of the elevator as spectacle; the global ’race’ in elevator speed; shifts towards the ‘splintering’ of elevator experiences; experiments with new mobility systems which blend elevators and automobiles; problems of vertical abandonment; and, finally, the neglected vertical politics of elevator-based ‘ultra-deep’ mining.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Graham S

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Theory, Culture and Society

Year: 2014

Volume: 31

Issue: 7-8

Pages: 239-265

Print publication date: 01/12/2014

Online publication date: 06/11/2014

Acceptance date: 01/01/2014

Date deposited: 30/09/2014

ISSN (print): 0263-2764

ISSN (electronic): 1460-3616

Publisher: Sage Publications Ltd


DOI: 10.1177/0263276414554044


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