Techno­-Choreographies: Aerial and grounded bodies in the early years of powered flight

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The paper examines the embodiment of aviation in its earliest decades. Drawing on theories of enactment and affect in recent studies of technology and mobility, I investigate the entanglements between airplanes and human bodies as well as the relations between aerial and earthbound bodies. At a time when airplanes were little more than cloth wings attached to motors, their assembly with the body of the aviator was highly visible and essential in the practice and perception of powered flight. Perhaps less visible, but no less essential in this perception, was the embodied experience of aviation from the ground. By exploring how the early airplane ‘choreographed’ and reconfigured aerial as well as earthbound bodies, this paper tries to grasp the transformative and non-representational interactions between technology and the human embodiment of aerial mobility. As an introduction to the embodied history of flight, I discuss the ‘aviation neck’: the new and awkward bodily position of the audience on the ground as they bent their necks backwards to catch sight of the marvelous machines overhead. The aviation neck was depicted in cartoons and declared by commentators to be a new public “disease”; it was a humorous shortcut used to describe the challenge that flight, and the air as a new space of mobility, posed to the earthbound body. In contrast to the aviation neck we also find ample experiences and representations of the aerial body co-constituted by the airplanes. The embodiment of flight points us to a body in transition; a body choreographed by aviation, as transformative for the few who flew, as for the many who remained below.
Original languageEnglish
Publication date2012
Number of pages15
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2012
EventSHOT, Society for the History of Technology, Annual Confrence - CBS, København, Denmark
Duration: 4 Oct 20127 Oct 2012


ConferenceSHOT, Society for the History of Technology, Annual Confrence

ID: 45187960