Transitrum. Flykabiner og supermodernitetens ikke-steder

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Today, we might consider airplane cabins the most iconic example of what Marc Augé has termed “the non-places of supermodernity.” To the casual, indifferent glance of today’s traveller, weary from long confinement inside overcrowded planes, these cabins may indeed appear to be thoroughly standardized, commercialized spaces, revealing no connection to specific localities, temporal continuity or spatial integration. The contention of this article, however, is that though  airplane interiors are quite literally disembedded spaces, their spatial configurations reveal complexities which were clearly demarcated in their historical formation, and are still apparent today.

The airplane assembled world geography and temporal experience in new ways and was thought, in the process, to mark the beginning of a marvellous new air age. How were airplane cabins to express such expectations? What should passengers occupy themselves with while airborne? How would their inert bodies relate to the speeding airplane, to the outside air surrounding them and the face of the earth below, much less to the period of time spent inside the flying cabin?

Civil aviation was launched in the aftermath of World War 1. Though many of the first civilian flights of the early 1920s were aboard rebuilt bomber aircraft, their cabins were nonetheless carefully designed  to implant notions of modernity, safety, speed and exhilaration in passengers. Based mainly on Scandinavian sources from the interwar years, this article discusses the many conflicting intentions and strategies embodied in the layout of airplane cabins, the design of seats, windows, wall decorations, etc. This conflict was equally evident in somewhat chaotic attempts to invent the social practices of air travel.

The multiple functions of airplane interiors which are familiar today – effective business office, cosy living room, luxurious lounge, safe and quiet bedroom – were all specified and promoted in early civilian flight. Besides these attempts to make the air cabin recognisable, passengers had to contend with the strangeness of an interior without an exterior, their bodies paralyzed and their thoughts confronted with an empty, malleable time – a pure duration contrasting with the terrific speed of the airplane. These practices, combined with the serene “god’s eye view” of the world below – the synoptic gaze of the air traveller –mobilized diverse spatial configurations. Though the interior of airplane cabins has since been hyper-standardized, these spatial complexities still exist, complicating attempts to reduce them to an expression of a global, uniform, supermodern logic of non-places.

Original languageDanish
JournalScandia: Tidsskrift foer historisk forskning
Volume74
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)103-126
Number of pages24
ISSN0036-5483
Publication statusPublished - 2008

    Research areas

  • Faculty of Humanities - Aviation, History of time and space, History of speed, Design history

ID: 9510601