a map of the journeys you may make

all journeys begin at Lancaster...

an ethnographer's guide to:
making a train journey

Laura Watts
'Travel time use in the information age' project
Centre for Mobilities Research
Lancaster University

A journey is both translation and transition, an experience of departure, liminality and arrival*. A journey is therefore an effect, a performance, of people, artefacts, buildings, weather and so on, which together create that experience (Law 2002). The weather, a laptop battery, an online train timetable, a train guard: these coalesce (or not) into a multisensory experience of travel. But travel takes effort: people, train carriages, newspapers, track points must bind together, they must create particular moments of coherence (arriving on a platform at the right time to make a connection) and incoherence (a delay due to signalling problems, may lead to a missed connection). And actors such as trains, people and books may resist combining together: quiet carriages, for example, combine differently with mobile phones than with paperback novels.

To journey, that is, for a traveller to experience departure, transition and arrival, requires a mixing of themselves and others; travellers must become cyborgs, part person, part train, part luggage and so on (see Haraway 1991). Artefacts, moments in time, particular places, all these may aid or resist the ongoing creation of that journey and traveller. Each fluid mixing creates different and changing experiences: time, memory and place are never fixed. To journey then is, perhaps simply, to make and re-make a liminal time and place, and, ultimately, to make arrival.

A journey is not a passive experience, it is not there to be consumed, or merely passed through en route (for travelling without moving see de Botton's discussion of Xavier de Maistre's room-travel, 2002: 244). A journey is actively made through the traveller. It is made through the transformation of the traveller and their experience of the world; making the transition from departure to destination. For example, a traveller extends themselves into the next seat by placing their luggage there, or they might make an experience of time through seeing the movement of the sun and clouds outside the window, or fold space by sleeping between Edinburgh and Carlisle. A traveller is not just in motion, but always in transition, mixed and entangled with many others: timetables, tickets, seats, coffee cups, overhead power cables, the timetable system. They cannot experience the journey without becoming mixed up with them, without affecting and being affected.

These web pages are derived from experiences of travelling on trains over a period of four months in Spring 2004: notes, photographs and video-stills taken from over thirty journeys. This was not intended to be a full piece of research, rather a tentative pilot to explore the methodological issues involved in conducting research on-the-move. The reader is also a traveller through these journeys, and so the pages comprise choices for making many journeys through the material, and a short discussion at each destination. There are three voices:

quotes taken from my ethnographic material.
taken from transport industry publications.
a voice for how these mixing strategies of others and myself seem to perform, that is, a guide for how to make the journey.

Overall, it is a guide to the differing resistances offered by each of the journey routes, routes derived not solely from a timetable but also from the experience of the journey. Perhaps, ultimately, the diversities of these experiences suggest that the notion of a singular experience called 'a train journey' may not even be meaningful.

begin your journey at Lancaster ...

close the guide ...

* Although I am adopting the notion of liminality, I am not implying journeys are rituals, in a formal, anthropological sense. Rather, I would argue, that the work of travelling is necessarily a performance; see Adler, J. (1989). 'Travel as performed art'. American Journal of Sociology 94: 1366-1391.

de Botton, A. (2002). The art of travel. London: Penguin

Haraway, D. (1991). Simians, cyborgs and women: the reinvention of nature. London: Free Association Books.

Law, J. (2002). Aircraft stories: decentering the object in technoscience. London: Duke University Press.

(c) All material in this document copyright the author. This document may be cited or briefly quoted in line with the usual academic conventions. You should observe the conventions of academic citation in the following form: Laura Watts 'An ethnographic guide to: making a train journey'. Published by the Centre for Mobilities Research, Lancaster University, UK at http://www.lancs.ac.uk/postgrad/wattslj/cemore.