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Aerostatic spacing: on things becoming lighter than air

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The development of practical aerostatic or lighter than air balloon flight in 1783 marked the emergence of a new way of being and becoming mobile, one that also involved an important technical and experiential transformation in earth–atmosphere relations. This paper narrates an account of the distinctive kinds of spaces of which aerostatic flight is generative. At the centre of this account is the claim that the affective materiality of aerostatic flight is simultaneously processual and possessing of what political theorist Jane Bennett calls ‘thing-power’. In developing this claim, the paper draws from a range of historical and contemporary accounts of aerostatic flight in order to elaborate upon three aspects of the spaces of things becoming aerostatic: the distinctive kinds of sensing of which aerostatic flight is generative; the differential qualities of affectivity in which the movement and materiality of aerostatic things participates; and the kinds of vertiginous events in which the felt movement – actual or anticipated – of aerostatic things is implicated. The paper concludes by speculating upon how attending to the distinctive and sometimes disquieting materiality of aerostatic things might contribute to geographical engagements with the spaces of air and atmosphere.
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Keywords: affectivity; air; atmosphere; balloon; materiality; mobility

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: School of Geography and the Environment, Oxford University, South Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3QY, Email: derek.mccormack@ouce.ox.ac.uk

Publication date: 2009-01-01

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