Monday, January 26, 2009

Aramis, meet SunRail

Aramis, Or The Love of Technology by Bruno Latour

“I’d like to do a book in which there is no metalanguage, no master discourse, where you wouldn’t know which is strongest, the sociological theory or the documents or the interviews or the literature or the fiction, where all these genres or regimes would be at the same level, each one interpreting the others without anybody being able to say which is judging what.” (298)

This book describes efforts by the French to design and build a Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) technology called Aramis, which covered some 20 years and involved substantial public and private expenditures to develop an urban transportation technology that could be used in French cities as well as be an important export product. The theme of the book is "Who killed Aramis?" and it reads like a detective story. Its contents were derived from extensive interviews with the key people in government and industry that were involved in this research and development effort. A great many documents were also reviewed and assessed. It is not highly technical and is written in a very engaging style. The reader is eventually led to see the project from the point of view of Aramis, and along the way gains insight into the relationship between human beings and their technological creations. The lessons learned are relevant to engineers, public officials and industrial managers who would engage in a similar effort to develop an urban transportation technology. Aramis is a useful text for T&T scholars and practitioners for the interesting method(ologies) he employs. It's also a fun and creative text.

One might think about how Aramis relates to contemporary local efforts, such as the Central Florida Light Rail and how Actor-Network-Theory can be applied to better understand the past and potential successes and failures of this particular transportation system. The following links will assist in compiling your own research and evidence surrounding the Central Florida Light Rail in order to assess the complex "network" and relationships of this controversial plan:

Commuter Rail Myths and Facts (even the terms "myths" and "facts" are problematic in an ANT context because what constitute "facts" is contestable)

History of Passenger Rail through Headlines (trace the history of Central Florida's Light Rail plan through headlines from various local newspapers and periodicals; provides various perspectives and connections through media texts)

Stats/Figures (including Environmental Figures and Measurements; from 1998)

What's in a Name? (an extensive list of possible names for the light rail system; how does this connect to Aramis and/or ANT, naming, language and power? P.S. Sun Rail won out in late 2008)

Community Education Pamphlet
(Q&A and facts about SunRail; designed for the public)

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