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Mobilities Center Director Mimi Sheller Publishes New Book

April 14, 2014


Aluminum Dreams by Mimi Sheller

Aluminum Dreams: The Making of Light Modernity
Mimi Sheller MITPress (2014)

Aluminum shaped the twentieth century. It enabled high-speed travel and gravity-defying flight. It was the material of a streamlined aesthetic that came to represent modernity. And it became an essential ingredient in industrial and domestic products that ranged from airplanes and cars to designer chairs and artificial Christmas trees. It entered modern homes as packaging, foil, pots and pans and even infiltrated our bodies through food, medicine, and cosmetics.

It propelled humanity into air and space, transformed communications and fed war machines. Aluminum — in aeroplanes, space capsules, satellites, bombs and baking foil — is welded into the built world. Mimi Sheller’s coruscating cultural study reveals how young US chemist Charles Martin Hall and his French counterpart Paul Héroult simultaneously discovered the electrolytic production of aluminium in 1886; how designers were galvanized by its potential for the light and sleek; and how social and environmental problems from bauxite mining and aluminium smelting persist.

Sheller describes aluminum’s shiny utopia but also its dark side. The unintended consequences of aluminum’s widespread use include struggles for sovereignty and resource control in Africa, India, and the Caribbean; the unleashing of multinational corporations; and the pollution of the earth through mining and smelting (and the battle to save it). Using a single material as an entry point to understanding a global history of modernization and its implications for the future, Aluminum Dreams forces us to ask: How do we assemble the material culture of modernity and what are its environmental consequences?

March. 6 x 9, 260 pp., 41 illlus. $29.95T/£20.95 cloth. 978-0-262-02682-6
Order at MIT Press

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Join us for the book launch

May 3rd from 2 - 4:30 p.m.
Philadelphia Sculpture Gym
1834 E. Frankford Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19125.

After Sheller relates the surprising history and global story of the impact of this transformative metal, you can melt down your cans and sand-cast them into your very own take-home SWAG.

And you can catch Sheller on WHYY’s PBS Ch.12 Arts Alive on May 2nd at 8:30 p.m.